Sustainability is fashion’s big talking point; but in a trillion dollar industry that hasn’t always been known for its environmentally friendly ways, is it too late to reverse the damage of fast fashion and all the problems that stem from it? Clare Press doesn’t think so.
Journalist, industry veteran and now Vogue Australia’s Sustainability Editor-at-Large, she’s trying to educate people about the sustainable fashion sphere and about the power of activism. Essentially, it’s about being the change you want to see in the world and spreading the word through telling good stories. And she does just this in her latest book, ‘Rise & Resist: How To Change The World’, a collection of stories about new activism across the world. The book was sparked by the Women’s Marches that took place all over the United States in 2017.
“[Donald] Trump was the catalyst but he wasn’t the point—the point was: we want to look out for one another and for the environment,” Clare says.
“We care about equality, justice and fairness, and also things like sustainability, kindness, healthfulness, mindfulness, protecting nature, climate change… for me, the Women’s Marches went beyond feminism; they represented a general rising up against injustice, and not just in the US but here too.”
If you follow Clare, you would have come across her popular podcast, Wardrobe Crisis, where she has interviewed fashion industry game changers and also figures in environmental activism. She’s no stranger to telling these meaningful stories but connecting them for the book was a challenge.
“For a few months, I was trying to figure out how to pull the disparate threads together. What sort of shape would my book on activism take? I see it as a followup to Wardrobe Crisis, but one that expands out of the fashion space,” she explains. But the words did come and ever since, she’s been travelling, meeting people and learning their stories. In the book you’ll find a variety of activists from all walks of life. She tells us that one of her favourite stories was a family she visited in New Zealand who are living off-grid in a yurt. “They’re trying to live more lightly on the planet by starting at home,” she explains.
“Will I go and live in a tent on a remote hillside? Probably not, but I took some great lessons away with me: that every little bit helps, that kids love making stuff rather than buying it pre-packaged. That simple can be better.”
And she shares these journeys in real time on her Instagram. “My feed is not about cute outfits – although don’t get me wrong, I do like a cute outfit… It’s driven by: What can I share with you about the people I’ve met or interviewed The inspiring events I’ve been to [and] what’s the takeaway? I am a storyteller. I use Instagram to tell my stories and connect with people about sustainability.”
One of these recent storytelling ventures resulted in an article for vogue.com.au, which revealed that fashion is a key industry implicated in modern slavery. “Some aspects of the ethical fashion conversation can be tough, particularly around supply chains,” she says.
“I think we sometimes forget that it’s humans who make our clothes. It’s hands. It’s people. An estimated 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery globally, and no country is unaffected.”
These are tough figures to stomach as fashion lovers, consumers and publishers. How do we educate ourselves on what we’re consuming? Clare says, “pick your passion”.
“It’s vital,” she says. “Find your cause, and begin to make positive changes within that one area. I bet you’ll soon start to feel more empowered. I always say that I don’t feel depressed about the environment because, through my work spreading awareness, I am doing something about it literally every day.
“We can’t change the world in one fell swoop, however much we might like to. Climate change, ocean plastic, diversity—these issues can be overwhelming. The trick is to start with what you know: start small, start at home in your community.”
A benefit that we have seen from discussing sustainability, ensuring supply chains and ethical sourcing is that a lot of young designers are starting these practices from the inception of their labels. “I’m loving all the brilliant emerging sustainable designers using their creativity to show how we can make fashion in a more responsible way,” Clare says.
“We have many beautiful, thoughtful examples in Australia. I love A.BCH, Kalaurie and autark.
While she’s busy doing a thousand things, we have to ask how it’s been to join the Vogue team. “I’ve always loved Vogue,” she says. “I worked at Vogue Australia [as features director] early on in my magazine career. This [sustainability editor] appointment coincided with our special March 2018 ‘Future Fashion’ issue.”
The issue she mentions was guest edited by champion of sustainability, the actress Emma Watson, and highlighted issues about fashion’s impact on the globe. And it seems to have started a little bit of a chain reaction.
“More people are getting on board, which I love, because you need numbers to make change. It can’t just be a lone voice in the wilderness,” she says.
“If we’re going to change fashion for the better; if we’re going to move towards a circular system, a more transparent system; then we need brands and designers big and small. We need CEOs, manufacturers, fabric suppliers, NGOs and media across the board to get involved.”
As for what’s next for the writer, editor and podcaster-extraordinaire, she says that she’s just getting out there to meet people. Book tours in every state are on the cards and it’s her favourite part of it all.
“Activism is about other people; it’s about connection,” says Clare. “I can’t wait to hear what you all think about these issues. There’s no point writing a book without readers, or making a podcast without listeners. You can’t have a conversation. with yourself.”
Photographer: Georgia Blackie