Sustainable show a welcome initiative


I've just come back from the Clean Cut showcase of sustainable and ethical fashion at the Hughes Gallery in Surry Hills, held as part of this year's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia schedule.

Clean Cut has established itself as the major sustainable fashion industry body and this is the first time a show of its type has been shown at fashion week.

It's a welcome initiative. The aim was to prove that ethically made clothing can be fashionable, wearable and aesthetically driven. Gone are the days of itchy hemp clothing and dowdy, dull fabrics; this is a thriving industry that has strong legs on the European fashion scene but still in its relative infancy here in Australia.

What does "ethical fashion" mean? Firstly, it means garments that are produced in fair conditions - providing a living wage and safe working environment for the people who work in garment factories.

Attention was drawn to this issue in the most tragic circumstances last year when more than 1000 garment workers died in a Bangladeshi factory fire.

Secondly, ethical fashion relates to garments that use organic materials - non-chemically treated cottons, bamboo, hemp and some recycled polyesters that don't harm the natural environment during the production process.

Thirdly, it can refer to upcycled clothing (creating new garments from fabric offcuts) or new dyeing and patternmaking technologies that minimises waste.

All of the designers on show today - Desert Designs, Kowtow, Bhalo (a WA-based label) , Social Studio, Goodone, Lalesso, Ovna Ovich and Rachael Cassar - proved that, indeed, ethical fashion can be beautiful and covetable.

Desert Designs incorporate the work of late artist Jimmy Pike in lovely printed silk dresses, swimwear and vibrantly patterned black and white hooded anoraks.

Bhalo create limited edition garments in rural Bangladesh, using natural hand-woven fabrics and hand-made applique and embroidery.

I was also particularly taken with Kowtow's fresh, minimal white dresses. Everything we saw on the runway today looked so light, airy, breathable and wearable.

In the past, the idea of "fashion with a conscience" may have sounded like an oxymoron. Sweatshop labour and wasteful fast fashions made from cheap materials have always given the fashion industry a bad name, but more and more designers are looking into new production methods that enable consumers can trace every step of the process used to make the garments they wear.

I'll leave the final observation on the ethical fashion movement to journalist Lucy Siegle, whose book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? has become an influential piece of literature.

"A global employer with a seductive proposition for consumers - low cost, on-trend fashion - the fashion industry is beset by human and environmental tragedy," she says.

"Clean Cut is at the vanguard of refashioning a beloved industry so it matches our values, balancing aesthetics and ethics."