Some notice the new spray of colourful flowers lining their streets. Others see the flutter of a pink sleeve in a store window. ‘Tis the season for spring shopping. But for mindful-ethical-sustainable shoppers, where to start?
Author and Wardrobe Crisis podcaster Clare Press says: “When you hear the latest IPCC [climate change] reports it can make you freak out and feel overwhelmed.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to exclusively shop from a list of sustainable fashion brands or get bogged down in research. Instead, she says, “What we need to do is slow down in terms of consumption, but also [have] a slow fashion approach.”
Number one, she says, is to not feel guilty.
“Recognise that the issues are big, but I’m all about finding enjoyable – let’s even say delightful! – alternatives to the fast fashion churn. Fashion is meant to be a form of creative expression, sometimes escapism, joy. So if you say, ‘Stop buying clothes, you’re wrecking the planet’ – it doesn’t work. We need to find positive ways to engage in fashion that’s not harmful to the planet.”
Need some inspiration? Here’s proof that one can be fashion forward without being fashion frivolous.
LEEYONG SOO – OP SHOP/ REFASHIONING BLOGGER
When Leeyong Soo was working for Japanese Vogue in Tokyo, she learned to be creatively resourceful, often shopping at flea markets.
“On a shoot with Victoria Beckham, she complimented my necklace. It cost 10 yen. And when editor Anna Dello Russo joined the team and I was interpreting for her, she said the magazine needed more colour and fun. She looked around the room at all the editors in their expensive designer items, pointed at my 100 yen flea-market earrings and said, “Like what she’s wearing!'”
Once back in Melbourne, Soo started her Style Wilderness blog “as a way of documenting the great finds I’ve made at op shops and how to style them, as well as to show people how to make alterations or customise their finds.”
Nowadays, she describes the adrenaline rush of happening upon a treasure: “I like finding items that other people would pass over because they’re too ugly, the wrong size, not in fashion or simply missing a button … I love wearing things that no one else has.”
And it gets her noticed. She’s been stopped in Mexico by a woman who thought Soo was Frida Kahlo’s ghost (Soo took it as a compliment) and was walking home across a football oval when “a guy walking his dog called out to me, saying, ‘I love your outfit, you look like you’re going somewhere interesting!” At the time she was wearing a vintage Yao jacket bought in Laos, altered by adding the bands of old Explorer socks as cuffs.
Another benefit: a fuller wallet. “I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $20 on occasion wear. Once I made a dress and hat for the races from a kimono that cost $5, and an old straw hat.”
ERIN LEWIS-FITZGERALD: MODERN MENDER
In high school, Lewis-Fitzgerald went full Pretty in Pink: “I refashioned my own prom dress.” As an adult, she wanted to get others on board to create and mend their own clothes.
“I had a knitting bee at my house and didn’t think anyone would come. It’s the most popular party I’ve ever had.”
She progressed to teaching mending workshops, now teaching a seven-week mending course. “A lot of people who do it have the environment in mind. It’s ‘I know I want to do better.’ It’s empowering to do this.”
For Lewis-Fitzgerald, whose Modern Mending book comes out next year, there’s a creative challenge she sets herself, and her Instagram hashtag – RemadeByELF – is filled with quirky solutions to problem rips. For a tea-towel with an apple print, a hole is covered with an embroidered worm. “If you throw the idea that mending needs to be invisible out the window, you can be much more creative.”
The added bonus of making a clothing item slightly eccentric is that “if it’s eye-catching, people will ask about. It sparks the conversation we need to be having.”
HANNON COMAZZETTO: TECHNOLOGY ENTREPRENEUR
With a law degree and experience of founding a start-up, Hannon Comazzetto had more than one career option. But she realised there was a gap in the online fashion sector: second-hand clothing wasn’t easily accessible from one marketplace, despite being a huge area of growth.
“Most of the really great [second-hand] items are found in store, yet the primary target customer is the person who’s shopping online,” she says.
As the CEO of AirRobe, she’s found a way to gather various second-hand items and put them in one place.
With AirRobe, she hopes to capture the market that’s currently putting their dollars towards rental – something she thinks is not the best long-term option. “You’re not owning anything. And it can be quite time consuming where you have to find an item, return it and often dry-clean it as well. Resale gives you the freedom of getting something new and re-selling it afterwards.”
It’s something that millennials have tapped into in other ways: “I’ve heard of young people who use resale and rental as a form of side hustle. They’ll buy a Gucci dress from a consignment store. They’ll wear it for an occasion, rent it out five times, and then re-sell it back to the consignment store, so they’ve made a profit by the end and contributed to the lifecycle of a garment.”
MARNIE GODING: DESIGNER MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Designer Marnie Goding of fashion label ELK was so determined to hold herself to a higher sustainability standard that she decided to release a 128-page document about how her company operates and the extent to which they’ve been sustainable and ethical. (Although ELK doesn’t claim to be 100 per cent sustainable/ethical, the business works towards that goal and the document was about transparency.) But she’s unusual in other ways: despite being a successful designer, she’s not trying to make money for wealth’s sake.
