The rise of sustainable fashion in Melbourne

3 May 2019

Written by: Allanah Sciberras

Over the last few years, a new environmentally friendly way of dressing has burst into the Melbourne fashion industry.

There is no doubt fast fashion has dominated the garment industry over the last few decades.

Trend-driven clothing items and accessories, made at high volume and low cost, are undoubtedly quick, cheap and profitable.

Media reports have found major brands, such as H&M and Burberry,to be burning undesired clothing items over 2017-18. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise when people are turning away from this fast fashion lifestyle.

In recent years, however, some key industry players in Melbourne have begun actively pushing against this trend, by embracing a more sustainable fashion movement.

So, to what extent are Melbourne consumers becoming more sustainably and ethically conscious when it comes to what we wear?

What is sustainable fashion?

Despite the growth of sustainable practices around Australia, there is no formal definition of ‘sustainable fashion’ however, it can be referred to as an environmentally friendly way of dressing.

Sustainable textile firm, Green Strategy defines their concept of sustainable fashion in a statement on their website.

“In practice, this implies continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its component,” they state.

Founder of the Ironic Minimalist fashion blog, Jenna Flood, prefers the term ‘slow fashion,’ which for her encompasses how you relate to what you already own, as well as the production of new items.

“Slow fashion to me is taking time to be aware of what you have, altering if needed and if it is essential to purchase it, you can source it second hand – or you could go to a sustainable brand,” Flood told upstart.

How does it fare globally?

Globally, fast fashion dominates. More consumers, however, are making conscious decisions when it comes to buying clothing.

A survey from Nielsen Global in 2015 found that 66 percent of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands – up from 55 percent in 2014. The survey polled 30,000 consumers between February and March across Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin American and North America.

This attitude change coincides with the closure of a large number of stores by fashion giant H&M in 2017. The brand announced the closure of nearly 170 stores after sales decreased 4 percent. H&M have been previously scrutinised in the past for their business model of dropping new fashion lines monthly.

Despite major fashion retailers announcing a fall in profits, Greenpeace have reported that sales of clothing have almost doubled from one trillion dollars in 2002 to 1.8 trillion dollars in 2015.

Melbourne meets sustainable fashion

Over the last year, Melbourne consumers and retailers have taken an active role in combatting the dominance of fast fashion.  Initiatives such as The Clothing Exchange, Australian fashion conferences and sustainable festivals are paving the way in education and changing consumer attitudes.

Sustainable fashion was a notable theme at Virgin Australia’s Melbourne Fashion Week in March. Many panels moderated by Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) featured discussions between Australian designers and industry figures about creating a responsible and sustainable fashion label.

ECA formed the “guide to ethical shopping” brochure that describes multiple ways to be sustainable in Melbourne. In a statement on the ECA website, National Manager Angela Bell said that the guide was created to support the welfare of textile, footwear and clothing workers in Melbourne.

“The guide has been created because the increased interest in ethical fashion means that we need to make it as easy as possible for people to be able to purchase it in the right way,” she said.

Another trend that has emerged over the last year has been an increased interest in clothing swaps. The Clothing Exchange in Melbourne hosted by Stacey Kirkby gives Melburnians the chance to swap high-quality garments.

Kirkby emphasises that sustainability can still be fashionable and affordable.

“At The Clothing Exchange, we believe looking good shouldn’t ‘cost’ the earth. We currently host regular events in Melbourne and offer corporate and council hosting services, swaps for schools and we can assist with charity fundraisers. I would love to continue offering a varied amount of swapping services in metro and regional areas in Victoria and continue sharing the joy of swapping,” Kirkby told upstart.

Melbourne was host in March to The Australian Circular Fashion Conference (ACFC). Over two days, international experts and industry stakeholders gathered to collaboratively share their passion and innovation.

In a statement on Sustainability Portal, ACFC founder Camille Reed said Australians are embracing sustainable fashion at rapid speeds.

“In Australia, we can and will be the leaders of a global initiative that will rally our industry into a new era.”

“This event presents a pioneering opportunity which does not exist anywhere else in the world to invest in fashion sustainability to secure market growth and economic stability. We are in a prime position to embrace greater market growth… this conference will be one of the leading events in the world that focuses on fast-tracking implantation and action for sustainability.”

Fashion labels in Melbourne are beginning to offer a solution to the complex problem of fast fashion.

“Now we see A.BCH which is a Melbourne based fashion label – they think about the style and material of the item, for example, organic cottons and threads and then after the consumer is finished with it, the brand thinks about where it is going to go, so they offer an initiative where you can give it back the material and they will make a new item of clothing or they compose it,” ethical stylist, Jenna Flood said.

How far do we need to go?

Melbourne has been influenced by sustainable fashion over the last two years. Many designers and industry professionals have started to create lines that are sustainable and ethically sourced. This growth is substantial but how can Melburnians continue the evolution of sustainable fashion?

Melbourne host of The Clothing Exchange, Stacey Kirkby believes that the only way to contest the dominance of fast fashion is to recognise the need for sustainable initiatives within the industry.

“For brands to combat this they would need to be producing clothing in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way. There are many brands in Melbourne combatting fast fashion through their own production practices including A.BCH, Keegan the Label, Nobody Denim and KowTow,” she said.

While fast fashion remains the principal industry model, a louder voice can be heard, pushing for change. Melbourne consumers, designers, and retailers are embracing eco-friendly initiatives that pave the way for a more sustainable future in the fashion industry.


Allanah Sciberras is a third-year student studying a Bachelor of Media and Communications (Journalism). You can follow her Twitter @lanasciberras.

Photo: Nice rack by Jason Saul available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified