By Ricky Sheward
On this day, two years ago, in Savar, Bangladesh, an eight-story building collapsed, killing 1,129 people and injuring 2,515 more.
Who were these people? Employees of various garment factories, working for fashion retailers who are more than happy to exploit them for the sake of profit. I could list those retailers here, but that’s been done. Google it. The names are out there. Unfortunately, it seems not much has changed. Not surprising, really: finger-pointing usually leads to nothing more than an unproductive game of “pass-the-buck”.
Nothing. Gets. Done.
Rather, let’s turn our attention to ways we can change, the things we can do, and an organization paving the way forward for the fashion industry.
Undress Runways has been making great strides forward in its quest to take sustainable fashion from the niche to the mainstream since its inception back in 2011. Boasting the largest sustainable fashion runway show in Australia, they’ve had shows in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne, and show no signs of slowing down. I was lucky enough to score an interview with the inspiring Edda Hamar, director and co-founder of Undress Runways, and here’s what she had to say:
So, Edda. You co-founded Undress Runways back in 2011. But what were you doing before that? Have you always been involved with the fashion industry?
Before that I was a uni student, studying business and creative industries. I was just having a really good time studying, living out of home and exploring life as an 18 – 20 year old. I was interested in all things business, video and people.
What inspired you to start Undress Runways? Was there any particular event or experience that motivated you?
My first taste of running fashion shows was a runway I produced called ‘Frock it!’ in 2010. It was a show held at Lightspace in Fortitude Valley and showcased QUT fashion design student collections. It was great, lots of people came and they loved it! At this point I realized that fashion shows were a great channel for communicating a message. Having peoples’ full attention is rare in today’s world and so I created a show with a very important message: sustainable fashion.
Since 2011, Undress Runways has grown to become Australia’s largest sustainable fashion runway show. During that time, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about the industry. What have been some of the barriers to getting people to adopt sustainable fashion? Is it just a lack of consideration?
The two main barriers are access to clothes made sustainably (there are a few online retailers but few brick and mortar stores). Consumers like convenience and right now it’s not super convenient to purchase sustainably or ethically made clothes.
There is also a lack of education and connection around clothing production – people don’t realise how severe the problem is and that most clothes are produced in sweatshops where worker welfare is ignored. We hear a lot about sweatshops and garment factories that are horrible places to work but we often don’t connect that with the very clothes that we see and feel when we are shopping.
You once stated that you defined success as “seeing sustainable fashion become mainstream fashion.” What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced while reaching for this goal?
There is still a stigma attached to sustainable fashion, which works against us. At Undress, we believe that you can look however you want and still be sustainable – it doesn’t have to look like hectic hemp or yoga clothes. People have this idea that “sustainable fashion” is a style, but we really need to start thinking of it as a practice rather than an aesthetic.
Another challenge is that change is hard. It’s not until everyone in the fashion cycle rethinks their practice that change will become easier. The fashion industry sets trends, the media promotes them, consumers love to buy, designers try to stay competitive and manufacturers can’t keep up with demand so workers end up suffering. If everyone started to reassess their values (do you want to support this unhealthy cycle?), we would have a much better world!
I’ll be honest: I’m guilty of not considering sustainability when I go clothes shopping. But Undress Runways has really opened my eyes. If we’re looking to change, where can people find information about whether the clothes they are wearing are sustainable or not?
Ask us! http://www.thenakedmag.com/questions (that’s our magazine site).
Or go to Ethical Clothing Australia’s website and look at their accredited ethical brands. http://www.ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au/accredited-brand/
Or go to Clean Cut Fashion’s definitions page and choose to by fabrics that are in their sustainable fibres. http://www.cleancutfashion.com/definitions/
Shop ethical is also good. http://www.ethical.org.au/
Beyond our own purchasing habits, what can we, as individuals, do to help out with supporting sustainable fashion? Is there any particular call to action you want to get out there?
Come along to Undress Brisbane, Undress Sydney or Undress Melbourne and support the amazing designers who are paving the future of sustainable fashion. Grab a copy of Naked magazine (our new magazine) and learn about what we’re buying into.
I’m sure many young people would love to get involved somehow. How can they get involved with what you’re doing? And what personal quality do you consider the most important for participating in the sustainable fashion industry?
Apply to be on the Undress team http://www.undressrunways.com/volunteer or volunteer at our next runway show through Milaana. We look for happy people who are looking for an awesome time while changing the world of fashion.
As mentioned Undress Runways has grown a lot since 2011, with a presence in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Brisbane. What’s the next step? Do you have any plans to go beyond Australia in the works?
Yeah international is definitely on the cards! We have launched a print magazine called Naked that comes out twice a year and we are also launching our own clothing label later this year. Once we have that all sorted we’ll look at taking the show overseas.
Thanks for your time. There’s a lot to learn from the great work Undress Runways are doing. One last question: I’ve asked a lot about challenges and problems, but what about successes? What’s been your best experience since Undress Runways got under way?
So many! Promoting over 50 sustainable designers on the runway, building a team and giving young people opportunities, quitting my day job, receiving a $20,000 grant from Qantas.
It’s also amazing when someone comes to me after seeing a show or a talk and ask how they can be more sustainable. That’s when I know I’ve done my job and am truly making a difference in the world.
Thanks again for your time!
At the end of the day, we’ve got a choice to make: we can shut out bad news, pretend someone else will come along and fix it, and let the tragedies keep coming. Or we can take charge of the things we do and send a message through out actions. Undress Runways proves you don’t have to sacrifice fashion for sustainability, and is a great place to start making a change in the world.
Undress Runways WANTS YOU!
If you want to learn how to create, plan and execute a fashion show, Undress will give you countless opportunities for hands on experience. Connect through Milaana!