A fashion stylist & educator shares how you can shop sustainably
I’m often asked what my thoughts are on sustainable fashion and the best brands to look for in this area, and my answer is always the same – to first point out that “sustainable” and “ethical” can mean a range of things.
What do we mean when we say sustainable?
And can fashion ever fully be environmentally friendly?
It depends who you ask and which aspect you look at.
As a stylist, I like to make this discernment a key part of the education I pass on to my clients. As the founder of Australian Style Institute, a school which has empowered thousands of students to become professional fashion stylists and have a real, transformative impact on the industry, I ensure this is integral to all of our training.
First things first – we know there's a need for a better approach to fashion. This has been articulated brilliantly by Business of Fashion, who recently unveiled their “Sustainability Index” – a tool which cuts through the marketing noise to provide honest and transparent data on the not-so sustainable practices in the industry. As they pointed out, the fashion industry has developed into one of the worst polluters on the planet, with systematic inequality for workers, a terrible thirst for harmful chemicals and water resources, and a promoter of overconsumption and waste.
There's never been a better time to start shopping more mindfully and looking out for brands who are doing the right thing. It’s the only way forward for the fashion industry as a whole and as consumers, we should really back brands who are doing the right thing to help us all move in the right direction.
If you’re not sure where to start though, and it looks a little overwhelming, I’ve collated some of my top tips for how to get going:
1. Shop local
This is a great place to start – as supporting local businesses is good for our neighbours and good for our economy – plus if goods are also made locally, you’re automatically cutting down the carbon emissions needed to get the gorgeous new outfit to you.
Did you know Viktoria & Woods make 80% of their goods in Melbourne? Many other Australian brands make their wares here - such as Natalija, who sew their garments to order in Sydney, and nevenka, a brand which designs and makes their garments in Melbourne.
I am particularly passionate about nevenka as the design studio also produces garments in diverse sizing options when made to order – something which can be hard to come by amongst luxury ethical brands. It’s one thing to have sustainability, but if only one part of the population can wear it, I feel we’ve missed the mark.
2. Look out for the right messages
Lots of marketing jargon can mask some unethical practices – such as an “organic cotton range” which can divert attention away from the chemicals used to dye the products a certain colour, or the poor wage workers can be on behind the scenes. This is often referred to as “greenwashing”.
I educate my styling students to look out for a range of pointers to give a more holistic view of a brand’s credibility in this area. These include where a garment is made, the types of fabrics used and where they are sourced from. Kuwaii is one of my favourite local brands which ticks all the boxes – starting with their website, which clearly details every aspect of their business. It’s this level of transparency which all brands should aspire to.
Don’t forget that as consumers, we hold a lot of power. Brands are starting to make moves because we have asked them to. Moving your dollars towards ethical brands and engaging with the brands on social media all help move things in this direction.
One designer I truly admire is Nicole McLauglin. Based in New York, she takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to sustainable fashion through designs which transform everyday items into stunning, one-of-a-kind pieces. Think camera bags into bralettes, old volleyballs into slippers, and board shorts crafted from packets of Haribo lollies. I believe her creativity breathes new life into the “upcycling” trend and reminds us how to look at fashion through the lens of creating something new out of something old.
Once you’re fresh with inspiration, have a clear out of your own closet and uncover the pieces you’ve buried and not worn in new ways. Donate anything which you’re not looking to hold onto and give your head the space to think of new ways to wear your favourite pieces.
Check out your local Op-shops for pre-loved clothes, or host a clothes swap with your friends. Depop, Vestiaire Collective, eBay and The RealReal are great online tools too. You never know what you might uncover!
Oh, and one final thing. Pop a tote bag in your handbag for your next shopping trip – and you’ll already have saved a plastic carrier.
Simple changes all contribute to the bigger picture.