a project by Annie + Jessica Hamilton



We recently held our launch party at the lovely Cake Wines Cellar Door in Redfern, featuring a screening of the incredible fashion industry documentary The True Cost and a panel discussion with some of our past interviewees - Courtney Sanders (Well Made Clothes), Christiaan Kidd (The Fashion Production Company) and second-hand clothing advocate Gabby Huber

First of all, we'd like to extend a massive thank you to all of the lovely people who came along, joined the discussion and came up afterwards to say hi. Despite only starting this project just over a month ago, we are overwhelmed with the response and support so far - evidently there are a lot of people ready to make noise around some of these issues, and it is hugely exciting for us to be a part of this movement. 

Secondly, a huge thank you to our incredible panelists for such a thoughtful, honest and open conversation. Have a read through the transcript below - it really is such an interesting conversation as we hear the perspectives of people working in all stages of the life-cycle of a garment, from design/manufacturing, to retailing, to disposal.

We're still buzzing from the launch but are already planning our next event, and we also have a bunch of incredible interviews coming up, so thanks again for reading, we look forward to sharing some more Locally Made with you soon.

Jessica + Annie


Jess: Christiaan - you've been working in this industry since the 90's. Can you relate to a lot of what we’ve just seen in The True Cost?

Christiaan: Yes, I have been working since the 90's on this, unfortunately! Watching the film was fascinating because a lot of it touched on the way I've worked with fashion as well... I did the first Stella McCartney for Target range in 2007 - for me that was a major turning point in my career. We were standing at the front door of Target watching women run. They were belting down these escalators, throwing themselves at racks, ripping clothes off the thing, not looking at it, not looking at size or thinking ‘is this going to be great for me?’... Just going mental. I was standing up the top looking down on this, and we sold fourteen million dollars worth of clothes in eleven minutes. Eleven minutes, fourteen million dollars! I was standing there looking at it thinking, ‘this is insane.’ When it finished I thought to myself, ‘I just don't want to do this any more.’ So I took a step back.

Jess: Are people, generally speaking, less connected to the whole process and supply chain with fast fashion?

Christiaan: I'm of the age now where I'm sort of struggling... I saw the way my grandparents grew up and were raised, and I'm seeing now the young kids growing up in the world they exist in, and I'm straddling these two worlds now. My grandmother used to make all of her own clothes, so that was something I'd always watch and be part of.  Also growing up on a farm, the only things that came into our household were soap, matches, stuff like that. My grandmother, my mother and my grandfather made everything themselves, we had our own butter, we had house cows, we grew our own vegetables, we killed our own chickens and lamb, we were self-sustaining, but that's the way it was.

Courtney: Do you think that when it comes to fashion, before fast fashion - when people had practically had to get clothes repaired or altered, because there wasn't the supply - that they inherently understood the process a little bit better than we do today? I know so many people who wouldn't know how to sew a button back onto a jacket and I think twenty years ago that wouldn't have been the case. I think that's a really important thing, we've lost any understanding of how clothes are made, I think people think they're all made by machines when they're not. Before fast fashion everyone had some understanding that you could get a needle and thread and that's how it worked. Now there's no needle and thread.

Christiaan: It's also part of a broader social picture. I think people who have grown up in the city don't have that connection to where their food comes from either. They see food in a packet and no one thinks backwards - how did that food get there? I think the tide is turning, people are a lot more curious about it. I think we'll go back to a bit more understanding of where does it come from.

Courtney: Well, before people had to know where things came from for practical reasons. Now you don't have to know where things come from, you have to actively seek things out as a conscious consumer, so the process is different. You don't need that knowledge, you should want that knowledge. That's sort of how it's changed.

Jess: It's similar at the end of the life span of a garment - or whatever it may be - with the waste that’s produced and where it ends up. We're disconnected from that as well because we can think, ‘well it just goes in that bin or that bin’, and then it's out of sight, out of mind. Gabby, you’re working in one of our country's largest charity thrift stores, which is one place our garments end up. How have things changed in the seven years you've worked there? Have you noticed a lack of knowledge of how to do simple garment repairs in your work as well?

Gabby: I could talk for days and days about people’s relationship to fashion. Fashion is deemed disposable. Fast fashion is created to be thrown out. My grandmother is a seamstress and coming from an Italian background we would grow and build everything, I have those core values, but have grown up in this generation where we're so detached. The corporations are creating that; they want us to be completely detached, they don't want us to have any idea. They just want us to see this shiny new item, consume it and then throw it out. Working in charity stores and seeing the extreme exponential growth of consumption is crazy.

Annie: Do you get many new items?

Gabby: Yes. Unfortunately I do see that H&M tag still attached - $6.99, zipper completely broken. I think because we consume at such a rate and things are so cheap and we are so time-poor in this crazy city, people think they don't have the time to go back and get the refund. And it's not really worth the time, because the garment was so cheap.

Annie: Courtney, how do you think ‘slow’ fashion designers can compete with the price of fast fashion? Or as a retailer, how can you sell a dress for $300 when someone can go and buy a similar thing for $30?

Courtney: First of all it's understanding that compared to fast fashion you're going to be a niche product, then telling a story behind that garment. We know the customer that we have, which is a millennial customer, cares about this. So it's really about storytelling, where the product came from, why the product is valuable, why there is cultural credibility in buying the product - why it's ‘cool’ to buy that product. I think that's a big thing and I think that as much as we hate the 'coolification' of ethical fashion, I think that's kind of exciting at the moment, that it's cool to wear ethical fashion and that might push people who wouldn't necessarily normally care about the supply chain into caring about it.

Annie: Do you think that's a passing trend or something that will stick around?

Courtney: I don't know, that's a good question. Considering that fact that the environmental ramifications of fast fashion are finite and they can't continue to use conventional cotton and the dye houses in the way that they have for the last ten years, the fact that those will run out means that maybe that trend will last for longer because it has to. You see huge companies, you know, Nike, those brands, moving toward sustainability because they have to. It's an inevitable point at the moment, because they can't continue to rely on the natural resources they are currently relying on, so they’re using recycled plastic bottles, etcetera. I think it's cool to care at the moment, and it will be necessary to care or -

Christiaan: There'll be no alternative!

Courtney: Exactly!

Jess: On that point of price - like you were saying, Christiaan, with crazy sale crowds - purely the fact it's a sale means you get people charging through the doors to get whatever deal they can.  Annie, I know you've spoken about this before as a designer, you put something on sale by 10% and suddenly so many people buy it. I think we're so fine-tuned to that idea of a sale, and the best bargain, lowest price, best value we can get. How can we try to reframe the concept of value as bang for your buck or the cheapest garment you can get, to a longer term, cost-per-wear value, when we’re used to just seeing constant sales?

Christiaan: That's a massive seismic shift in the way the West works. Particularly in the US, Australia and the UK, consumers are trained to shop in sales and they tend to not shop any other times, and that's a big portion of the population.

Courtney: There are two issues there. There's the price of the fast fashion garment - and I think people genuinely don't understand the supply chain of a five dollar t-shirt. We were having this conversation the other day when you were interviewing me, that the general public may think that to be five dollars it must have been made by machines. They don't understand the natural fibre, the start and the end point and how the inputs go into that. I think a big part is training the consumer to understand the process better, like we have in the food industry. That's one part, the cheap side of fast fashion. The other side is the sales mentality and I don't know how to change that. It really has to be top-down from the brands... I saw last week that GAP are stopping sales.

Christiaan: I believe GAP are leaving Australia.

Courtney: Are they? Well they've stopped sales and released a thing saying, ‘We're trying to train our consumer out of sales culture’. So I wonder if that is the start of a bigger shift? It comes back to classic retailer models and you see that ten thousand classic retailers closed last year and were replaced by Zaras and H&Ms and that's because they can't survive on this ‘sale to sale’ structure, where they're making no margin for most of the season. I think there will come a point where so many fashion companies are making so little margin because of sales that there will be an industry shift to anti-sales culture. I think we're right at the tipping point of that.

Jess: One example of a bigger brand going against the grain in this space is Patagonia. They’re not cheap but they run a successful business. Could other big brands follow their lead?

Courtney: Patagonia should be the case study for every big brand wanting to go sustainable or fair, the way in which they have traceable and transparent supply chains, only use sustainable materials, and are going almost 100% fair trade by next year. I think it should be the industry standard of how every company operates. But a massive plus working in Patagonia's favour is their consumer cares about the environment. They're outdoors people who are naturally connected to the environment and therefore connected to the issues their environment faces. So they'll buy something more expensive and they'll ask the questions around the environment that someone walking into H&M to buy a t-shirt doesn't ask, doesn't care about and doesn't want to pay more for. So Patagonia is in a unique position to prove that it can be done and you can make profit from it, but also a lucky position where their consumers care.

Gabby: And I think that's why there has been this huge influx of donations of H&M, Zara... I think people are really starting to understand, 'hey, I'm at the bottom here, I'm the one who has bought this item, I need to have some awareness.' And with fast fashion things on sale every day, every day is a sale. They're targeting consumers saying, ‘you can save so much money, look how cheap this is!’ But at the end of the day we're consuming so much more, and if we can take a step back and look at the items in our wardrobe and say, well there's that Patagonia shirt, that's lasted forever, and I've worn this thing twice, it's falling apart and I've bought forty of them. I'm losing in the end, I've spent more money on really low grade items.

Annie: A lot of the time I feel like we're preaching to the converted, especially on a night like this. How do you think we can reach people who might not know about this but would change their habits if they did?

Gabby: Honestly, it's conversation and open dialogue. People just aren't aware. Just saying, ‘oh that blouse is interesting, tell me about it!’ People taking ownership over what they're consuming and back to the story of what we wear and where it's come from, and taking pride in the things we buy that are covering our skin.

Courtney: I think there is a huge part of the population that will never buy based on values, we have to understand that.  It has to be part bottom-up like us who care and are asking the questions. But it also has to be top down, encouraging big companies to be better and allowing them to partake in the sustainable space or the fair space while still being an imperfect company. It's about looking at at a company like H&M and saying, ‘they are inherently problematic as a fast fashion company, but they do use more certified organic cotton than any other company in the world.’ So if we can encourage big companies to be acting more responsibly, that's positive.

Those companies will always exist and there will always be a consumer for them. So it's about saying, ‘hey, you need to try’ - based on finite resources or bad PR - and pushing them to do it, and to celebrate it even if they aren't perfect. Because I think a lot of the change has to come from those companies investing in research and development to be more fair, rather than expecting it from consumers who can't afford it, or don't know to be better consumers.

Jess: I think encouraging is a key word there rather than shaming. It can be overwhelming to choose how and where to spend your money on clothing. Courtney maybe you can touch on this. For someone who isn't in the know with all this or working in ethical fashion, how do you navigate shopping ethically, sustainably and fairly in Australia? What are the main issues we should be thinking about and where should we start?

Courtney: One of reasons we started WMC, the core of it, is that nobody's perfect, so you should pick the values you care about and shop accordingly. There are eight values on WMC and depending on what you care about we encourage people to shop based on the values that are important to them. The fashion industry supply chain from seed to retail floor is so complex that it is impossible for even a brand who are doing incredible things like Patagonia to be perfect - even a consumer like me who owns WMC is not perfect. So it's about caring about particular things and making sure it's manageable for you.

It's really important to decide when you're buying fashion, the values you care about, then finding brands that reflect those values. I think it's about finding brands that are certified, so Fair Trade, or GOTS certified for organic and sustainable fibres. In Australia if you're looking for fair certifications there's a government organisation called Ethical Clothing Australia which certifies the supply chains of Australian made garments. It's about picking a battle - don't try to be perfect - then make sure that what you buy meets that criteria. It's important to not be precious, and to say, this garment is perfect. No garment is perfect and no consumer is perfect, but doing something is better than nothing.

Christiaan: I have a menswear brand and fortunately in that market men don't tend to turnover clothes as fast as women do. I always have the conversation with my customer. I'd be wearing the item that's hanging on the rack, and I'd say, ‘this shirt is seven years old, I've picked very good quality fabric, we’ve made it very well, your wife or your girlfriend will be prying it off dead body in twenty years time because you'll still be wearing it.’ You just have to make a well made product that will last a good amount of time. That's a good place to start. Really well made garments, good quality fabrics, then you stand a chance of not throwing stuff away so fast. I have customers coming back saying, 'I want another one'. I say, ‘are you still wearing it?’ They say, ‘love them, favourite shirts, blah blah blah.’ They appreciate a well made product at the end of the day. It's been a slow process but we're getting there - talk to your customer.

Jess: Do you have any advice for small scale designers who are just starting and make sure they're doing the right thing?

Christiaan: Do something else! You've really got to have yarn in your brain and blood to survive in this industry. It's a tough game and it's only getting harder, because of everything we've seen on this film tonight, and skill levels. Advice for young designers is to learn as much of the process as you can and do as much on your own as you can. As soon as you start outsourcing stuff you're adding costs to your product, and you’re adding complexity. It's part of the reason I set up TFCP so we could do everything in one spot, and fortunately I have the skills so I can make a garment from sketch all the way to having it on the hanger.

Jess: Gabby, how can we best donate to a charity store, how do we increase longevity of our garments, what should we think about before we stuff a bunch of clothes in a charity bin?

Gabby: If you look at a garment and think, ‘I could never buy that, I wouldn't pay twenty cents for that.’ That's when you need to think, should I put this in the donation bin or should I cut it up and and use it for something else?

Jess: So if it’s damaged, or dirty?

Gabby: I think, no matter how cheap the garment is, try to take care of it! Use a washing bag in your front loaders. Hand washing - it's not that hard!

