#15: CAMILLE REED
Camille is a textile designer, sustainability advocate, the Sydney representative for Textile Recyclers Australia and the brains behind Australia’s first Circular Fashion Conference held in Sydney last week.
Jess: You have already had an interesting career within the fashion industry. How did it all start? Did you study fashion or textiles?
Camille: I studied traditional graphic design and had a couple of really ordinary graphic design jobs straight out of uni. I went to the States for a few months and by the time I came back I’d decided I wanted to work in fashion. A big company in Melbourne employed me and I learnt the trade on the job. Everything you learn in Illustrator and Photoshop is everything you need to start the basics of textile design. This company was producing David Jones, Myer, Just Group and Thurley in-house designs, and they had their own labels as well, so I was working across a lot of labels. Then I got a job at a terrible company - we were just there to pump out as much stuff as we could, the product was boring to work on and they didn't care about their staff. Funnily enough, someone from Forever New contacted me on LinkedIn - it's odd how timing works! The move back into fashion and textile design worked really well and I nailed it, I delivered exactly what they wanted.
Jess: What was it like working at Forever New?
Camille: It was the best creative job I ever had. We had creative freedom. I like working on floral prints and I really found my style at Forever New. When I started it felt like we were working in a lounge room, there were three textile designers. It was a beautiful environment, with beautiful people.
Jess: Did Forever New do all their prints in-house?
Camille: Half-half, they do buy a lot. They have an incredible in-house team and a great eye for buying artwork as well. There are two prominent studios here in Australia that are world class they buy from and a handful of others popping up that have been established in the last five or so years. They all do beautiful stuff.
Jess: How did you get involved with Textile Recyclers Australia?
Camille: I worked with Maureen, the Co-Founder, at Forever New. She was contracting as a fabric technician - working around their supply chain and getting the fabric specs up to standard - and I was working as a textile designer. I was passionate about the environment and how the company could embrace sustainability, so we had started a ‘Green Team’. Maureen mentioned something to me about the problem of textile waste and how much gets dumped. I was like, What is this? Tell me more, let's sit in the kitchen for a bit and catch up. She told me about the environmental damage of every aspect of textile waste and how problematic it is in Australia. She left the business and started Textile Recyclers Australia and we kept in touch. When I left, I called her and asked where she was at. By then, they had started filling their warehouse up with bales of textile waste and were investigating technology to recycle polyester.
Jess: Do they only work with polyester?
Camille: Polyester and cotton are the most commonly used fabrics in the world. You can't recycle cotton at this stage, not back into garments, that is - the fibres just aren’t strong enough. Maureen and her partner had come across a Japanese technology that takes polyester down to plastic polymers - the finest particles of plastic - before they re-spin it. To get rid of colours - for example, a black cloth with pink flowers - they take it through a really hot steaming process and it dissipates the colours and dyes to take it back to the raw plastic.
Jess: Does the dye used in the original fabric impact the life cycle of the material?
Camille: People always ask, What colour does it come out as?, but it's the same as you'd expect from brand new yarn. You can recycle 100% polyester into new fabric that is often better than the virgin fabric you started with and you can do that seven or eight times through polyester's life cycle, which is pretty cool. The quality is amazing. Textile Recyclers Australia have about fifteen different types of fabric and they feel on par with some of the best silks and polyesters you've felt; they make great fashion fabrics. So, the first step is doing the yarn with big polyester spindles, then they'll send that to a fabric mill who will weave the fabrics. They can dye, digital print or silkscreen print. Basically, they’re looking to take as much textile waste out of landfill as they can and recycle it. It’s not a charity case by any means, it's a business and it's all about volume, so they're not going to take five t-shirts from here and a couple of pants from there.
Jess: When you say waste, are you talking about excess stock that a brand doesn't sell?
Camille: Excess product, yes, but also uniforms and corporate clothing. At the moment they're collecting waste from one of the biggest supermarkets and, also, the Defence Force had 40 tonnes of fabric that wasn't going to be used for anything. Here in Australia 360,000 tonnes of textile waste goes to landfill per annum. That is a lot considering we are scattered around small suburban cities.
Jess: Is the biggest issue here the unused fabrics and packaging, or is it the stock that doesn't sell? What happens to it otherwise?
Camille: Stock that doesn't sell is a big problem. Fashion companies will try to donate as much to charities as they can, or organisations who work with the less privileged. There are initiatives to dispose of unused stock but none of those initiatives really stand out. 30% of fashion stock is never, ever sold, 40% is sold at heavily discounted price and 20% is sold at full price. Then there are faulty products, returns, etcetera. Then you have cutting waste - computers can maximise how well you can use fabric and lay patterns, but I think about 18% of a roll of fabric is still wasted as scraps and excess that go straight to the trash. Then you have your consumer waste from whoever buys your product. What are they doing with it? You’ll notice that when council collection time comes around, people are dumping clothes in there with everything else. The other day I saw a DKNY cardigan in a pile that was just a bit dirty, you know?
Jess: Does it look like textile recycling will start to become a viable solution for fashion companies?
