Kirsten is a PhD Candidate at RMIT, teaches Digital Illustration at UTS, is a yoga instructor, ethical fashion enthusiast, and dedicates her time to Fashion Revolution. I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with her over burgers and have a chat about Fashion Revolution and the ethical fashion movement.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you got involved with Fashion Revolution in the first place?
I became obsessed with ethical fashion when I was at uni and I read an article in Dumbo Feather, a magazine, about Rachel Bending. She is the owner of Bird Textiles, the first carbon neutral company in the southern hemisphere, and I went to work for her as a studio manager and designer, and that’s how I got interested in ethical fashion. Through that I ended up befriending Melinda Tually, she contacted me randomly one day and said “I’m starting this thing called Fashion Revolution. It started in the UK but we need a committee here in Australia, I’m going to be the director, do you want to join the committee?”. Of course I said yes! And we got a committee together and started meeting regularly and organising events.
What do you see as the core values and aims of Fashion Revolution?
I guess our top value is accessibility and getting people to open up the conversation with suppliers, with designers, with labels to be more transparent and to get them to provide that detailed information. So it’s not just “Made in Vietnam”, and you don’t know anything else. No, we want to have a conversation with you about who these people are, what they’re being paid, what the work conditions are, is it safe? And we want to be able to ask those questions and get reasonable answers. There’s this thing called “greenwashing”, where companies are now cottoning on to the fact that it’s trendy to be ethical. And they’ll have these very vague statements like “we are interested in our supply chain and being transparent”, but they don’t say how or give any details. And I learnt from Fashion Revolution to just write an email to labels and ask them those questions.
Ethical clothing is often traditionally thought of as being very hippie-esque with natural colours and not being very exciting. How can we incorporate bold, quirky pieces into our wardrobes and still stay ethical? (Note to readers: Kirsten wears incredibly colourful and bold printed clothes)
That’s the worst thing! I read this amazing book called “The Myth of the Ethical Consumer” and it was very dense, and I came away with one thing that I think summarises the whole book. It’s basically saying that people will buy ethical and they will pay a little bit more for it if it’s good quality and made well and for a fair wage. But the one thing is they will not buy ethical, even if it’s cheaper, if it’s not the style that they like. You can have an ethical, organic, fair trade label, but if people don’t desire it and feel like they want to wear it, they’re not going to buy it. I’m wearing YEVU at the moment which is an ethical brand based in Ghana. It was originally started because a lot of the second hand clothing that we’re getting rid of in the West is being sent over to places like Africa and Asia and they’ve been flooded with it. So a lot of their own textile industry has died, where people have had these skills for generations and now the craft has been lost. So YEVU gets these people to pass down the skills, train each other up in fashion skills, and selling these crafts and putting it all back into the business. They use natural fabrics and traditional African wax printing, so YEVU is a great example of a traditional craft that also uses bright colours, you can’t get anything brighter than African prints! You definitely don’t have to be beige or khaki to be ethical.
Kirsten and I went on to talk about the appalling way companies will sell t-shirts for three or four dollars where most of that is profit and the portion dedicated to wages is extremely tiny. To pay a garment worker in Bangladesh a proper living wage, the change in the cost of the item for the consumer would be barely noticeable (visit the Asia Floor Wage for more information).
And that’s the thing, as avid feminists this is something we should be caring about. Over 80% of the garment workers in the fashion industry are women and they are the most vulnerable people and they’re being taken advantage of. They’re not able unionise, they’re not able to protest, women were gunned down the year I was in Cambodia for the garment worker protests, very young women. There’s young girls and women that are being taken advantage of and they shouldn’t be, they should be respected as human beings. And it’s women in the West that are really taught to consume a lot and we need to be more responsible about the fact that we care about women’s rights and women’s rights on the other side of the world. We need to understand that what we’re purchasing is affecting other women. If you were there and you were seeing what was going on you would be horrified and you wouldn’t want to participate in it. But because we’re not seeing it and it’s not in our face, it’s become this abstract fantasy that we find really hard to connect with.
How do I get involved in Fashion Revolution?
We are really keen to get student ambassadors for every university and if you don’t already have a student ambassador, just check with your institution to get a committee started. Jump on the website and email us and let us know that you’ve formed a committee and want to get started. Anyone can put on a Fashion Revolution event, it’s egalitarian, and we support anyone to do it. People have organised clothing swaps, screenings, discussion panels, upcycling workshops, everything and we can support that. Just get in touch with us and we will help you to get started! It could even be as simple as posting on Instagram or Facebook with the sign saying “who made my clothes?” and then tagging the brand that you want to ask. Just take that photo and get involved, it’s so easy.
Fashion Revolution week is between 23rd – 29th April. Events are being held all across Australia to bring awareness to the cause. But it’s not something to just engage with this week, but every week of the year. You can found out more from the Fashion Revolution website, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity
Frances Harvey | @frances_harvey