Five local designers on why Fashion Revolution Week matters

Now in it’s ninth year, the global activism movement Fashion Revolution Week continues to campaign for a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry around the globe. The movement focuses on the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry and the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain as well as celebrating those who are on a journey to create a more ethical and sustainable future.

Here in Aotearoa, more of our local designers are learning to embrace slow fashion and create carefully considered pieces that minimise their impact on people and our planet. It’s an ongoing learning process for all involved and we spoke to five local designers who are committed to operating sustainably and ethically about what Fashion Revolution Week means to them, what their journey with ethical and sustainable fashion is like and what they’re doing to minimise waste and operate in a responsible way?

Fashion revolution week 2022

Frances Lowe from LOCLAIRE. Image by Enna Ye.

Frances Lowe – LOCLAIRE

Frances Lowe founded sustainable womenswear label LOCLAIRE in 2019, after working in the fashion industry for eight years for the likes of RUBY and H&M. A stint in China changed her perception on fashion and inspired her to create LOCLAIRE. The brand moved to a made to order model in October 2020, with the aim of being zero waste, offering completely inclusive sizing, transparent pricing, and being locally-made.

Why does Fashion Revolution Week matter and what does it mean to you?

Clothing is a common thread across all of humanity – every human on earth wears some form of it, which gives our industry an immense amount of power to do bad, or to do good. Unfortunately around three decades of fast fashion has completely devastated the industry’s financial, environmental and social progress. Long-lasting change can only happen if all stakeholders work together (and by this I mean everyone – brands, retailers, supply chain, customers, but also influencers, media, the laundry and care industry, educational providers, government etc).

With so many parties involved this is obviously easier said than done, which is where Fashion Revolution Week is so crucial. I see this as a chance to bring us to altogether – to create awareness, educate our communities, and check in with our progress and goals.

What has your own journey with sustainable, ethical and slow fashion been like as a person and as a business?

One very much informs and influences the other. I came across the philosophy of ‘enoughness’ a while ago – a state of being that focuses on calming external noises, and feeling fulfilled with having and being enough. Running a business selling womenswear may seem quite contradictory to this, and I often feel this tension, however humankind is a hard nut to crack – you can’t just tell people to stop buying cheap, polyester clothes, you have to show up with a superior alternative that proves there is a better way. Of course I still buy things myself – but when I do it is well considered; each purchase is my vote for the kind of world I want to live in – a self sustaining world which isn’t burdened by the greed of humanity.

There has been a lot of awareness raised in recent years about the environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry and while some change has happened there is still a long way to go yet in most areas. How are you feeling about the progress that has been made, where things are at now and what would you like to see happen next?

The work is relentless, but I feel optimistic. In my twelve years in the industry I have seen change – day to day it can feel very much just getting one foot in front of the other, but when I stop to look at the bigger picture, there has been progress. For example, ten years ago, you would have struggled to find any certified organic cottons being brought into the country by local suppliers – now most of my suppliers carry basic woven and knit qualities.

Obviously there is a lot of work to do – I think the hardest part is engaging every single individual to feel responsible in doing their part. At every level we have huge power to influence our own community to make better decisions, whether it is brands taking a stand in anti-Black Friday campaigns, or friends telling me that Loclaire has completely changed their buying habits. The more people that talk about it, the bigger the reach, and the more urgency there will be for change.

What aspects do you take into consideration in the design and production process to ensure you’re producing your garments to minimise the impact on the environment and to be as ethical as possible at this point?

I preface this by saying the road to sustainability can feel like a bit of a black hole, as there is still huge complexity and vagueness in the supply chain. There also isn’t one right or wrong way to tackle it. We very much take on new learnings with an open mind, and our small size allows us to test new ideas or innovations quite easily.

Fabric sourcing is huge for Loclaire – we use only organic or recycled cottons, natural fibres like linen, hemp and silk, ZQ-certified merinos, and deadstock fabrics. Not only do organic/natural fibres have a lower environmental impact in their production, they feel and breathe better on your skin, and are much kinder long term – not releasing microplastics with every wash.

Unused fabric offcuts from production account for a huge percentage of overall waste (estimates sit at around 15%), so this becomes important in design – creating pattern pieces which have a high yield, and using up the rest in creative ways – our favourite ways are to sew up sleeves for padding coathangers, or as cloth storage bags for fruit and vege.

