Clothes, Cash, Conscious Consumption

Published by: Madeleine Clarke / University of Technology, Sydney | 13-Aug-2016
Ethical fashion is one of the industry's biggest trends, changing the cultural fabric of fashion consumption in Australia. But can you get into it without breaking the bank?


Fashion. Aussies spend 5.1 billion dollars on it per year. But the cost of mass-produced fashion is much more than just a dollar value.

Fashion is now known to be the second-most most toxic industry in the world. Australia sends roughly 500,000 tons of textile waste into landfill annually, much of which won't biodegrade. Bangladesh, known for its unsafe and unjust labor conditions is our second biggest supplier of clothing.

From her beach side home in Manly, Lisa Heinze is fighting for change.

"I think, as far as I'm concerned, we're at the beginning of a revolution. There has been a huge increase in awareness and this thirst for knowledge from shoppers."

And she reckons low-income consumers can also get involved. Things like close swaps, op shopping and exploring online retailers are a good start.

"You can spend just that little bit more than maybe you're used to, but you're buying a really high quality garment that's going to last so you will save money in the long run, because you're not having to replace your clothes nearly as often."

Michelle was so disillusioned with the abuse and waste she saw in the industry she nearly gave it all up. Fleeing the big smoke, she runs her label So Stella from Orange, New South Wales.

"Handcrafted, made from scratch, transparency within the label, I don't want to ever hide anything from my clients. They walk into the studio they say the clothes they see where I'm working and it kind of mixes it all together, which is what fast fashion has hid for so long."

Michelle has witnessed massive changes in consumer attitudes since she started out twelve years ago.

Campaigns like April's Fashion Revolution Week and the 2015 film documentary The True Cost have increased awareness.

"The wheels are in motion, there's big change. I mean ethical fashion is one of the biggest trends at the moment. Ethical is like the new black so they say! So it's a really exciting time for all ethical brands."

Fast-fashion giant H&M's Conscious label and recent campaigns encouraging clothes recycling illustrate the power of the ethical trend, but can they be trusted?

"I do want to encourage these brands to continue working in this space, if for no other reason than to help bring the cost down of sustainable fashion because they create so much more in terms of economies of scale we can help bring the cost down a little bit. But, they do need to still address the vast quantities of fashion that they're creating and that desire that they're feeding us to keep buying more and more clothing," says Heinze.

Sales assistant Zyra lives on a tight budget, and thinks shopping consciously is a question of attitude more than cash.

"I've just had to find areas where I can sort of compromise. For example in my lifestyle choices I don't drink that often, and if I do go out you know I'll maybe get one drink or if I eat out with friends I'll choose the cheaper option in the menu, because I am willing to pay a little bit more for clothes because it's more than just a physical object for me."

Ethical Clothing Australia and the Good On You app provide updated information about retailers and Zyra says consumers should never stop asking questions.

"Don't be sort of blinded by what people say or where it's made because just because something is made in Australia it might also not be ethical. Just be willing to ask questions."


Opening footage: Vimeo Creative Commons
H&M Conscious collection ad: Alice Auboiron (

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