Camille: We’re starting to look at how textile waste can be a commodity and hold it's original value, to be upcycled and given a new life form in the best possible way. There will always be that catch 22, that whatever it gets recycled into still has to have an end of life and then where to from there? How can we design the product initially, before it gets to the consumer, and then what does its end of life look like beyond the consumer? How can it come back to the company? Where does its value end? There are a lot of conversations being had about textile recycling but it's going to be a long road. There aren’t really any big fashion companies ready to put their hand up and say, yeah, we'll start producing a range of t-shirts that are 100% recycled.
Jess: Why do you think that is, is there a fear within these companies that a product won’t sell, or is it related to the manufacturing costs?
Camille: It costs more, but that's something that will change with purchase power and increased volume. Everything has to start from somewhere. It comes down to fear based on the customer not wanting to buy the stock but half of millennials these days are actually conscious about their carbon footprint and the impacts of their choices. The stats from Australia show that women in their mid 20s, up to their late 40s and even up to their 60s, are a buying market that is conscious when purchasing. Women are the ones shopping in Australia, we're the ones pumping money through the retail sector. There's a customer market there that companies don't realise they have, but unfortunately yes, it does cost more.
Jess: That’s interesting. I would have thought there’d be enough of a market of people who, perhaps, have the disposable income, are aware of these issues and would make the conscious choice if it were given to them.
Camille: At the moment our choices are few and far between. There are online stores with ethically produced stock and the Good On You app has brands that are more holistic. There a lot more questions being asked.
Jess: For there to be a large scale shift in production to using recycled fabrics, do you think the pressure has to come from consumer demand or start at the top level, with one of these companies taking a risk and investing in recyclables?
Camille: If one does it, or a couple, they'll all do it. I don't personally think it should fall on the consumer. The consumer has a responsibility, and yes they can start giving the brand a different message instead of just buy, buy, buy. But the consumer has been led to be buy, buy, buy for the last 15-20 years since credit cards came around. Instant gratification was here before fast fashion, because you deserve this new car, you deserve this new outfit, I want this and this and this. Well, curve the way you naturally think and instead say, I'll work towards that. I think pressure from the top down in companies is what the industry really needs. When you consider Elon Musk’s Tesla and how every other major automotive brand has followed suit, you can see how internal industry pressure could influence responsible fashion.
Jess: It's interesting how loaded the word 'recycled' is and the negative - or positive - connotations attached to it.
Camille: It’s not sexy yet! It'll get there though. There’s a footwear brand using this pineapple leather called piñatex, it's cute, it sounds like a cocktail. There's recycled nylon out there. They have technical manufacturing names that go alongside the fabric, then if you really do the research you find out the composition. Sustainability and circular fashion are buzzwords now. If the fashion companies hear it, well, they have the money to invest. There's so much talk about the big brands, the Zara and H&Ms, but we still haven't seen a huge amount of progress.
Jess: How did the Australian Circular Fashion Conference come about?
Camille: I wanted to start printing my own artworks onto recycled fabrics, but in terms of volumes it wasn’t cost effective for me to buy X metres of fabric, use it every so often, get it shipped here, all that. Then my partner said to me, Well you care about sustainability, you're always hounding me about recycling, why don't you create an event to bring this passion together and start engaging the people? I thought, OK, I'll give it a crack, we'll do this. So I put together the Circular Fashion Conference, a one day conference inviting business leaders within the biggest fashion retail companies to attend, along with expert speakers, to give information about why sustainability is exciting, why it's great for them, that it's innovative and how we're changing what we're doing now.
Jess: What were the biggest takeaways from the Conference?
Camille: Firstly to mention, the buzz in the room was extremely positive! My partner Cameron was the MC and could also feel the fantastic energy in the room. We had close to 300 people on the day and the biggest take away was the confirmation that the local fashion industry is hungry for more guidance, resources and support to assist in making it more sustainable and responsible. The keynote presentations were well received, the round table sessions were incredibly successful and basically everyone in the room was there to learn. The mix between different businesses from within the industry sector made for a more successful networking event as it gave many the opportunity to engage with third party companies they ordinarily don't get to.
The feedback from the survey so far post-event has been incredibly helpful and reassuring. It confirms that I'm on the right path to be able to provide much more by forming a new industry body for the fashion industry in Australia. The timing has never been more perfect, and it's best to keep the momentum up while we still have people's attention. The event will run in Melbourne in 2019 and we'll be able to work on the new industry body within the next 3-6 months - this means defining the right members to jump on board plus who else we specifically need in the mix to make the right moves that the industry is needing and wanting.
While I'm in Europe I'm meeting with fellow organisations to learn more about what they're working on, what's working and how I can collaborate with like minded individuals in the Northern Hemisphere.
Jess: What are the next steps for you?
Camille: I’m now pushing for a governing body so we can create some real change in the industry. We have the Circular Conference already lined up for 2019 with some incredible speakers and I’m juggling my textile design work at the same time. I’m integrating my passion for sustainability and textile design together by choosing to only print on recycled fabrics and looking to help brands become more responsible.