Our pieces are all locally made just fifteen minutes away – I am stoked to have found the most amazing makers whose values and standards are completely aligned with my own. The local supply chain can be pretty competitive and makers generally prioritise higher quantities – which doesn’t tend to favour made-to-order brands. My makers however have been hugely supportive of this, and their quality is second to none.

Clothing waste is still a huge issue in the fashion industry, how do you address that as a business?

Since October 2020, we completely changed our business model to only produce pieces made-to-order. I can’t stress how revolutionary this has been for us – from a stock perspective we are now completely zero waste.

This is our way of tackling the entire clothing lifecycle from design to wardrobe. As every piece of clothing we now produce already has a home – we don’t hold excess stock, and therefore don’t need to rely on sales to clear this. My generation has grown up in world of disposable fashion and sales that seem to go on year-round, but there is absolutely nothing healthy or sustainable about this. We are on a mission to disrupt this narrative – which is why we now publish cost breakdowns for each garment online, where you can see all the associated costs that inform our final retail price. This honest transparency is about educating our community the true cost and value of a slow, locally made garment.

For our customers, removing the dopamine hit of instant gratification encourages well thought out purchasing. Instead, you have the chance to order a special piece custom-fit to your body, which will be hand-cut, sewn, and with you in a few weeks. Clothes that fit really are much more likely to serve a long, loved life in your wardrobe. Our process is the antithesis of the take, make, dispose economy.

What can people do to ‘consume’ fashion more responsibly?

I think this needs to start with a change of mindset. I have found it most beneficial evaluating my own personal values and beliefs – as this then informs better purchasing habits across my lifestyle as a whole. For example, I value provenance and natural where possible – so whether it’s fashion or food, skincare or investments, these ground me in my decision making. Other than this – vote with your wallet, buy less but buy better, and look after your clothes.

International Womens Day 2020

Kiri Nathan from KIRI NATHAN. Image by James Yang.

Kiri Nathan – KIRI NATHAN

Designer Kiri Nathan is a true fashion and business powerhouse who was honoured as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to Māori and the fashion industry in 2020. Kiri founded the Kāhui Collective which mentors and promotes Māori designers and led a successful hikoi to China in 2019. Kiri is a passionate advocate for Māori design and creating slow fashion, making unique garments by hand that are designed to be treasured and handed down for generations.

Why does Fashion Revolution Week matter and what does it mean to you?

The buzz words that are sustainable and ethical fashion ring in the ears of millions around the world, however impact happens when value-based actions are taken.  When individuals in numbers walk the talk. Fashion Revolution not only reveals the problems in our industry, but they also collectively gather solutions and act.  Fashion Revolution Week is an active and effective week of collective global movements towards a more equitable and mindful future. The theme MONEY FASHION POWER for this year’s Fashion Revolution Week has long been discussed, the world is aware of the inequities of the top 20 world fashion brands and their devastating effects on people and planet, however not enough people are speaking, sharing, and fighting for the basic human rights of the broken backs and lives that the fashion industry is majority built on. We may think of this huge injustice as something that is far removed from everyday New Zealand.  However, NZ consumers are buying from fast fashion brands far more so than sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion brands. There are many reasons for this, none more so than cost! It always costs more in the short term, however slow fashion is far more cost-effective in the long term for the consumer, the maker, and the planet.

What has your own journey with sustainable, ethical and slow fashion been like as a person and as a business?

My journey as an individual within the fashion industry has been one of learning and applying. The lessons of sustainability weren’t taught when I studied fashion (a million years ago lol), thankfully sustainability is taught in fashion schools these days! As a Māori however, our world view is of circularity, we don’t process from linear perspectives, we understand our responsibilities to te taiao (the natural environment) whakapapa (lineage, genealogy) tō tatou anamata (our collective futures). This belief system is ingrained in all indigenous races, therefore acting in ways that are mindful of people and planet is how we all think as individuals, as whānau (family) and in pākihi Māori (Māori businesses). The KIRI NATHAN fashion brand has always curated made in New Zealand slow fashion, we have never claimed to be a sustainable or ethical business, we simply view those commitments and processes as our fundamental duty and responsibility. Personally, I support transparency, however when being a sustainable fashion brand becomes your main marketing and selling tool, it very quickly moves into a different space for me… as creators of more product we need to be responsible for the way we manufacture and the way we connect those pieces to consumers, if we are simply flying sustainable fashion flags everywhere and not authentically contributing to a positive and collective change, then we are contributing to the problem!

