Leaders of the Pack – sustainable fashion pioneers

“Sustainable fashion” is perhaps the ultimate oxymoron. Fashion is, by its very definition, desirable for a fleeting moment, something that has its few minutes in the spotlight before being relegated to the scrapheap. How can it ever hope to score points on the sustainability scale? And what is sustainability anyway? These days the word seems to have taken on the nuance of “pertaining to the environment” but in actual fact, the social and economical aspects are equally important for sustainability. 100% sustainable fashion (especially on a mass scale) remains somewhat elusive, but it’s heartening to know there are people and companies out there taking steps towards it.

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Last week, Kangan’s Fashion and Textile Hub hosted Leaders of the Pack, an inspiring event featuring several industry insiders who are doing their bit for sustainability in fashion – and who were willing to share their knowledge. As it was a two-hour event, there was quite a lot to take in, but I thought I’d bring you some highlights here.

Patagonia has long been known for its efforts in sustainability, switching to 100% organic cotton way back in 1996 “when people thought we were crazy”, according to CSR manager Wendy Savage. The company is now launching a range of fair trade clothing made by a factory in India and has also achieved certification for their 100% traceable down – meaning that among other conditions, the feathers used in their signature puffer jackets are from birds that have not been force fed or live plucked. Although I don’t own any down items whatsoever, I have to admit that if I were shopping for one, it would never have entered my mind that the birds could have been live plucked, or that the feathers could be by-products from geese force-fed to produce pate de foie gras. So much about sustainability has to do with educating the consumer to demand ethical products!

bluesign isn’t likely a name known to you, but they’ve helped some big names such as Patagonia, The North Face, Helly Hansen and Nike reduce their environmental impact by monitoring their use of chemicals in textile production (hardly surprising, as Christian Dreszig pointed out, that it was the outdoor and active wear companies who first started worrying about their impact on the planet, seeing as their whole reason for existence is to produce items for use out among the elements). Did you know that there’s such a thing as the “SVHC” list? That’s “Substances of Very High Concern”. Should these SVHCs be in your wardrobe? Not unless you’ve got a thing for carcinogenic chemicals. That’s why bluesign works with labels and manufacturers to find alternatives.

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– It used to be that if you talked about transparency in fashion, you were probably alluding to the latest clear plastic raincoat. But since Bruno Pieters launched his Honest by. brand in 2012, you’d be referring to the fact that you can trace the source of all the materials used in the collection – including even the shortest bit of thread used to sew on a button; find out its original price and even how much the garment has been marked up by when it reaches the retail rack. As Kate Sala (pictured above) immediate past chief operating officer at the brand pointed out, such transparency is practically unheard of in the fashion world – or at least it was before Honest by. came along. For you budding ethical fashion designers out there, she also pointed out that the Honest by. website is an excellent and free resource for finding sustainability-minded suppliers of all kinds of fabrics and notions, right down to the brand label and swing tags – see what I mean here (but don’t blame me if your credit card gets a bit of wear and tear – there are some seriously cool threads on this site!).

How’s that for starters? Aren’t you glad there’s people and companies like these ones around? We also heard from representatives for Melbourne fabric manufacturer ABMT, B Corporation and 1% for the Planet – check out their websites for more inspirational info, and if you’d like to see my past features on fair trade fashion leaders, click here, here and here.

 

Thanks to Troy Campbell at Mythsoup for the photos in this post!

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