The word fashion itself denotes transience: trends that move and evolve, with variation built into the definition itself. And while this means the topic of fashion is fascinating to study, it means that the industry itself is inherently at odds with sustainability, because it’s built not to sustain, but to shift. For years now, the tide has started to turn, with even the largest fashion houses and stores launching what they label as “sustainable” lines. But determining what is truly sustainable, and what is instead a greenwashing marketing strategy, can be nigh on impossible. Over the past few years, we’ve been lucky enough to speak with the founders of some of Australia’s most beautiful, small, genuinely sustainable clothing brands, and each of them tells us the same thing: the most sustainable outfit is the one you already own. This month, we spoke with Melanie Grace, founder of sustainable fashion label Amela by Melanie Grace. As a fashion and design technology graduate now completing her second degree in sustainable innovation, Melanie is a font of knowledge on the history of sustainability in fashion, so we sat down to tap into her wisdom.
“Sustainability as a concept completely disregards trends, it’s about purchasing things because of functionality, things that you’ll wear again and again. The clothes I make, and the clothes I buy, don’t follow trends either: it’s about clothes that are comfortable and durable, and which strike the balance between being beautiful and versatile. I believe in creating a staple wardrobe rather than following trends, and I think that’s about having a few items that can be worn multiple times, in multiple ways, to form multiple outfits.”
“There has been, and still is in some ways, a stigma around fashion repeating, and social media really exacerbates that: it’s the norm to not be seen in the same outfits. Getting rid of that stigma will involve shifting consumer mindset, and that’s where the historical contexts come in, because the way we think has been shaped over decades and centuries of socialisation and evolution.”
“Fashion used to be all about functionality, and it was only with the industrial revolution and the invention of laundry detergent that the cleanliness of clothing began to be regarded as important. With the invention of laundry detergent, there was an automatic shift because the wealthy people could afford to have cleaner clothes, and the socioeconomic status of clothing evolved from there. That’s important to know because it did start from functionality, and ultimately it created a divide within the socioeconomic status. It’s also interesting to reflect on the fact that the invention of laundry detergent was the genesis of fashion-related pollution – water pollution from laundry detergent was one of the first major environmental impacts of the fashion industry.”
“From there, the impact of fashion on our society and on our environment has continued to grow, and now it’s up to us as consumers, and those of us within the industry, to make a change and move the needle in a positive direction. That direction, I think is towards slow fashion: slow fashion as a business model but also as an approach in general.
“I’m a supporter of making an educated decision on whether you do purchase something, taking time to consider what you’re buying, why you’re buying it, if it’s the right option for you. I’m an advocate of the “cost per wear” mentality, which involves understanding the cost of an item and figuring out how many times you would wear it, and therefore what the cost would be per wear.”
“The sustainable fashion world can seem overwhelming, but it’s about starting small and making a difference slowly. The first step you can take is to limit buying from fast fashion stores, because these are the stores that are making the most negative impact on the environment and on society. Becoming completely sustainable overnight isn’t going to happen, so it’s about working out the changes you’re willing to make today,”.
“I would like to consider my brand seasonless: I don’t follow seasons, and I only produce functional pieces that can become wardrobe staples, pieces you’ll want to wear every day. Of course, now and again you do want a really standout piece for a function or an event, but it’s still best to buy something that you can wear multiple times, rather than just a one off. There’s a misconception that staple pieces should be limited to black, white and grey, but you can still have fun with your staple pieces, it’s just about working out how to wear them, and how to care for them so they last season after season.”
“The reason I fell in love with the fashion industry is because it’s an expression of self, it’s your non-verbal way of introducing yourself to someone, and I believe beautiful clothes don’t have to have a negative impact on people and the planet.”
“I’m constantly evolving the business to integrate sustainability into every level with all my packaging currently 100% compostable and biodegradable and using natural, renewable fabrics and fibres. I hope to define what the future of fashion is where it can be an industry that honours individuality and allows everyone to shop according to their personal style, and express themselves in a way that doesn’t harm humans or the environment.”
To shop the Amela by Melanie Grace collection of timeless, sustainable designs, visit amelabymelaniegrace.com , and you can read more about the brand’s sustainability initiatives via the Sustainability page.
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