Interested in a career in fashion, but also possess a global conscience? Take inspiration from these labels leading the way in style and substance and proving that it’s possible to be both fashion-forward and ethical in business.
It seems like it was only a few years ago that the words “ethical clothing” came coupled with not-so-fashionable designs. Thankfully, though, that cliché has long been shattered. A number of designers and brands are now helping to support the artisans behind their production line, and – coupled with a more globally aware customer – working to make sustainable and ethical practices the new norm in fashion.
From making small changes in packaging to broad production line calls, heading down a globally conscious path as a young label or small business is more viable now than ever before. Here, we highlight five local designers worth taking notes from.
Since departing her famed eponymous label two years ago, Australian designer Kit Willow, retuned to fashion earlier this year with KITX (an acronym for Kindness, Integrity, Transparency and X, representing the future). The new clothing and accessory brand possesses all the deluxe, high-end fabrications and design factors we’ve come to love of Willow, but with a solid sustainable and ethical stance.
“I strongly believe in a better world,” says Kit. “[This can happen] through the simple mantra of making women look and feel beautiful, [but] without harming our precious planet, so everyone can win.”
In the lead-up to the label’s launch, Willow says she researched, consulted and collaborated with organisations that support global artisans such as NEST in New York, Loom to Luxury and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to develop high-end collections that were as globally conscious and ethical as they are fashionable and luxurious.
Gorman has been leading the ethical charge in Australian fashion since the label put out a purely organic collection in 2007. Since then, many more green practices have been introduced, including a service where customers can drop off old Gorman clothing for recycling and/or charity donation, and a partnership with non-profit organisation Friends of the Earth Australia, which means a tree is planted for every three customers who opt out of a recycled brown paper bag. Gorman also states that 63 per cent of all orders are sea-freighted; it reduced plastic packaging of bulk orders by 90 per cent in 2010; and stores are fitted-out with recycled and salvaged materials and/or plantation timbers.
Gorman also has a transparent and detailed animal welfare and social and ethical conduct policies for customers to view at any time. If you’re considering working in fashion and pursuing a more sustainable path, Gorman’s small but powerful examples are good ones to follow and quite easy to copy/paste into your own small business plan.
“There was never a moment where we thought ‘let’s make a Fairtrade label’,” says Bhalo co-founder Jessica Priemus. “We just wanted to make garments using the fantastic skills of local artisans.” After meeting her husband and co-founder, Shimul Minhas Uddin, while the pair were working in a sewing centre for disadvantaged women in Bangladesh, they decided to combine their experience in design and social work to start a label that gave Bangladeshi locals more opportunities, minus the exploitation that is common in many garment factories.
Bhalo has a trans-seasonal drop, which allows the brand to serve its stockists in both hemispheres while taking the pressure off the makers. Its beautifully colourful garments are produced in the rural town of Rajshahi. Bhalo’s production partner, Thanapara Swallows Development Society, is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) and ECOTA Fair Trade Forum, and helps provide work to underprivileged, disadvantaged and poverty-stricken locals (particularly women).
Priemus and Uddin also proudly encourage their customers to be more mindful of the origins of the garments, by using social media and YouTube to educate and bring transparency to their processes.
Self-confessed bowerbird, designer Rachael Cassar has been collecting vintage textiles, end-rolls of surplus fabrics and bits and pieces since she was a teenager. So it would make sense that her magnificent eco-friendly collections, worn by celebrities such as Rihanna, Shailene Woodley and Victoria’s Secret model Angela Lindvall, is made with recycled and deconstructed fabrics. She has busted the myth of “it’s too expensive to be an emerging designer AND be sustainable” by creating highly coveted couture pieces.
Her advice for other designers? “Being sustainable shouldn't really be an option for emerging designers – it is integral to the future of our industry. It doesn't have to be expensive. Be resourceful and creative.” Cassar, whose label has had this ethos since its launch in 2007, has proudly never conceded. “You can change a person’s perception on what ‘environmentally friendly’ means,” she says. “Redefining the eco-aesthetic is what drives my label and this original vision allows me to have success globally.”
With a background in international public health, Bhumi founder Vinita Baravkar has seen firsthand the impacts of traditional cotton growing. “Farmer suicides, child labour, pesticide poisoning, birth defects, toxic waterways…” Her list goes on. So after years of meeting with organisations supporting organic farmers, Baravkar decided to make a change, and her organic cotton label was born.
With Bhumi, Baravkar proves that sumptuous cotton basics, underwear, linen and children’s clothing does not need to compromise on cost or design. The brand supports Fairtrade practices that help with the funding of community projects, and respects the supply chain –from the farmers to their Melbourne store (and informative web store). Even though all Bhumi products are certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Australian Certified Organic (ACO), Baravkar is humble. “The choice to respect our planet regarding our purchases in the textile industry does not have to begin with Bhumi products,” she says. “The more affordable this choice is, the more people we can reach. The more people we can reach, the more impactful the change for the planet and humanity. For me, there is a bigger picture. Bhumi stands for what we stand on.”
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