A growing number of clued-in consumers are not just thinking about colour and fit as they search digital and literal clothing racks. They’re choosing to buy from ethical and transparent manufacturers. We take a look at some of the vanguards of sustainable fashion, which are continuing an important conversation about where our clothes come from.
Vege Threads is about simplicity and sustainability. For every piece of men’s, women’s or children’s clothing sold, it donates a percentage of the profits to its sponsor foundation in Northern Bali. Amy Roberts is the founder and head designer of the brand. After returning home from working for an ethical clothing label in Paris, she noticed the lack of sustainable fashion in Australia. Four years later, Vege Threads is Ethical Clothing Australia Certified and churning out brilliant basics.
Combating the amount of waste created by the fashion world is high on Roberts’ list. “So much of the fashion industry is based on waste; building trends that don’t last. They look good for a limited time and then they sit in landfill,” she says. As well as creating a sustainable supply chain, Roberts thinks it’s important to know who’s making the fabrics and garments, and that they’re happy with what they do. “I want the brand to be more than something [people] wear, and I’ll focus on building a platform for people to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle,” she says. Singer Lisa Mitchell recently became an ambassador of the brand, and its new collection uses Australian dyed and made organic cotton.
Jess Priemus met her husband Shimul Minhas Uddin in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2008. Uddin was the operations manager of a Bangladeshi charity, and Priemus was a designer from Australia. Together they decided to use their skills to create a label that would support and sustain rural producers and artisans in Bangladesh. Now based in Perth, the couple runs the women’s clothing and accessories label and visits manufacturers in Bangladesh twice a year.
“There was never a moment when we decided to set up an ‘ethical label’ – we just always wanted to create cool clothes with a group of artisans in Bangladesh,” says Priemus.
The pair wanted to make a desirable product while avoiding child labour and non-liveable wages. They travelled around the country speaking to different producers until they found Thanapara Swallows Development Society in Rajshahi. After the liberation period of 1971, the programs were started to champion self-sustainability among vulnerable and widowed women. “Six years later, we are like family,” Priemus says. The pair has committed to only creating trans-seasonal collections of patterned womenswear, with less emphasis on trends. “We are slowly growing in a responsible and sustainable way that doesn’t put strain on ourselves, our producers or slow our production techniques.”
Seeking out organic cotton clothing, underwear and linen can often mean compromising price and design, but Bhumi proves it’s not an either-or choice. Founder and creative director Vinita Baravkar and her team work with Chetna Organic, a grassroots organisation in India, from which all its cotton and products are sourced.
Through Baravkar’s work and travel she had seen firsthand the health and environmental impacts of traditional cotton growing; farmer suicide, child labour, pesticide poisoning, birth defects and toxic waterways are all commonplace. She spent years meeting with non-government and grassroots organisations and was moved to study international public health. Baravkar combined her deep love of sustainable design to create the label, wanting to restore responsible consumer choice to the fashion world. “We want people to ask questions and be fully aware of what is going on in the textile industry with regards to child labour, poor working conditions, toxic dyes and hazardous chemicals,” she says. Bed sheets, jumpers, bathrobes, baby blankets and dresses are all available through the label’s online store and shop in Melbourne’s Prahran.
There are others on the ethical bandwagon, too. Ex-Willow designer Kit Willow has returned to fashion with KITX, making ethical statement pieces. Nobody jeans are handmade in Melbourne, with a completely transparent supply chain and manufacturing line. ALAS is the ethical pyjama brand by friends Kelly Elkin and Betony Dircks. The ultra-soft PJs are loved all around the world and are made sustainably and with an ethically conscious process,