Interview: Clare Press on sustainability in fashion

Sustainable is the latest buzz word, especially in fashion. 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 – there are a lot – 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 not only the sustainable fashion sphere but also more broadly about green and environmental activism in general through her wildly popular podcast, Wardrobe Crisis.

Clare arrives in Adelaide this weekend with Wardrobe Crisis recording live at WOMADelaide’s Planet Talks. She will be in conversation with the incredible ladies behind Walk Sew Good, who trekked 3,500km across Asia to find the positive stories in fashion manufacturing. “Part of the challenge of engaging people in some of these big, scary issues – around climate change, the damage we’re doing to our natural world – is getting people to engage on a human level,” Clare says of the issues she discusses quite often in her podcast and her job. “…it can be alienating seeing figures on a page, so by bringing the human into the conversation, people can really relate and engage”.

“Hearing a story from two crazy women who decided to go on a walk around South East Asia to find some of the good news stories about sustainable fashion is impossible to look away from, it’s about finding that way into the subject that can engage people,” she continues.

Gab and Megan from Walk Sew Good

It’s undeniable that people are engaging in the conversation about sustainability a lot more now, especially those in the fashion industry where a lot of big designers are making changes to the materials they use. Of this, Clare says that they definitely are but it still needs to go beyond “green consumerism” to make a real change. “I applaud that, and I think it’s great to make greener choices and we can always make better lifestyle choices but I think the issues are bigger than buying a slightly dress”.

But for those who aren’t aware of these issues around collapsing manufacturing companies or people being paid below living wages, how do we start educating ourselves? Well, the starting point is to pick your passion. “So for me, I really care about the environment and the big thing for me would be ‘don’t buy denim that’s dyed in a river in China’,” she says. “…everyone has their own moral compasses and their own ideas about what makes them feel good about their purchases”.

“There’s so many issues and so many fires to put out, the best thing for people to do is start small and find the one thing that really motivates them and start with that one thing”.

In podcast and her upcoming book, Clare not only discusses fashion but also activism and the power of fashion. “I don’t want to dictate to people. [Fashion is] about self-expression, after all. So I try to talk about this stuff, even though some of it is really negative when it comes to the facts about environment, with a positive aura”.

“[Fashion is] a 2.4 trillion dollar industry and it’s also jumped into entertainment and it’s ubiquitous no matter where you go and with that massiveness comes great power. We can use it to change culture,” she says excitedly.

Luckily for us, there are so many brands that are changing their tune – especially in manufacturing, packaging, and use of materials. “I’ve yet to meet a designer who isn’t trying to do things the best way they can,” she says of the issue. “People aren’t horrible, people are inherently good and they aren’t thinking that they’d like to make those jeans that harm the river in China and of course people want to do better and we’re really seeing an improvement with that”.

But they key also lies with a lot of younger designers and start up brands who are starting from scratch with the idea of sustainability in mind.

“I think people are much more interested in sustainable solutions, and that goes for fashion and everything else. It’s a great opportunity for younger designers and younger businesses to define themselves in this new way that we need to be the future.

As for designers she thinks are great in this sphere? “If you want to talk about supply chains and how we’re treating people, then Ethical Clothing Australia is so, so great and more brands are joining and becoming accredited every few months – Bianca Spender, Bassike, Carla Zampatti, Nobody Denim,” she says. “KitX is probably our equivalent of Stella McCartney”.

With the mention of Kit, it brings us back to the issue of using your voice and your platform as fashion does. “Everyone thinks she’s cool and her clothes are fabulous and it gives her this platform to talk about it,” Clare says. “Would you care if somebody was banging on about the use of organic cotton, maybe not? But if it’s Kit telling you, you probably would. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of fashion to deliver messages”.

But it doesn’t always have to be about designer brands and spending more to feel better about what we’re wearing, according to Clare when we ask about how viable it is to be sustainable in every aspect of life.

“The fashion industry needs to be very careful about privileges. It’s tempting to frame this conversation around the amazing designer brands that do this great work. I’m going to say it’s not true that you have to spend more to be sustainable – or if you do it’s fractionally more,” she says.

“I’m not saying you have to buy Stella McCartney but I’m saying before you buy a $7.99 t-shirt from a cheaper retailer, consider other brands,” she continues. “Etico is a good example there. They’re Melbourne-based, use fair trade organic cotton and you can buy one of their t-shirts for $30. That’s not going to kill you – buy one instead of three”.

She mentions that many mass brands that are also lifting their game, H&M with the ‘Conscious’ collection and Jeans West focussing on the use of Australian wool and cotton are a few she brings up.

“And what about op shops?” she questions. “Why do we have to have new stuff all the time anyway? Half my wardrobe is vintage and I reckon I’m super fashionable (laughs). And when I say vintage it comes from a market stall and cost $30. You can find amazing things for cheap”.

Although, she does add a more sombre note at the end of our conversation to say that “when it comes to shopping on the high street, someone is always paying the price for it being too cheap”.

So what’s next for our favourite sustainable journo, activist, podcaster-extraordinaire? She says it’s all about the new season of Wardrobe Crisis for her – which has now already started. “I did the first series to see if it worked and it built constantly with every episode,” she says. I just got to speak to so many great people, and in a really in-depth way about why they do what they do and as a journalist, that’s golden”. She’s also got a new book coming out which will take her State-side to launch it. “I’m also going to interview some American movers and shakers. A lot of amazing people are coming up”.

Clare Press and Wardrobe Crisis Live (a part of WOMADelaide’s Planet Talks program) is on Monday, March 12 at 1.00pm.

WOMADelaide, Botanic Park
Full program and tickets via womadelaide.com.au

Listen to the Wardrobe Crisis podcast here.

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