PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEORGIA BLACKIE.
WORDS BY SIGRID (SIGGI) MCCARTHY.
Sydney’s Mercedes Benz FashionWeek (MBFW) has finally embraced ethical fashion this year, with its first sustainable fashion event - the Clean Cut Designer Showcase. Held at The Hughes Gallery in Surry Hills, the event proved that sustainable fashion is not only for fringe shows aimed at a niche audience. The exquisitely styled and curated showcase challenged the stigma often attached to ethical fashion and highlighted that it can and should be embraced by the broader fashion community.
All from diverse backgrounds and with varied expertise, the four Sydney-based women behind Clean Cut came together with a shared vision. Managing Director and Head Curator Carlie Ballard says, ‘We knew that if we (sustainable fashion) were going to create waves and be included in the wider fashion community, there could be no compromise on aesthetic, quality or style. We also knew that we needed to promote sustainable fashion outside of the sustainable fashion bubble, and be inclusive to the wider fashion industry.’
The brands were ultimately chosen for their stunning aesthetic alongside their strong ethical production. Those showcased were Rachael Cassar (Sydney), Bhalo (Perth), Desert Designs (Sydney), Kowtow (NZ), Lalesso (Kenya), Goodone (UK), The Social Studio (Melbourne), and Ovna Ovich (NZ).
By curating such a beautiful show, Clean Cut demonstrated that ethical practice could co-exist with good design and fine craftsmanship. These three elements were blended so seamlessly that you could be excused for forgetting that it was a sustainable fashion event! Every element of the show had been carefully considered. From the clothing and the styling to the models and the venue, Clean Cut was a breath of fresh air.
Sydney-based designer Rachael Cassar opened the event with intricate, handmade gowns made entirely from recycled materials. Sourced from pretty much everywhere you could possibly imagine, including antique auction houses and deceased estates, Cassar has truly mastered the art of upcycling. Reinventing and extending everything in a garment's remains, Cassar believes that, ‘if aesthetic and sustainability can co-exist together then we’ve got an equally appealing product.’
Bhalo was also a standout; a Perth-based label that creates limited edition garments using natural hand woven textiles, printing and embroidery. The brand prides itself on being transparent and working with and supporting exceptionally talented rural producers and artisans in Bangladesh. Jessica Priemus, co-owner/director of Bhalo emphasised, ‘I don’t want to create a sympathy product where people feel like they have to buy it because they feel sorry for the people who made it. I really want it to be something that people desire.’
Ethical and transparent supply chains were also promoted at a local level, with Ethical Clothing Australia accredited label The Social Studio demonstrating that local manufacturing is not only still possible, but that it can be an integral part of a successful and innovative fashion label. The Melbourne-based social enterprise, which designs and manufactures everything on-site at their Collingwood retail space, sent bold and vibrant streetwear down the runway - made from reclaimed and up-cycled materials gathered from the local fashion industry.
New Zealand label Kowtow was a classic collection of easy, ready to wear looks. The effortlessly chic pieces, which are certified fair trade organic and made from cotton grown and produced sustainably and ethically, were reminiscent of my hometown's understated aesthetic. They were also styled beautifully with Kuwaii shoes that are made in Melbourne. In this interview with W Concept, Kowtow Founder Gosia Piatek says she is passionate about ensuring her label has integrity. She says, 'It's a goal of mine to show other companies that it's possible to run a profitable business that is ethically conscious.'
The most exciting thing about Clean Cut is that it is more than just a designer showcase. The fashion advocacy group is working towards a more transparent and ethical fashion industry by celebrating sustainable fashion and making it more accessible. They are currently developing an online directory, the Clean Cut Style Guide, which will act as a guide to the sustainable fashion world. ‘It’s basically a go to directory so consumers can easily find the labels across the globe that are actively working in this space. This is where much of the problem lies - the outlets for many sustainable designers are limited and hard for consumers to get their hands on. So this will be great for consumers to shop based on their values’, says Ballard.
It was always going to be a challenge proving to the industry that sustainable fashion should be taken seriously and given an ongoing slot in the MBFW official schedule. That said, Clean Cut’s debut was received with open arms. Encouraged by the event’s success, Carlie Ballard says she is excited by the current Australian fashion landscape and is looking forward to seeing the sustainable fashion movement evolve - ‘Sustainable fashion is growing, and pressure is definitely building for all labels to start to take steps in the right direction. It’s the future of the fashion industry so it’s only a matter of time.’
- Rachael Cassar (Sydney)
- Bhalo (Perth)
- Desert Designs (Sydney)
- Kowtow (NZ)
- Lalesso (Kenya)
- Goodone (UK)
- The Social Studio (Melbourne)
- Ovna Ovich (NZ)
THE CLEAN CUT TEAM:
- Carlie Ballard from fashion label Carlie Ballard and online sustainable fashion platform Indigo Bazaar.
- Kelly Elkin from organic sleepwear label ALAS.
- Lisa Heinze author of newly published book Sustainability with Style.
- Yatu Widders-Hunt published eco writer, blogger at Thinking Fashion and media & communications expert.