Courtney: What about alterations? I love my alterationists. I'll give them something old and say, can you turn this into a top? I love the fabric. And then I'll get some epic thing out it.

Christiaan: Look after your clothes, don't hang them in the sun for a start! Laundry 101.

Gabby: Increasing the longevity of the garment, that's the basic principle. And also thinking, ‘OK, if I have to throw this out it's going to sit in landfill for hundreds of years.’

Annie: Before speaking to you, I always thought donations were repaired.

Gabby: If it's a little bit dirty, the store I work in - we really try to give life to everything. We'll make a note on the tag and say ‘please launder me’, but if it's completely filthy it has to go in the bin.

Jess and Annie ~ photograph by Yaya Stempler

Jess and Annie ~ photograph by Yaya Stempler

Audience Questions:

Audience: My burning question is, what do you say to people who don't have the choice? I see choice as being an absolute luxury. All of us sitting here tonight probably have enough money to be able to choose something that is more ethical and sustainable. But the majority of people who live in Sydney and Australia just don't have the choice.

Courtney: I think the amount that fast fashion costs, how cheap it is, is not a representation of how much it costs to make those clothes. It's a really modern phenomenon. Before that, clothing was expensive, people bought significantly less, they repaired it or they altered it and had it for years. Their wardrobes were a lot smaller, from babies to adults. I think it's a bigger shift to understand that the way we consume clothes - the price of clothes at the moment is inherently unsustainable. Actually, we should buy less, and buy better - we do not need to have the amount that we have. No one, whether you are rich or poor, should be able to expect to buy a new outfit every week. We need to change our consumption habits in a much bigger context to argue that things should be repaired and we should have less, rather than that everyone should have a lot of inexpensive things.

Also, ethical fashion doesn't necessarily have to be that much more expensive. WMC is an expensive space, but certified fair trade t-shirts made from certified organic cotton start from thirty dollars on that site. I know that's more expensive than a ten dollar H&M t-shirt but it's not that much more expensive. If you're savvy you can buy ethical fashion more inexpensively. We need to completely change the way we think of fashion, because only since the industrial revolution has clothing been as cheap as it is, and I find it appalling that people think it's OK to buy a five dollar t-shirt. Rather than thinking it's the democratisation of consumption, thinking there is something inherently unfair, globally, with the cost of this product, and we need to go back to buying less and taking better care of it.

Audience: Obviously second-hand clothing would be a way, but people are time poor and there's a bit of a stigma around it compared to something that's brand new. How do you remove that stigma?

Gabby: It's something that is a very difficult ideology to pass on to somebody. Second-hand is pre-loved. It's trying to change people's values on garments. We've been conditioned for decades to buy a shiny new thing without thinking of where it's come from. This has been building and building, and now we have to push back.

Courtney: Maybe that's where we go, ‘well, if we can encourage big companies to be better, then the people who can't afford or don't know better, ultimately will be buying better, if these companies are more responsible.’

Audience: What do you think the government role is in this? To step in and regulate what companies can sell and the quality?

Courtney: The Australian government announced earlier this year that they are going to make companies that earn over a certain amount a year file slavery reports. Don't laugh - they're actually going to make companies file supply chain reports to prove that their not utilising slave labour in Australia. I think small but practical changes like that help. But I think it will be less government, more consumers - businesses will respond when consumer demand asks them to and I think that tipping point is happening, slowly but surely.

Audience: What can you advise for trying to get people to change their habits from buying fast fashion to making more sustainable choices

Courtney: It's about understanding fabrics and fibres and how to care for them. It comes back to craftsmanship and learning what things are made of, doing a little bit of research about fabric is really huge. Fabric for clothes is everything. Natural fibres are great, certified organic fibres are better, but there are synthetic fibres that are better than other synthetic fibres. So learn about the scale, and how long you can expect them to last based on what they're made from, and then whether that value is justified. If you're stepping up from fast fashion, you really want that thing to last longer, so know that the fabric you're investing in is made to last longer.

Christiaan: If you're in a store and you don't know what a fibre is, you have Google in your pocket. Google ‘Rayon’ or whatever fibre it is and do a quick bit of research. You have the whole world in your hands these days, so it's very easy to get this information.

Gabby: I just have so many wash bags for different things. I do a whole load, things are in different bags - it protects the garment. No matter how cheap it is, look after it and give it as much of a life as you can. And hand washing! Have some time out, put some music on, switch off! (With all that spare time in Sydney for handwashing!)

Want to learn more? Check out our interviews with Courtney, Christiaan and Gabby here

Header photograph by Yaya Stempler