Ethical Fashion at MSFW

The tingle of prestige and the sense of audacity you get in a brand-new outfit doesn’t need to stand binary with ethical practice. As Melbourne’s fashion elite clink their glasses to swiped credit cards, the shriek of a yearned dress on sale, the bitten nails of anxious designers that come with this year’s MSFW. The question of ethicality and sustainability becomes an ever increasing question on the glossed lips and fresh minds of fashion week participants.

In a bid to open up the question to a now curious audience MSFW is tuning in to questions and firing them back at its recipients, including the designers. In an effort to consider honesty in designs, manufacturing and sustainability from students and consumers to industry veterans.

To create awareness, you need an audience. ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ and ‘I Dream of Denim’ are two events by Box Hill Institute Flinders Lane campus running during MSFW that aim to percolate discussion as well as educate emerging designers on the importance of ethical production by using only upcycled materials. I spoke with Debbie Pratt, Head Coordinator of Fashion Design at Box Hill Institute, about the MSFW events and why fashion students need to engage with sustainability principles from concept to consumer purchase.

With the increasing awareness of fashion’s current sustainability approaches, or lack thereof, it’s reassuring to see projects and opportunities like this among MSFW which itself can be a vortex of product waste and unethical brands. It’s a slow progression but it is one indeed. As more and more media begins to surface with the likes of Hessian magazine, films like The True Cost, Slow Living magazine but it’s projects like these that encourage students, as the potential future of the fashion industry to consider the procedure from concept to retail sale as a tangible item to be sourced, costed and manufactured – even potentially globally, and of course, innovation in upcycling and still maintain appeal among buyers.

With over 2000 lives lost in India, factories slowly being shut down and questionable ethics on some of the biggest names in Australia, and the world it’s no wonder consumers are becoming dubious on the whereabouts of their garments. This is why Waste Not, Want Not plans to instigate discussion on sustainability and ethical manufacturing in the world of fast fashion. Pratt explains, ‘the fashion teachers decided it is very important to educate our students and explore how sustainability can be incorporated into the design process and think about design differently. It allows the students to engage with their designs and think outside the box from standard perils such as materials and reinventing a trend.’ It’s not just about environmental factors but health and wellbeing, workers exposed to harsh chemicals, low wages and terrible working conditions just to save a few dollars is something that needs to be considered too.

Although the challenge of upcycling and using only recycled materials is a daunting one, we can look at the likes of Alexandra Hackett who has built her emerging design repertoire into upcycling showing consumers that ethical fashion isn’t all beige organic cottons, miss-matched materials and over-locked edges.

As well as this, both ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ and ‘I Dream of Denim’ enable students to think about the shapes and silhouettes they create, challenging standard design and societies general structure of fast fashion. ‘I Dream of Denim’ makes use of off-cuts from locally produced and ECA accredited label, Nobody Denim, as well as second hand jeans. Within the projects, these usually discarded fabrics are used as embellishments and students explore various materials and natural fibres  and how they can be used in their designs.

‘Fast fashion is having a significant impact on the environment with a huge quantity of apparel being disposed of and going to landfill’ says Pratt. Not to mention the hazardous chemicals and water waste that goes into the manufacturing process. The awareness for young students and the public is important for both the designer and the consumer to change fast fashion and minimise waste, Melbourne is a city of listeners, and full of open-minds, so this is one step forward, all it takes is to shift their thinking.

‘It’s time we all start questioning where, who, what, and how designers and companies are sourcing and handling their procedures, we need to be educated on the real story of our clothing.’ Pratt closes. To add to this, as consumers we’re the lifeblood of the industry and we are integral to the fashion industry. This also counts for intellectual property of local designers. No change will be made unless education is instilled, but it takes those fresh ideas, innovation and reinvention to alter the minds of the masses. Waste Not, Want Not is great initiative to showcase the imagination of young minds and give sustainability a breath of fresh air.

When? ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ and ‘I Dream of Denim’ runs from the 30th of Aug to the 7th of Sep

Where? Centre for Adult Education, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

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