Almost one year ago, in March 2018, Vogue Australia released the Designing the Future edition of Vogue Magazine, guest-edited by actress, model and activist Emma Watson. This edition of Vogue was made to specifically and importantly showcase the wave of conscious, ethical, sustainable and transparent practices in the clothing industry and to simultaneously direct a spotlight on the often degrading, unfair and very unethical reality so rife in this trade.
Personally, I have had a keen interest in sustainable and ethically-made clothing since a young age, when my mother would lament the “good ol’ days” when “practically everything” was made in Australia.
In more recent years though, I realised that it doesn’t matter so much where the item was made, but more importantly, under what conditions the materials were sourced, the safety of the environment that the manufacturing occurred in, the fairness of the wages paid, and the conditions surrounding the entire process.
The reality is, cheaply priced clothes are, most often than not, accompanied by severely minimal wages, extremely poor working conditions, and involve processes that are detrimental to the environment.
The logic of supply-and-demand means that the frequency of producing a product depends on the amount of that product being purchased by consumers. If a product is in high demand, more is produced to meet the demand. But do we ever pause to think about the person who made our clothes? Or the lives affected by the supply-and-demand of the fast-fashion industry?
The majority of garment workers are women, working in appalling conditions and paid next to nothing. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 people in 2013 exposed the fast-fashion industry for its unethical practices on a global scale. Thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh have demanded justice for this tragedy, which “triggered international outrage and put pressure on European and US clothing brands to improve pay and conditions at the factories that supply them.”
In Australia, a wave of fashion labels are taking charge and radically altering the face of garment manufacturing both locally and overseas. Many of these pioneers of ethical transparency in the clothing industry also happen to be women. And they’re paving the way before us in a remarkable manner.
Courtney Holm, founder and creative director of A.BCH World, an independent clothing label based in Melbourne, operates on what they call “a circular economy standard”. This standard ensures that every raw material used in the design process will safely biodegrade or can be recycled at the end of its life. From extensive research into every supply chain, sourcing local raw material suppliers with carbon-neutral factories, fair wages and working conditions, to cruelty-free natural fibres and a Care, Repair, Wear educational program to help extend the wearable life of a garment – Holm is setting a new standard in the fashion industry and pioneering the way for a more sustainable future in one of the biggest industries worldwide.
Founded in Melbourne by TV Stylist Debora Schultz, Justice Denim, a five-month-old startup, is passionate about ethical production and quality, handmaking every pair of jeans alongside local denim craftsman in Australia. Their entire approach to sustainability is thorough: from their slavery-free supply chain, to sourcing their cotton with the least impact on the environment, right down to the careful manufacture of zips, buttons, rivets and burrs. Justice Denim has also partnered with Destiny Rescue, a not-for-profit organisation that rescues children from the horror of the sex trade in countries across Asia and India, and provides them with immediate medical care, long-term education and opportunities for a brighter future. Every pair of Justice Denim jeans purchased provides one week of life-changing education for a young girl who has been rescued from sex trafficking. This sustainable fashion brand has a heart for social justice in more ways than one.
Knowing and understanding just how much these brands are making a difference to the lives of many, is encouraging. And yet, both Holm and Schultz are two of many thousands of women paving the way for a better future in an industry which, for far too long, has flown under the radar of consumer dollars and awareness. As we grow in awareness of this issue, we too can be empowered to make better, more informed, decisions with every step of the way forward, one garment at a time.
Silvana Scarfe is a freelance writer from Sydney.
Ethical Clothing Australia, works collaboratively with local textile, clothing and footwear businesses towards a more transparent and ethical industry.
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Courtney Holm can be heard as a guest speaker on the ‘Fashion and Ethics: Knowing your clothes’ panel discussion on Wednesday 6 March as part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, 1-10 March 2019, Melbourne.
LEGACY Responsible Fashion Summit will discuss the social and environmental challenges facing the fashion industry and the practical initiatives, opportunities and solutions brands and retailers can utilise to address them. March 13 & 14, Sydney.