Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival provides inspiration to reduce fashion waste

CREATIVE DESIGNS: Anna Dove and Alyssa Potter admire a design by 'Gypsy Weaver Cathy Tobin. It is made using a free weaving style called SAORI. Picture: Lachlan Bence
CREATIVE DESIGNS: Anna Dove and Alyssa Potter admire a design by 'Gypsy Weaver Cathy Tobin. It is made using a free weaving style called SAORI. Picture: Lachlan Bence

In the midst of Victoria's recycling crisis and mounting waste problem, a community of fashion-lovers are advocating for the power of individual changes that have a collective impact.

More than 150 people attended the launch of the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival on Saturday, an event that is raising awareness of the environmental cost of a throwaway textile culture.

The week-long fashion festival features talks and workshops that share inspiration for a re-style, re-use and re-pair approach to clothing.

Vogue Australia's sustainability editor at large and presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast Clare Press was the keynote speaker at the launch event, held at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

She highlighted the mounting problem of fashion waste and practical solutions to empower the individual reduce their fashion footprint.

FUTURE OF FASHION: Clare Press, presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast and Vogue Australia's sustainability editor at large spoke at the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Kate Healy

FUTURE OF FASHION: Clare Press, presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast and Vogue Australia's sustainability editor at large spoke at the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Kate Healy

Professional mender Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald shared her experiences and tips on visible mending to give old clothes a new life and how visible mends can become a conversation starter for reducing clothing waste.

A fashion show featuring the work of Ballarat fashion designers highlighted the creative possibilities for up-cycling clothes.

Later in the afternoon more than 100 women flocked to the Clothing Exchange where they could swap something they do not wear in their wardrobe for another donated item.

Grampians Central West Waste and Resource Recovery Group organised the event as part of its region-wide approach to encourage long-term community solutions to waste reduction.

"Ultimately the reason we have such an issue with out waste is because of the way we purchase and where we are going with consumerism, so these are the things we need to address long term," chief executive La Vergne Lehmann said.

Clare Press presents at the launch of the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Kate Healy

Clare Press presents at the launch of the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Kate Healy

AN UNFASHIONABLE PROBLEM

If nothing changes with the fashion industry's current take-make-dispose model, by 2050 the industry will use up a quarter of the world's carbon budget, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation.

Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival keynote speaker Clare Press is passionate about changing consumerism and the fashion industry for the better.

Speaking at the festival on Saturday, Ms Press said addressing fashion waste was simple and we could solve the problem today.

"We just have to decide to stop buying stuff and throwing it away," she said.

Australians spend approximately $1.7 billion on clothes they don't wear, according to the Clothing Exchange, and 80 per cent of the clothes we throw out still have 75 per cent of life left.

What if we stopped focusing on the making and selling of clothes but focussed on how those clothes lived in our lives afterwards?

Clare Press

In the past year one in six people threw away clothes they had only worn once, according to the 2017 YouGov survey.

"This is a story of inefficiency and waste, not just of physical resources but of creative ones too because think of all of the love and care and thought the designers and makers and retailers and anyone who works in the fashion supply chain has poured into making these garments," Ms Press said in her presentation.

"What if we stopped focusing on the making and selling of clothes but focussed on how those clothes lived in our lives afterwards?

"It is in our communities that we can start the process of change."

Clare Press presents at the launch of the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Kate Healy

Clare Press presents at the launch of the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Kate Healy

Ms Press said there were practical ways to take action to reduce fashion waste.

She recommended slowing down purchasing habits, purchasing from local makers, supporting brands that focus on sustainability and choosing natural fibres including organic linen while avoiding polyester.

Making your own clothes, purchasing second-hand, up-cycling and mending clothes increases the life cycle of clothing that may otherwise go to landfill.

Ms Press said the future of fashion was in the rental space that had not yet become prominent in Australia, but consumers would drive demand for business change.

"While consumers have a part to play, we need governments to regulate the industry and we need brands to take action," she said.

"As a consumer it is difficult to navigate, but I know we can choose not to throw our clothes away and not buy things with the express intention of throwing them away after a few wears."

THE LOCAL MOVEMENT 

Ms Lehmann said Ballarat had the potential to become the ethical fashion capital of Victoria.

The expansion of the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival this year has attracted interest and visitors from beyond Ballarat.

Upcycled fashion parade Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Upcycled fashion parade Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Conversations between organisers and national organisations are already underway for the 2020 event that will respond to the growing interest in Ballarat and beyond.

Ballarat sustainable fashion advocate and stylist Bianca Flint said she had seen more people interested in purchasing pre-loved since she began pre-loved fashion boutique Hattie's Wardrobe Green four years ago.

"I am seeing a lot more people get on board and realise that just because something is pre-loved it doesn't mean it is un-trendy or old," she said.

"It is about recognising second hand isn't second best and you can find amazing pieces at the op shop. Or if pieces aren't quite right you can embellish them to change them up and make them look new and fresh to suit your personality.

"Over the last couple of years I have seen such a change and we get quite a community of women coming into the shop now talking to me about sustainable fashion and wanting to make better choices."

Ms Flint was one of four fashion designers who created pieces for the Up-cycled Fashion Show at the festival's launch event.

"With the up-cycled collection it was about finding pre-loved pieces that were at the end of their life rather than at the beginning," she said.

"One of my pieces was on the dollar rack at the op shop, it's last stop before heading to landfill. You could tell why it had been left there because some of the lace was worn, but it was beautiful. I got some broken necklaces from the op shop and used the beads to embellish the bodice to cover the damage.

"It is finding those pieces that may have potential but have been forgotten or left behind and giving them a new lease on life to make them fun and new again.

"It doesn't have to be making it from scratch. Sometimes it is a glue gun and bits of beads."

The Up-Cycled Fashion Show. Picture: Lachlan Bence

The Up-Cycled Fashion Show. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Ms Flint is passionate about sending positive messages about body image and using fashion as a representation of personality.

She said changing attitudes to fashion waste and feeling positive about your body came hand in hand.

"The less pressure you can put on fashion being perfect or cookie cutter or looking a certain way, the more we can encourage women and young girls to find their own sense of style, make their own changes to the clothes they are wearing, wear their personality and have fun with fashion," she said.

See who was at the Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival launch below.

The Ballarat Ethical Fashion Festival comes as the Victorian Government prepares to release a circular economy policy and action plan late this year.

The policy will examine new ways for Victorian businesses and communities to reduce waste in all stages of making, using and disposing of products and infrastructure relied on every day.

Part of the plan will focus on designing products so they are durable and can be readily repaired, reused and recycled at the end of their lives.

It will also encourage business model that encourage intense and efficient product use, like sharing products between multiple users or supplying a product as a service that includes maintenance, repair and disposal.