There has been a lot of awareness raised in recent years about the environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry and while some change has happened there is still a long way to go yet in most areas. How are you feeling about the progress that has been made, where things are at now and what would you like to see happen next?

The problems are so huge, they can often seem unfathomable, that we as a person or as a small fashion business at the bottom of the world, couldn’t contribute in a meaningful way. However, it’s so very important to remember that every single contribution towards positive change counts.  I try to focus on what I can control, on what I can do to effect change in my daily processes, in the way we plan for the future and in the way we can support others into pathways and opportunities to build businesses and an industry we can be proud of.  I’ve recently created a Kāhui Toitū for Kāhui Collective which is a collaborative commitment to a sustainable future for our members to utilise as a reference point, with functional tools to create immediate positive change and also to build towards more substantial impacts. There are things we can all do as makers and consumers today.  Never underestimate the power of your voice and more importantly the power of action.

What aspects do you take into consideration in the design and production process to ensure you’re producing your garments to minimise the impact on the environment and to be as ethical as possible at this point?

I feel like this question feeds into the “scratching the surface” kete that our industry seems to have appointed as the frameworks for sustainable and ethical business practice. Let’s use sustainable fabrics as an example – fashion brands will claim to use fabrics that are sourced from deadstock (aka bolts of leftover cheaper options for fabric suppliers to purchase, a business model they have used since inception, which has now been relabelled as deadstock, therefore sustainable fabric). This is a great move towards conscious consumerism on the part of the designer, however it hardly constitutes as a truly impactful way to claim the use of sustainable fabric. If we don’t want to continuously “scratch the surface” we can’t be lazy, we need to research, go deep on solutions that work for our businesses, but at the same time actually contribute to better outcomes. At KN we’ve compiled hours of in-depth research into how we can be good tīpuna (ancestors), we’ve developed so many relationships nationally and globally that contribute to a more positive now and future, we’ve built and rebuilt our systems and processes to align with our values, we constantly learn and act. We work with Māori and indigenous cultures around the world to source handcrafted or natural fabrics, we collaborate with indigenous businesses here in NZ and abroad that contribute to excellent social enterprise within their communities and within indigenous fashion practices. We manufacture small bespoke collections that are made in New Zealand by a handful of artisans that have mastered their crafts over decades in the New Zealand fashion industry, and I guess more than anything we genuinely care about our people.  We would never claim to have all the answers, but we do live and work our values. We’ve always said our gauge is the ability to look our kids in the eye and know that we are doing our best.

Clothing waste is still a huge issue in the fashion industry, how do you address that as a business?

I recently lead a design team for a client that wanted to develop a new national education garment. Through this process and with a huge amount of input from our design team, we were able to identify three solutions for textile waste in New Zealand, utilising upcycling, repurposing, and circularity.  This is an ongoing contract at present so I can’t divulge all the details in this article. But this is an example of how projects and processes can solve some of the textile waste problems in New Zealand.  We’ve also recently collaborated with a Filipino social enterprise that uses waste textile destined for landfill to create beautifully handwoven accessories. Waste is a problem that should be seen as an opportunity to do better, it’s always been so interesting to me that once the word waste is used, people tend to turn their noses up, as if the waste is dirty, in most cases it is the offcuts from your garments, or sample stock that is sent to landfill, unfulfilled orders, a slight fault in the product, none of these waste textiles have been to a dump, they are an opportunity to create a solution.

What can people do to ‘consume’ fashion more responsibly?

Conscious consumerism will grow as consumers become more informed, for a quick reality fix watch The True Cost.

Fashion revolution week 2022

Keva Rands from Papa Clothing. Image supplied.

Keva Rands – Papa Clothing

Keva Rands (mixed Pasifika and Pakeha descent) is the designer for Papa Clothing, a locally made, ethical brand with a focus on natural materials and inclusivity. Keva pulls inspiration from her heritage and family for her relaxed designs that are worn by a diverse range of people across the motu.

