The Big Issue : Edition 569
20 THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 24 AUG–6 SEP 2018 favourite frock shop seasonally. Many fashion fans now expect to see new products from their favourite brands every couple of weeks, which helps to explain why, according to research firm IBIS, the fast fashion industry in Australia is growing at 19.5 per cent per annum. So, what’s wrong with that? Doesn’t fast mean zippy, new, exciting, modern? And do we not live in an increasingly fast-paced society, powered by tech and impatience? Seriously, how long is your attention span? Fast is fabulous! And surely a booming industry means a booming economy; more spending, more jobs, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yes, this picture can be a rosy one for domestic retail, but what about the workers further back in the supply chain? Since the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013, killing 1138 people, there has been increasing focus on apparel brands chasing the cheapest needle, and on unfair, unsafe working conditions in garment factories. In 2017, Oxfam Australia’s What She Makes report revealed that women working in garment factories in Dhaka were being paid just 39 cents an hour to make clothing for well-known Australian stores. Not that price point or country of origin are sure-fire indicators of what’s been produced ethically. There are fair factories in China, for example, like the one Tom Osborne uses. All brands are not created equal, and that applies just as much at the cheaper end as at the more expensive. Some fast fashion companies are working hard on supply chain transparency and improving working conditions, while others lag horribly. It is difficult to generalise. But if there’s one aspect to all of this that everyone agrees upon: textile waste is a massive problem. Globally, fashion production has pretty much doubled since 2000 – we’re now producing close to 100 billion garments a year, and far too many of them are ending up in landfill. According to ABC program War on Waste, Australians send 6000kg of fashion and textile waste there every 10 minutes. Talk about unsustainable. Think of all the work that’s gone into creating this stuff, from growing or manufacturing to the people harvesting it, to the cutting and trimming of the finished garments, the energy used in the factories, the freight, the marketing, the people selling it – and for what? As Osborne points out, “If we better understand the energy taken to grow the raw fibres, the hours taken to weave, cut, sew and dye, we are more likely to reflect our clothing’s true value by looking after it and repairing, re- dyeing, and handing it on when it has served its purpose for us – all the richer for the patina that reflects the stories we lived while wearing it.” Slow fashion encompasses all these things: reconnecting with our clothes, “To quote punk-turned-eco-warrior Vivenne Westwood: ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last!’” FITTED FOR WORK is an enterprise helping disadvantaged women get and keep work. One of its initiatives is the Personal Outfitting and Interview Service, where women are helped to build confidence through fitting them “in quality donated business clothing”. The women receive interview training and assistance with job applications. Fitted for Work also runs The Conscious Closet, recycled clothing shops in Melbourne and Sydney that help fund the rest of its programs and services. THE SOCIAL OUTFIT is a fashion label empowering new migrant and refugee communities. Accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, it provides training and employment in clothing production, as retail staff, in design and in marketing. It also offers training programs in sewing and design throughout western Sydney. All income generated from sales is directed back into the organisation. Ho M ie is a retail store and fashion label that provides clothing, training and employment to young people experiencing homelessness. Interns with the program gain a Certificate III in Retail Operations. The clothes are all ethically made in Australia, and 100 per cent of the profits go back towards the training program, and for VIP Shopping Days, where people experiencing homelessness are invited into the Melbourne store for free items and grooming. MAGPIE GOOSE is a social enterprise fashion label using screen-printed fabrics bought directly from Indigenous art centres in the NT, helping support artists, screen-printers and retail staff in remote communities. The enterprise runs textile design and screen-printing workshops for aspiring artists and employs Indigenous models for all of its promotion. WELL MADE CLOTHES is an online hub for ethical labels. All clothing sold on the website must meet environmental and labour requirements, and also address at least one of its Eight Well Made Clothes Values: sustainable, fair, transparent, vegan, gender equality, handcrafted, local and minimal waste. Customers can see which of these values a label meets. FASHION FORWARD Old is new. Fast is slow. Green is the new black. As conscious consumerism reaches the height of fashion, Katherine Smyrk looks at some clothing-based initiatives helping to make a difference.