Local designers are leading the way in the global movement towards conscious, ethical and cruelty-free fashion.
With initiatives such as using faux fur and organic cotton that can be traced from farm to final product, swapping toxic chemical processes for organic ones, recycling zips and turning the tap off on water wastage, they are delivering clothes that will change the way you think about fashion.
Not just a buzzword, sustainable fashion is the way of the future. Four designers tell us how their business models are making a difference.
Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning started P.E Nation, known for its fashionable active wear, in Sydney in 2016.
CT: Our first sustainable P.E Nation capsule was released in 2019 and sold out quickly. Our customers are very vocal. We’ve heard what they’re saying and want to give them a reason to invest in active wear that’s created sustainably. We’re using recycled fishing nets in some of our clothing. The technology blows my mind.
PE: Being sustainable is a no-brainer. As a brand, if you don’t do it now, it’ll be harder down the track. It’s not morally okay to ignore the planet. What we’re going through as a country right now means the time to do something as a business is now.
When we were approached by H&M to do a global P.E Nation collaboration, we said we wouldn’t do it unless it was sustainable. It’s an amazing message to put on H&M’s platform, and as a brand we are going to champion the movement and utilise H&M’s social standing to get the whole world thinking about what we wear and how it’s made.
The collaboration is a retrospective of our best-selling styles. It’s about 80 per cent sustainable and includes active sets and fashion pieces such as jackets, skirts, T-shirts and swimwear.
CT: We’re looking into using Australian-grade cotton. Fibres are being microchipped, so you can track them to the farm where they were grown. You’ll be able to access details such as what type of soil it has grown in, how much water was used to harvest it. We use sustainably sourced Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) organic cotton.
PE: Our customers want to shop with a purpose. We’re pioneering sustainability in the skiwear category next. Nobody else is really doing this.
Founded in 2014, Kit Willow’s luxury label has put sustainability front and centre.
I started KitX with the idea of sourcing materials that have a positive impact on the environment, not a negative one.
Fashion is the second-biggest polluter behind oil, and 70 per cent of fashion’s planetary impact comes from material sourcing.
It’s great there are brands now that want to make a positive impact I’ve committed my entire business to being more environmentally responsible.
Everything we make is built on three key sustainable platforms.
First, that it must be natural and organic matter and has to be kind on its creation; no pesticides or chemicals are used in any process. It also has to be kind to the earth in terms of washing and being easy to care for.
The KitX pieces need to break down back into the earth, too.
Everything from our care label onwards is made responsibly. My care labels are made from organic cotton, while most of the others are polyester and beach collectors tell me they end up in our oceans and rivers.
I am always editing down the KitX collection to key fashion pieces you want to wear. They must be empowering on every level, as well as long-lasting and enabling high-frequency wear.
Hemp is the material of the future. It binds the soil when it grows, doesn’t attract insects, and hardly needs any water, therefore no chemicals are used.
It grows quickly and turns into fibre with little energy. I am working with Belgian masters in linen to weave hemp into luxurious fabrics, and also mixing it with silk.
It’s wonderful that being sustainable is gaining momentum, but the fashion industry is nowhere near where we need to be Hopefully we’re going in the right direction.
James Bartle’s brand, started on the Gold Coast in 2011, aims to deliver denim with a humanitarian message.
After watching the 2008 film Taken, starring Liam Neeson, I was inspired to try to do something about human trafficking and slavery.
I had no expertise in the fashion industry – my background is in metal fabrication –but I left that film feeling provoked and passionate to make a change.
My wife Erica is a journalist and she started researching the subject and thinking of what we could do.
In 2011 we employed some teenage girls in Cambodia, teaching them to sew with sewing teachers while non-government organisations helped train them to cut and make jeans.
We started with five employees in Cambodia and now have 65 earning a living wage.
For us, the impact had to be a social one as well as environmental. We spent six years developing the model and went to market with a powerful message.
Meghan Markle changed our brand after she wore our jeans while visiting Australia in 2018; it gave us a global audience.
Outland Denim uses organically grown cotton and no pesticides in its processes. It costs more, but is environmentally better.
We use vegetable organic dying processes rather than toxic chemicals.
All the offcuts collected are repurposed and reused – we donate them to other organisations to utilise.
One of the challenges we face in making denim is all the green-washing talk around us.
Some products say they are made using 95 per cent less water, but that’s just in one of the processes – they’re still using a lot of water to make a pair of jeans.
The government needs to step in and control the process.
Husband and wife duo Dani Pelly and Tim Wilkins’ Geelong-based label is known for its leather and faux fur.
Tim and I launched our brand six years ago with a range of printed silks and leather jackets and sold them at the South Melbourne Market.
We source our leather from New Zealand and use high-grade lamb skins with minimal blemishes and defects, which means we use less water and chemicals in the manufacturing process.
Our vegetable-tanned leather jackets are dyed using vegetable oils, so no nasty chemicals are used.
Jackets sit in vegetable oils for three weeks to absorb colour – sadly, you can’t use it for black leather.
Since 2018 we have expanded into making faux fur jackets.
The trend has taken off globally and was the reason we moved into a sustainable way to run the business.
It was during a dinner with our suppliers in China last year that we got the ball rolling to manufacture a faux rabbit-fur jacket using plastic bottles.
Each jacket in our AW20 faux fur range is made using approximately 60, 600ml recycled water bottles. We’re the first Australian brand to do this.
We moved to Torquay on the south coast of Victoria four years ago.
Being in that beautiful environment got us thinking about what we could do to protect Mother Nature.
In July, we are launching a range of T-shirts with 40 per cent recycled cotton.
We use recycled card for our tags, while the lining in our leather jackets is made from recycled water bottles – it’s a small contribution that adds to the bigger picture.
We’re not perfect, but you have to start somewhere and our global footprint matters.
We want to offer better products, so people can purchase with longevity in mind.
Published on brisbanetimes.com.au
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