Spotlight on fashion week's 'green' event

Lalesso, showing at the Clean Cut show at Mecedes Benz Fashion Week Australia.

Lalesso, showing at the Clean Cut show at Mecedes Benz Fashion Week Australia.

Clean Cut, Australia's first fashion advocacy group, will stage a 'green' catwalk show at Mercedes Benz fashion week on Thursday to celebrate local and international labels such as Desert Designs, Rachel Cassar and the Social Studio that fall in line with the group's game plan of sustainability and ethics.

We chatted with Kelly Elkin, the founder of Clean Cut, on what the group hopes to achieve and the continuous evolving nature of the sustainable fashion movement. 

Can you tell me a little more about your background and how you got involved in the sustainable fashion space? 

The Social Studio, showing at the Clean Cut show at Mecedes Benz Fashion Week Australia.

The Social Studio, showing at the Clean Cut show at Mecedes Benz Fashion Week Australia.

I have a background in fashion both in Australia and the UK, as a designer I believe it's important to know who made my clothes and the impact that has on the environment and people. This led me to sustainable fashion- why not make a positive difference! In 2011 I co-founded ALAS, an organic sleepwear brand, we work with producers in India visiting regularly, enabling us to see first hand the benefits of a fair and sustainable supply chain.


Tell me more about Clean Cut - who’s involved, when it started, what it aims to do?

There are 4 founders of Clean Cut, we all have a unique background in the sustainable fashion sector including experience overseas, which gives us a unique global perspective.  

Clean Cut founder Kelly Elkin.

Clean Cut founder Kelly Elkin.

Lisa Heinze is the author of Sustainable Fashion in Style, Yatu Widders, has a background in marketing and journalism, Carlie Ballard is a designer and owns the boutique Indigo Bazaar.. The concept behind Clean Cut has developed over the past few years, however we came together to form Clean Cut last year and we will be officially launching at fashion week this April.

We already individually consult brands and companies in the sustainable fashion space and it made sense to band together, broaden our reach and encourage the wider industry to take the first steps!

The Bangladesh factory fire tragedy had a really eye-opening effect with some retailers signing pacts to improve conditions. Is it enough? How can more be done? Do we only truly mobilise when tragedy strikes?

The Bangladesh Rana plaza tragedy was a devastating blow to the already exploited factory workers of Bangladesh. Although we see smaller disasters happening on a regular basis, it seems the large scale are the only ones that make headlines. There has been some progress made including the Bangladesh Fire and Safety  Accord which many of our major producer like Big W and Pacific Brands have signed, (still more need to sign on!) this is trying to bridge the gap of lack of accountability and encourage big businesses to act more responsibly.  

The website for Clean Cut says that you don't think all labels have to tick all boxes to be considered sustainable. What are the most important things a label needs to do? 

In an ideal world we could all be 100% sustainable and ethical, however the fashion industry has one of the most complex supply chains. If you start up considering the ecological and social impact of your business you can definitely tick all the boxes but if you are a big business trying to better your supply chain, it is a much longer process and it's about committing to the long term and not greenwashing. It's about making realisitic changes that are achievable, ensuring you constantly evolve to increase your social impact and decrease your environmental impact. 

Key aspects include fair and stable wages, opting for more sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton and reducing the chemicals used in the dying and printing process. It is also important to consider the carbon miles (the average t-shirts travels about 15,000km's before getting to you!) and trying to cut that down. It's about efficiency and transparency.

What companies are approaching sustainable fashion well? In Australia and overseas? 

Labels like Honest By- Bruno Pieters, Maiyet and Suno are all beautiful examples of a high end ethical brand, they work on the basis of transparent production systems, empowering skilled artisans and reducing waste.

There are number of Australian labels like Ginger and Smart, Cue and Veronika main which support ethical Australian manufacturing. There are also some great labels like The Social Studio and Bhalo which in-corporate sustainable fabrics- end of roll, hand woven or organic as their main fabrics. 

How do we counter stereotypes of sustainable fashion being kind of hemp-ish and not high end? Is this view changing?

The old stigma of hemp sacks has gone out the window long ago, new technologies offer a vast range of sustainable fabrics that are luxurious, soft and high quality. The use of new dyes with low chemical and free of harmful AZO's and formaldehyde can create any of this seasons pantone colours! A lot of designers are starting to opt for more sustainable fabrics and there is now a wide range of labels with a diverse range of aesthetics now available.

How do we negate the cost of fashion while also being sustainable?

It's all about considerate consuming as opposed to getting caught in hype and dashing out to get a dress just because! There are so many ways you can green your wardrobe without breaking your budget. It's about having a carefully curated wardrobe instead of one filled with impulse buys and quick fixes. Plan your wardrobe, understand the longevity of a garment, will you wear it many times? Is it versatile? Is it good quality? And where did it come from?

With Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo and H&M all making marks on our shores it's easy to devalue clothing. You need to keep hold of your individual look, support local designers and if you really need to get that fast fashion fix, make sure you wear it out!

How do you approach your consulting at Clean Cut – what are the first things you do/ask a label that wants to be more sustainable?

Who is your market? There is no point in trying to do good if you don't understand who you are selling too. It's important to evaluate the supply chain and see how you can simplify it, to make it more traceable and therefore more responsible. Many people have a penchant for social causes or ecological causes, you need to pick your battles, succeed and then move onto the next, that way you can make progress without breaking the bank and ensuring a long term improvement.

What are some practical things that we can all do to help?

Ask questions. Ask your fave boutique or brand where and who is making your clothes? What is it made of? Will it last? What is their code of conduct?  Have they signed the Bangladesh safety accord? Is the price reflective of fair wages and quality? 

Get creative - swap clothes with friends, make do and mend, be a pro-active consumer as opposed to a submissive one, get excited and appreciate the clothes you already have, value them and the many hand that made them!  You have the choice to look good and make a positive impact as opposed to a negative one, the customer is always right and you have the power!