When was the last time you looked through your wardrobe and considered how much of it you actually wear and which garments have been ethically and sustainably produced?
It’s probably not at the forefront of your mind when you’re racing around to get ready for work or a busy day ahead.
Despite a Colmar Brunton survey over a year ago finding that a majority of New Zealanders are interested in purchasing ethically and sustainably, 100 million kilograms of textile waste is thrown into rubbish dumps every year where it ends up amongst rotting fruit, used nappies and other horrors that you won’t want to think about.
The problem affects the entire industry, and some designers are making clothes with longevity and are thinking about the environmental impacts of the industry.
But for those who are just about to set foot in the industry, producing sustainably is an immediate challenge. The question is, how to do it creatively?
Olivia Balle, 22, and Kristen Maeclem, 22, (below) both studied fashion at Massey University and recently showed their graduate collection at iD Dunedin Fashion Week where they were finalists for the Emerging Designer Awards.
They have an environmental ethos and when they saw garment production in India and China their eyes were opened to how it affects communities. This reinforced their desire to design clothing using only ‘found’ materials.
“When we were [initially] searching for inspiration we were looking at up-cycling but there’s so much ugly stuff out there," says Maeclem. “That really put us off and I think other designers would feel the same.”
The pair knew that they wanted to work with lots of colour and that their collection should be fun. So their creative process took them somewhere unexpected - rubbish bins - where they sourced soda cans, chip packets and even scrap pieces of thread.
“The materials we sourced determined what we made,” says Maeclem. “We wanted to create something new but we didn’t want to use new materials because there’s so much stuff out there already that we can utilise.”
What the designers ended up with was a collection inspired by different kinds of fish. It’s bright, super glam and fit for the likes of Lady Gaga rather than the office. They used a variety of construction techniques where foil chip packets were woven and sewn onto fabric and layers of sequins were hand-punched from soft drink cans. All barely recognisable from their former state.
“The fashion industry is such a huge global polluter and we wanted to tackle that from the get-go,” says Balle. “When you’re working with a maximalist aesthetic it’s about celebrating beauty and the over-the-top.”
Sustainability aside, the pair want to continue with the same aesthetic, which they know isn’t for everyone.
“People think of fashion as: could you wear it every day? [But] there are occasions when things are appropriate and when they’re not. We want to design for people in the entertainment industry like Miley Cyrus,” says Maeclem.