How To Make Your Fashion Business More Sustainable
Posted by Matthew Craig on
As we leave our Q1 Eduction Theme and approach our Q2 Innovation Focus, we met with Camille Reed of the Australasian Circular Textile Association to talk about how businesses can make the move towards becoming more sustainable with their production.
What was your first foray into the fashion / textile world?
Unofficially, wearing outrageous loud clothes to casual days in high school! The first moment where I ‘had’ to work in the fashion industry was after first experience visiting New York over 10 years ago. It was an inspiring visit, the window displays oozed the essence of style, sophistication, creativity and all the attributes I wanted in a career.
It wasn’t too long after returning from America I began working for a whole distributing company owned by Solomon Lew in Carlton North, Melbourne. Voyager was a large company mainly stocking to David Jones, Myer, Just Group, Webster Holdings and a number of in-house designer labels, Thurely, Trent Nathan, Kachel.
Officially graduating Uni as a Graphic Designer, and having experienced several junior roles with SME’s I’d discovered my calling was in the fashion industry. Voyager was the first role as a Textile Design, fortunately all pre-existing skills from Graphic Design were completely transferable and fundamentally was self-taught on the job.
Fast forward, during my time at Forever New there was a moment a colleague taught me about textile waste – I’d never really given it a second thought. I’ve always shopped at market, charity stores and donated rather than throw out. But textile waste on larger scale was relatively new. To say the least it peaked my interest, I wrote a 40 page Sustainability Department for the company (again something that doesn’t exist in Australia) and never looked back. It’s been a progressive journey.
Was there a tipping point for you when you became aware of the drastic need for a more sustainable solution for the fashion industry?
When working in a large fashion label, I was always frustrated with the lack of thought that went into creating these amazing pieces (I still lovefashion). While I was a freelance designer, I was researching recycled swatches to present my own artworks to fashion houses.
In doing so, I came across an industry of professionals who were all doing amazing things, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if the fashion industry started collaborating on these problems, rather than hiding behind intellectual property laws.
If you had to pinpoint one driving factor which really made you sit up and think “I need to learn more about this”, what would it be?
It was surprisingly easy to access detailed statistics around fashion waste and pollution since the launch of the UN Global Goals. So once I started researching, I couldn’t stop. Also, coming across the Elle Mcarther Foundation really helped me understand that there was solutions in the market and a tribe of people working hard to implement them.
Can you tell us about how and why you decided that establishing your own association was the right path for you?
This is a great questions because it took a lot of convincing that Australia needed another association. We explored partnering with current associations, creating private for-profit education courses and many other structures to push this movement. Understanding that the Australian fashion industry can be a very fragmented place, and speaking to professionals and industry leaders, we had a unanimous decision that an association was going to get the best result in Australia.
Tell us a bit about the ACFC which you host annually. What is the goal of this conference?
The conference has been set up to educate the fashion industry only, it’s the country’s first B2B event where tools, resources, education and practical solutions are discussed at a higher level. Given my background having worked in the industry for over 10 years, there was something needed in supporting the enormity of companies needing to pivot their business models and transition from linear take-make-waste into becoming circular.
Our primary aim is to ignite the fashion sectors environmental awareness and stewardship right now!
The role of the conference is to provide all sectors within industry (including charity associations, waste recovery sector, academia, government, retailers, shopping centres, brands of all sizes) the necessary action items to achieve responsible business practice over the next 5-10 years.
Our primary goal by 2024 is to record 230 businesses adapting sustainable practice within manufacturing, production and operating systems.
What are the main things which brands can start doing straightaway to become more sustainable?
The two things that every brand can start doing to make a significant impact to Circular Fashion is 1) Start with better design. Invest in education for their designers to learn how to minimise waste from the start of production. 2) Collaborate with other brands who are committing to take-back schemes.
Do you find that you experience similar reactions from brands when the word “sustainability” pops up in conversation?
When I first presented a 30 page paper on how this particular fashion company could start moving toward a more circular supply chain, it went over their heads and nothing ever happened from it. Fast-forward 3 years and i’m now sitting with the executives of the biggest brands in Australia, openly talking about solutions to major issues faced by industry today. Industry handles the word sustainability a lot better these days.
What kind of reaction do you typically experience when talking to brands about supply chain transparency and wastage?
Brands need to first have a better supply chain understanding and transparency internally before they can have external stakeholder transparency. Data collection in the circular economy is becoming big business, although it is still developing.
What do you think are the major blockers for brands developing more of a sustainable approach to business is?
This is a very good question. This is multi-faceted. A big bonus of developing sustainable business practices is the marketing benefits. Some brands are not maximising or sometimes even hiding these changes because they can be fearful that their detractors will do more harm, by ripping them down and poking holes in their business, rather than the good their customers supporting these initiatives will achieve. Brands not receiving marketing benefits for the real initiatives they are creating does not accelerate the advancement of circular fashion.
The second blocker is a serious lack of government support, initiative and investment and third is, there are always individuals within organisations who do not believe they need to make any changes within the company.
How can we fix those things?
Another great question. There is no simple answer although the increase in Government support and investment will help major decision makers in the larger brands to commit to more audacious goals. On top of that, more education and transparency is needed, and both of these things ACFC and ACTA is pushing to achieve.
How much of a part do you think the consumer has to play in creating a more circular economy?
I’ll take a quote from Ross from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “asking customers to fix the fashion
industry’s problems is like asking airline passengers to fly the planes.” I think more pressure and better consumer choices mixed with more education will assist the fashion brands in creating better practices.
As a consumer of fashion, I always try to be aware of the fabric content and origin of the product I’m buying, but is there more I should be doing to consume more responsibly?
Instead of purchasing new, save yourself the time by either opting for no new purchases, or only selecting premium quality, shopping second hand or renting. There’s a number of new options consumers can engage with, each can be tailored to suit their needs as we’re all different. Unless you’re only producing a glass jar of personal waste for an entire year… Wait you’re not…?! Then yes absolutely there’s always more to be done. Google is your friend.
Do you have any favourite brands who you think are trailblazers in the sustainable fashion space?
We have some really strong examples in Australia of stylish, fashionable labels in Australia like Viktoria + Woods, Spell & The Gypsy Collective, Mastani, A.BCH, plus many more boutique and bespoke designer. However no-one in particular. We can celebrate them all equally for their effort and leadership on the journey to sustainability. I look forward to seeing many more companies adapt in the next 12 months.
Finally, what is your hope for the Australian Retail Landscape in the next 12 months and how can we as individuals, businesses and consumers support that vision?
Blue sky vision is a strong, relevant industry market with equally strong consumer support. We have exceptionally clever people in Australia. Really strong brands and world leading fashion. Industry needs to recognise the disruption to business can be a defining factor, if they’re too slow off the mark then how are they staying relevant to the market. Greater awareness needs to come from both sides, consumer and business. No one side is more responsible than the other. We need to stop blaming and shaming companies who are looking to re-position their business.
MindArc are proud to support the upcoming Australasian Circular Textile Conference in Melbourne and are offering attendees a 15% discount on tickets.
Just click this link and enter MINDARC_ACFC at the checkout to receive your exclusive discount.