Why does Fashion Revolution Week matter and what does it mean to you?

Fashion Revolution Week is so important in terms of getting global visibility on the working conditions of the people who make our clothes and understanding what fast, cheap fashion is and who the real people are that pay for it to cost so little. For me, it’s important because the more education there is around this issue, the more understanding people will have for the price and quality of locally made clothing like Papa.

What has your own journey with sustainable, ethical and slow fashion been like as a person and as a business?

I was lucky enough to be raised in an eco village in Northland with permaculture as the method for growing our food and a community of people who had similar goals for environmental wellbeing. This is where my parents started their environmentally conscious brand, the ecostore. This meant our whole family were, and still are, in continuous learning about ways to eat, live and dress sustainably. For myself as a business owner that’s meant that I’ve been constantly looking for ways to cut waste and source locally.

There has been a lot of awareness raised in recent years about the environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry and while some change has happened there is still a long way to go yet in most areas. How are you feeling about the progress that has been made, where things are at now and what would you like to see happen next?

I think despite the moves large companies are making to have sustainable lines, this doesn’t erase and compensate for their main collections being too frequent, and with no promise of any ethical or sustainable practice involved. Unfortunately, brands like H&M are still running some of the biggest polluting manufacturers globally and these companies who are poisoning their lands with dyes and plastics from the garment industry runoff and waste employ people who can’t afford to meet their basic needs. I would love a shift towards more laws being put in place to criminalise practices that exploit their people and land. I’d also like to see less clothing produced and an effort made towards treating clothing like a special investment rather than cheap and disposable. I’d like to acknowledge as I say this that there are many people that can’t afford to invest in clothing and poverty is another issue entirely that needs to be addressed on a global level.

What aspects do you take into consideration in the design and production process to ensure you’re producing your garments to minimise the impact on the environment and to be as ethical as possible at this point?

Right now, we produce small runs locally in Tāmaki which already reduces the carbon footprint of each garment greatly and keeps the risk of producing dead stock to zero. Once the small runs have sold out we move to offering made-to-order garments to make sure we use up the remaining fabric we have. With offcuts we make smaller items like pillow cases and facemasks. The clothing is all made from natural fibres so each garment can break down in commercial composting after it’s lifecycle. Every aspect of the business is carefully considered down to the compostable courier bags we use for our online orders. We also pay our local suppliers and contributors fair compensation for their work with manaakitanga as an important aspect of our Pasifika-run business.

Clothing waste is still a huge issue in the fashion industry, how do you address that as a business?

We have always made our clothing in very small runs and then shift to made-to-order to reduce risk of clothing going to waste. If we are left with a few pieces in any style we then offer them to our community at a discounted price which is when a lot of our more financially cautious clients are able to have access to our work.

What can people do to ‘consume’ fashion more responsibly?

If you have the means to spend your money on locally made clothing that’s produced less regularly on a smaller scale or even made-to-order then you will already be doing something great for your local economy and actively not supporting fast fashion. Educating others without shaming is the best way to spread the word on the problem that the Fashion Revolution Week seeks to bring to people’s attention.

Fashion revolution week 2022

Suzie Eggleton from Velvet Heartbeat. Image supplied.

Suzie Eggleton – Velvet Heartbeat

Suzie Eggleton is the designer behind ethical brand Velvet Heartbeat which produces beautiful handbags and accessories. Each piece is handmade in New Zealand using cruelty-free materials with a focus on slow fashion and ethical production. Suzie is conscious of being as environmentally friendly as possible while creating timeless bags and accessories that are designed to last.

Why does Fashion Revolution Week matter and what does it mean to you?

As a maker myself I know the hard work and skill that goes in to making garments and accessories, when I see the working conditions and slave labour that comes with fast fashion production it really hits me hard. Nobody should have to suffer or die for the sake of fashion and to fill the pockets of people who are already billionaires off the backs of their workers. Sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming and it’s hard to know what I as one person can do about the situation but Fashion Revolution really breaks down simple and fun ways to create awareness on the true cost of the fashion industry and how our small choices can affect the lives of people across the world.

