Ethics and sustainability has been something which has always guided the decisions I make when buying clothes, jewellery and shoes. The provenance of what I wear is as important to me as how comfortable - both physically and spiritually an item of clothing is to wear. A self-confessed natural fiber addict, I seek pieces that contain more than a brand name and washing instructions. In Australia we have a range of fashion labels with varying degrees of transparency around the sourcing and production of the fabrics and garments and we as consumers are displaying a growing awareness of the impact of the fashion industry. Consumer bodies such as Choice and eco campaigners Greenpeace are responding to a growing need to supply consumers with un-biased information by collating lists of brands and their behaviours to guide our purchasing decisions:
Increasingly, clothing brands are not putting high-turnover at the forefront of their strategy.
In 1997 two Queensland women, Pamela Easton and Lydia Pearson formed the artisan label Eason Pearson and within 12 months had stock in prestige shops around the globe. A fashion success story that, ironically, was not based on fashion at all - rather Easton Pearson was an aesthetic that tapped into a deeper need for women to drape themselves not only in beauty, but in meaning as well. In the world of fast-paced, price-based rip-off fashion being pushed through every conceivable outlet from the internet to supermarkets as consumption, and disposal of 'fashion' items becomes less and less meaningful, Easton Pearson found a niche need and grew a successful global label.
However in March of 2016, after 27 years, Easton Pearson have closed their doors on the churn of the fashion industry, saying in an article published by The Australian on April 13th of this year
“Easton Pearson is about slow fashion, about quality and authenticity.
That authenticity is hard to maintain when you speed it up unless you have incredible resources. It’s hard to maintain that kind of ethos in a growing brand, it becomes exponentially more difficult.
The things that we love about the brand are the things that are getting buried as the brand grows.”
The great ebb and flow of cheap clothing raises issues of both sustainable and ethical dilemmas for consumers, which are periodically highlighted when catastrophes such as the Bangladesh factory fire occur. But for a brief period of outrage, main-stream fashion continues to be driven by the relentless demand for cheaper, instantly on-trend fashion, forcing manufactures in third world countries to continue to compromise humanitarian, and ecological standards.
But as sustainable textile advocate Clara Vuletich discovered on a manufacturing tour of China, the ‘sweat-shop workers’ she encountered were far from exploited and were grateful for the opportunities their employment gave them. It is often a case of ‘checking our privilege’ and understanding that what we perceive to be an untenable situation is in fact an ideal for those who are breaking out of the cycle of poverty to gain a degree of skill, education and opportunity otherwise not available. You can watch Clara’s TEDxSydney talk on sustainable fashion here.
The movement towards more conscious consumerism is slow but steady - lead by the concerns of what we put into our bodies - what we put on our bodies has become a little, persistent voice in the cacophony of fashion consumerism. Organic, natural fibres are gaining cache and the origin of garments has become part of the brand story for many fashion labels. American online label Everlane provides a graphic story for the majority of their garments so consumers can see what portion of the price contributes to each step in the process of the item.
These are steps in the right direction as awareness grows around our actions as consumers and the consequences they have across the whole story of the clothes we wear. Be mindful of what you wear, think about where it has come from, and once you are finished with it, where it will go.
Fashion and sustainability links: