Carbon-neutral, but focus on buying: Does Fashion Week need a makeover?

Key points

  • Melbourne Fashion Week is certified carbon neutral with several sustainability focused events on its program. 
  • However the primary focus of the week is to sell clothes with fashion week delivering an estimated $41.7 million economic impact to the city. 

Melbourne Fashion Week gift bags are made from recycled cotton offcuts and plastic bottles, and the whole event is certified as carbon-neutral, but some critics say the industry needs a rethink to be truly environmentally conscious.

Fashion Week, which ended on Sunday, last year contributed an estimated $41.7 million to the city’s economy.

Models on the runway for the Baaby sustainable fashion show at 500 Collins Street for Melbourne Fashion Week. Credit:Jason South

Melbourne stylist Jenna Flood said the number of events highlighting sustainable fashion had increased over the years, but she believed there was an inherent conflict in touting the environmental credentials of an event that encouraged the purchase of new fashion.

“I love Melbourne Fashion Week, but we do need to stop and think,” Flood said. “These events need to focus on secondhand items and rental items and more alternatives to buying new clothes.”

Flood is a “slow fashion stylist” who works to educate people about the issues surrounding fast fashion, including identifying when brands or events are greenwashing by making unsubstantiated claims to deceive consumers into believing their products or services are environmentally friendly.

“I am all for buying new things, don’t get me wrong, but I just want people to think a little more before they buy,” she said. “People need to be more conscious instead of rushing and buying because they saw it on a runway to think: ‘Does this actually suit my body shape? Will I get a lot of wear out of this?’”

A recent federal government study found Australians on average purchase 27 kilograms of clothing each year per person and discard 23 kilograms.

At a panel discussion on Thursday night at the five-star, green-designed building 500 Collins Street, Flood, sustainable lifestyle advocate Kate Luckins, author Lucianne Tonti and fashion designer Amelia Mercoulia considered an alternative to Australia’s fast fashion addiction.

Mercoulia is the designer and founder of sustainable fashion label Baaby and is wary of the claims made by many fashion labels and events.

Her label is made using dead stock fabrics — material that might have been the wrong colour and texture and so was destined for landfill — and natural fabrics like cotton, linen and silk, which break down more easily.

Baaby designer and founder Amelia Mercoulia speaks at the Melbourne Fashion Week event wearing her own sustainably designed range. Credit:Jason South

“Some brands proclaim sustainability, but if you use virgin polyester, that takes a really long time to break down,” she said. “I think a lot of brands are doing a lot of greenwashing, to be honest.”

Baaby is made locally, which Mercoulia said ensured transparency and accountability in the manufacturing process but came at an increased cost.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp at the opening of Melbourne Fashion Week.

“For me, sustainable fashion is about people and planet so if I am making something I am going to ask will this harm the planet or people in the supply chain,” she said.

Mercoulia wants to see more transparency around fashion’s environmental credentials to stop greenwashing.

“The cost to make a pair of jeans is not $20, so if a brand is saying they are sustainable at $20, that does not add up,” she said. “It would be great for everyone to be held accountable to a sustainability benchmark with 50 per cent of fabrics sustainable or natural.”

Speaking on behalf of Melbourne Fashion Festival, Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the week could play a role in advocating for sustainability.

“From the event itself, which is certified carbon-neutral … to really understanding the role that the fashion sector can play — whether it’s slow fashion, whether it’s upcycling, whether it’s the materials used,” she said.

But Capp said Melbourne Fashion Week’s primary purpose was to sell clothes.

“The most important part of why we do fashion week is the runway-to-retail element of it,” she said. “It is about driving that retail activity … it’s that complete experience. You go to the runway and you walk into a store.”

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