What has your own journey with sustainable, ethical and slow fashion been like as a person and as a business?

I started with animal rights values and everything escalated from there! I started asking questions and researching so I can be sure my fabric and hardware is coming through an ethical supply chain, then what about the life of my products? Can I rely on the textiles to last, are they made sustainably, what happens at the end of life of the product? I’m lucky to be able to work with some of the world’s best plant based leather alternatives like cactus, apple, corn and pineapple leather! All of these suppliers are award-winning and tick so many ethical and sustainable boxes for Velvet Heartbeat. Being a smaller brand and building values into the business from the start has been an advantage in staying agile to constantly improve the way I do things in every facet of the business. The values of the brand relate directly to my own values so it’s easy to get passionate about trying to do better!

There has been a lot of awareness raised in recent years about the environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry and while some change has happened there is still a long way to go yet in most areas. How are you feeling about the progress that has been made, where things are at now and what would you like to see happen next?

Awareness is great, many years ago I was a big consumer of fast fashion, and being able to jump on trends that met my budget felt magical because I never thought about how everything was so cheap and so quickly available to me. Learning more made me question everything I purchased and promoted. There is unfortunately a lot of greenwashing with large corporations doing ethical or sustainable collections in one arm of their business but behaving very poorly in the majority of their business model. So on one hand it’s great they are reading the room and can tell it’s what consumers are looking for, and maybe overall good for awareness, however it doesn’t fix the problems of consumption, waste and unethical production. I’d love to see some of these industry giants drastically change their whole business model or just be phased out.

What aspects do you take into consideration in the design and production process to ensure you’re producing your garments to minimise the impact on the environment and to be as ethical as possible at this point?

I think every part of the process has to be matched to our set of values, starting with designing well to ensure it can stay in someone’s wardrobe through changing trends, sourcing fabrics and materials responsibly to ensure reduced impact on people and the environment, meeting not exceeding demand, minimising and utilising production waste, and paying and treating workers fairly and respectfully at all levels of the chain.

Clothing waste is still a huge issue in the fashion industry, how do you address that as a business?

Certainly making to demand, and I’ll admit that as a small made in New Zealand brand this is easier to do using in-house and local production rather than having to meet larger minimum order quantities from overseas suppliers. We’ll make small runs of items to cut down on stock sitting unsold, plus it’s more cost effective for the brand when fabrics used across multiple styles can stay on the roll until they’re ready to be sold rather than pre-cut and sewn in large quantities of items that may not sell.

What can people do to ‘consume’ fashion more responsibly?

Buy for a long time, not just one or two good times! It’s easy to fall into the trap of that little dopamine rush of getting something new, shortly replaced by a little deflating feeling when you wonder why you bought it in the first place. Imagine how each item you’re considering fits into your current wardrobe, where and how often will you wear it? Also consider what it’s made from and how well it’s made. Take time to research a brand before supporting them, they should be able to clearly tell you on their website who made the piece and how ethical and sustainable their practices are, don’t be shy about asking brands directly if their information isn’t good enough because your purchase is power! There are also great apps available and influencers doing this kind of research already to steer us in the right direction so you can get your fashion fix without the worry.

Fashion revolution week 2022

Alicia Tsi from Esse. Image supplied.

Alicia Tsi – Esse

Alicia Tsi founded contemporary womenswear label Esse in 2017 with an ethos of sustainablity and strong ethics. A long time fashion fan, Alicia had become frustrated with buying clothes that fell apart after a few washes and realised that she wanted to be part of creating fashion that was made to last and had purpose. Alicia quit her full time job and set about researching supply chains and how clothing is created, her discoveries led her to creating Esse which offers conscious clothing that is beautiful and sustainable.

Why does Fashion Revolution Week matter and what does it mean to you?

Fashion Revolution Week is so important because it is such a powerful movement galvanising consumers, brands, retailers and everyone involved in the global fashion industry to end human and environmental exploitation.

I think it’s an important reminder that Esse is part of a bigger movement of people who make the fashion industry work and though we are a small brand, we have the power to change the mindsets of individual citizens and impact the fashion industry in a positive way through the work that we do.

What has your own journey with sustainable, ethical and slow fashion been like as a person and as a business?