“I think the starting point [for consumers] is to decide whether you need a product at all. Buying less is the answer. That’s a big statement from a company that survives on selling product.”
But she also knows that not everyone can buy vintage. “If you’re a particular size, or you have a particular need” it might not suit. “But you have to make a more conscious effort about what you’re buying. We’re saying, if you’re going to buy a pair of pants from us, you find out where it’s from and what it’s made from.”
She also ensures that customers get many wears out of her designs by ensuring that “they’re practical, comfortable to wear and they won’t fall apart.”
The goal is to incorporate more circular practices into her business: “At the end of the garment’s life we’d like to take it back for our own repurposing or recycling or what’s appropriate for the product. We did this at our annual warehouse sale and the money from those sales went to charity.”
She also understands that her business gives others opportunities. “The woman that makes our jewellery in the Philippines is a single mother. All the materials are sustainable and she has 36 people working for her – their kids can go to the doctor, for instance, because of what we are doing … if a product is made well and has a low footprint, we can still consume. You can do things right.”
TESLIN DOUD: CIRCULAR FASHION EDUCATOR/ CONSULTANT
As a trained fashion designer, Doud – who originally hails from the US but now lives in Geelong – was always interested in the design chain: the process of getting a garment from beginning to end. Ultimately, she’d like to see designers moving away from the traditional model by creating products that can be returned or repaired, allowing them to make more profit on items. To that end, she helps other brands create systems for circular economy with her business, The Threads.
In her day-to-day life she’s someone who shops from her own wardrobe. “I’ve always built emotional relationships with the clothes in my closet. I have the softest sweater that’s always the thing I want to put on.”
She’s loath to throw anything out; she’d rather repurpose it, or – given that she stains all her white T-shirts – dye something to camouflage the stain. Cropping or patching are other options. Too many people, she says, would rather throw out a garment when it’s got a broken zipper rather than get the zipper fixed.
Although she’s not against people buying new items, she wants them to start asking, “Am I going to wake up in the morning and want to put this on?” Before you dispose of anything, “Ask, ‘Then what?’ If I put this in the bin, what’s going to happen to it?’ It’s about being curious.”
YAHAV RON: SUSTAINABLE DESIGNER/ LUXURY RESELLER
With my original work I only use second-hand fabric or fabric that’s been cut or discarded. The designer pieces I sell (at Paris ’99) will never go out of fashion because of the way that the person who buys them actually uses them. Something can become a whole new garment; it doesn’t look the same on three different people.
I make it a [personal] policy to not buy new clothing, apart from underwear. New is not better. And we can now see that even in the influence of Hollywood, when stars like Julia Roberts or Renée Zellweger wear vintage. It’s not that you can’t afford to buy new clothes. It’s the understanding that the quality of clothing is less than it used to be. We’re seeing a return where consumers are looking for special things that are unique. It’s now more about the connection with something that’s handmade and special, and has a community aspect to it.”
CLAIRE GOLDSWORTHY: FASHION ADVOCATE
The founder of online store, blog and community for sustainable Australian and New Zealand fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands, The Fashion Advocate, says social media has led to various trends that encourage sustainable and ethical fashion awareness.
“There’s Livia Firth’s #30wears [where you only buy something that you’re going to wear at least 30 times] and slow fashion season, where you don’t buy new clothes but only second-hand ones. With social media I can communicate my message to people in every corner of the world, right now, today.”
On October 20, Goldsworthy is hosting the Coveted Closets wardrobe sale at Brighton Town Hall, where attendees will be able to pick from the likes of The Age‘s National Fashion Editor Melissa Singer’s wardrobe. And from October 14 – December 22 she’s opening a pop-up shop in Beamauris.
TAMARA DIMATTINA: BUY NOTHING NEW CAMPAIGNER
Tamara DiMattina has been choosing second-hand as a first option for nearly two decades. It began with a desire to wear clothes she couldn’t afford, but gained momentum following a 2010 visit to Antarctica that educated her about climate change.
“I felt really pissed off about waste, but I loved fashion.” And so she created a campaign – Buy Nothing New Month – to show others how easy it was to choose more sustainable fashion items.
These days she also shops on eBay and Facebook, but she still prefers op shops because “my money is going to charity and helping community programs.”
I love looking at beautiful stuff that I would never buy – it’s like a painting. I can appreciate it, but I don’t have to have it.” Buying fabrics from op shops or altering a second-hand designer dress makes her “feel really good knowing I’m part of the solution”.
Her tip for Melbourne shoppers is to head to Camberwell Market on a Sunday, visit Round She Goes markets when they’re on (roundshegoes.com.au) and “find the best op shop near you and pop in regularly. Op shopping is different to regular shopping – you can’t go in with something specific in mind, but you never know what’s going to be in there. It’s like this beautiful, ongoing treasure hunt.”