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Finding the perfect outfit is about to get harder

10 August 2015
Ethical and eco-friendly clothing on the rise

A growing number of sustainable fashion companies entering the Australian market are set to shake up the way we shop, according to a University of Sydney doctoral student.

Models in clothing by Clean Cut, an Australian sustainable fashion label, at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week 2014. [Image: Clean Cut]

PhD candidate Lisa Heinze, from the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, will share her research into changing consumer fashion trends at the Sydney Environment Institute panel, Beauty Without Harm, on Wednesday 12 August.

Heinze joins Australian fashion icon Kit Willow Podgornik, founder of WILLOW and new label KITX, Ethical Sourcing Manager at David Jones Jaana Quaintance-James, and Dr Frances Flanagan from the Sydney Environment Institute for a talk that will unravel the stereotypes of sustainable fashion.

While many people face the daily struggle of what to wear, few are in a position to make informed fashion choices, with no national accreditation body currently certifying clothing which is both environmentally sustainable and ethically produced.   

“It’s very rare to find a label or a garment that is ticking all the right boxes. It’s quite common to find a brand that is dedicated to being sweatshop-free, but their environmental credentials won’t be as strong,” said Heinze, author of Sustainability with Style.

Most people don’t want to buy something that’s made in a sweatshop – it’s not that people want to choose that as an option – but it can be really difficult to know how something was made.
Lisa Heinze

Currently only one certification – Ethical Clothing Australia – provides information on working conditions for accredited brands and manufacturers producing garments in Australia.

Following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, there’s been a marked change in how people make their fashion choices, said Heinze.

“Consumers have little patience for companies that don’t know how their clothing is produced. But at this point they also don’t seem to be aware of how deep and complex the fashion supply chain can become.”

The days of daggy eco-fashion are numbered, with an increasing number of sustainably- and style-conscious retailers bursting onto the Australian fashion scene. So far, Heinze has interviewed 25 sustainable fashion designers, labels and retailers to present an accurate overview of the industry today.

“All of the retailers I’ve interviewed acknowledge that we need to move beyond the old stereotypes of what eco fashion looks like,” said Heinze.

“There’s a recognition that aesthetics and style has to be as good as everything else that’s out there. Price, style and availability tend to be the top three issues when choosing fashion, and many people aren’t even aware of the sustainability factor.”

As major global labels like H&M launch their ‘Conscious’ Collection, the opportunities for making sustainable fashion decisions are likely to increase in future. Heinze believes the first step towards change is to increase awareness among both consumers and the industry.

“The answer is not to make people feel guilty about shopping for pleasure but rather painting a realistic picture of fashion consumption, and in doing so it will make it easier for people to consume fashion sustainably,” she said.

The panel is co-presented by Sydney Ideas and the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney.

Event details

What: Beauty Without Harm’ panel

When: Wednesday 12 August, 6.30 to 8.00pm

Where: Law School Foyer, Level 2, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

Cost: Free, registration requested

Podcast: Listen to the audio online now

Emily Jones

Media and Public Relations Adviser

Sydney Law School