I worked at one of Asia’s leading luxury fashion retailers distributing designer brands like Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and Comme des Garçons.

During my time working in the luxury fashion industry, I was quite the fashion victim and had amassed a wardrobe full of garments. Tired of having a wardrobe brimming with clothes, but having a sense of nothing to wear and throwing out clothes that fall apart after a few washes, I quit my job and set out to pursue my love in fashion by creating trans-seasonal classics that make women feel beautiful in them.

After delving deeper into the fashion supply chain, I uncovered a system that trains us to adopt a ‘disposable’ mindset and an industry that turns a blind eye to the high environmental and social cost of its production. Uncovering these truths propelled me to embark on a journey to create a responsible fashion label that’s better for the planet, and that was how Esse was born.

As a business, we are working steadily to make all areas of our business more ethical and sustainable and move the needle forward. At the beginning of this year, we published our first Progress Report to share our progress and work as our brand. I truly believe that the journey towards sustainability is one which is always a work in progress so we strive for progress over perfection.

There has been a lot of awareness raised in recent years about the environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry and while some change has happened there is still a long way to go yet in most areas. How are you feeling about the progress that has been made, where things are at now and what would you like to see happen next?

I think that there’s been some progress made by many brands in tracing their first tier suppliers and being more transparent about their suppliers. Many brands have also started producing garments made from more sustainable materials. However, I think that there is still a disconnect between our choices and the impact we have on the environment because it’s hard to see it, especially from the point of view of a consumer.

For example, it is hard for consumers to draw a direct correlation between buying a piece of clothing from a fast fashion brand and seeing how their purchase directly impacts the environment and humanity. This is especially so if consumers cannot see where the materials were sourced from, meet the person who made it and understand the conditions it was produced in. The supply chain of many fashion brands, notably, fast fashion brands still remain opaque.

The rise of green-washing has also muddied the waters, making it hard for even the most discerning customers to tell if what they are buying is actually made in a responsible and sustainable way.

What aspects do you take into consideration in the design and production process to ensure you’re producing your garments to minimise the impact on the environment and to be as ethical as possible at this point?

Rather than chasing trends, we choose to create season-less styles that sell throughout the year. To prevent any wastage from excess inventory, each of our styles are launched in small capsules instead of huge collections seasonally.

This year, we introduced a new line called Wardrobe Heroes, which is launched on a made-to-order basis. These all-occasion classics are meant to make a statement, focusing on refined tailoring while still remaining true to Esse’s ethos of creating minimal, enduring styles. We will be focusing on launching one wardrobe hero a month on a made-to-order (MTO) model and slowly move away from capsule launches.

We are also rigorous in our fabric selection, using only fabrics that are made from organic, renewable, and biodegradable fibres. Last year, we also committed to moving towards using only responsibly sourced trims. As of now, 30% of our trims are sourced from biodegradable or recycled materials, with 100% of our tags made from GRS recycled-polyester and 100% of our buttons made from natural and biodegradable sources.

More information about our Sustainability Goals for 2022 and Progress Report can be found here.

Clothing waste is still a huge issue in the fashion industry, how do you address that as a business?

We launched a repair programme for all of our garments to extend our garments’ life span and adopt a more circular approach. The repair programme is extended to all customers of Esse and they can mail or bring their garments into Esse’s store for complimentary repair advice.

This not only minimises waste, but our ecological impact as a brand. Our garments are made to last, but we think that they will have a longer and more meaningful life if customers take good care of them and repair them to extend their lifespan.

To give customers more repair options and equip them with the skills they need for their own DIY repairs, we have also teamed up with mending advocate, Renee Williams of Repair Redefined. Together, we have filmed a series of free DIY repair videos that teaches people how to perform their own simple repairs. Some of the videos include demonstrating how to attach a button, fixing a broken seam, patching up a hole and more.

What can people do to ‘consume’ fashion more responsibly?

– Shop your own wardrobe – the most sustainable garment is the one you already own!

– Care for your garments in the right way and mend/repair when your garment is worn.

– Shop vintage or thrift stores or organise a swap with friends!

– If you have to buy a new item, consider how many times you’d wear the item and don’t forget to find out more about who made your garment and where it was made.

Images by James Yang, Enna Ye and supplied.

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