How to Engage with Ethical Fashion | Clara Vuletich | TEDxSydney
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How to Engage with Ethical Fashion | Clara Vuletich | TEDxSydney

Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Mile Živković Fashion and sustainability.
These are two very different things. Fashion is sexy, addictive, exclusive,
and very fast-moving. Sustainability, on the other hand,
is about slowness, care, flourishing and responsibility. It’s fair to say
that the fashion industry, until very recently,
hasn’t been very sustainable. We are drowning in clothes and textiles. Clothing sales have increased
dramatically in the last 20 years. Did you know that you have four times
the amount of clothes in your wardrobes than your parents did? And in the UK, over 1 million tons of clothing
goes into landfill every year. While we have more clothes
in our wardrobes, we’re not necessarily any happier. Fast fashion has turned us
into these passive consumers who are constantly chasing the fantasy that buying more clothes
will make us happy. And, as we know,
the people who make our clothes are often working in quite far away
countries from us here in Australia, in quite poor working conditions
and paid quite poorly. Look at what happened at Rana Plaza, the factory [accident]
in Bangladesh, in 2013. Over 1,000 people lost their lives while they were making clothes
for brands from the US and the UK. I’ve worked in this space
as a designer and a researcher for almost ten years. I’ve spoken to many of the designers,
brand managers, suppliers, retailers and consumers, and there’s often a lot
of finger-pointing that goes on. Consumers blame the brands for paying such low wages
to often outsourced workers. Brands say that the price
of their clothing is so cheap because that’s actually all
that people want to pay. Activist organizations blame the brands for following business models
that prioritize profit at all costs. And governments often just watched
cautiously from the sidelines. So, how can fashion
and sustainability truly coexist? And how can all the players
in this industry collectively work to transform this situation? Well, the good news is I believe
things are changing for the better. We’re currently in a transition
to a new type of fashion industry based on ecological
and holistic principles of closing the loop on materials, that prioritizes community, values, and respect of all the people
in the supply chain. I recently went on a journey
through the global supply chain to investigate these issues
and to find some creative solutions. So, the journey begins in my local
neighborhood of the time, of Brixton, in South London. I’m in the local community center there and I’m standing at a table
surrounded by a group of women who are all hand-sewing
with a needle and thread on their own garments. I was there to teach
clothes mending and repair. I’d brought all my favorite
sewing equipment, my needles, my threads,
my yarns, my favorite textiles, and I really wanted
to create this creative, and experiential, and inspiring workshop to get people in really engaging
with their garments. So, as the women sewed,
we had quite a somber discussion about the impacts of fast fashion
on people, on the planet. And after the workshop finished,
everyone packed up and we all left, and I walked home on foot. As I was walking down what in the UK
they call the high street, I noticed a group of four
of the women from my workshop and, as I spotted them,
they walked into a fast fashion shop. They were going shopping!
I couldn’t believe it! I’d just spent many hours talking to them and teaching them this slow,
careful mending repair technique, and all they wanted to do
was go with their girlfriends and have some fashion-related, cheap fun. So, it was in that moment
that I really understood that, in order to contribute
to systemic change of the industry, as a designer or as an activist, I would really need
to understand behavior change, and rather than tinkering
around at the edges as a craft-based textile designer,
as I had been doing, I would need to go
to the heart of the industry, to the global fashion brands
and global production centers. So, at about this time,
I was luckily offered the opportunity to work with one the largest
fashion companies in the world. I’d been part of a fantastic
research team in London, and we’d come up with a set
of sustainability strategies for fashion and textile designers. So, these strategies cover things
like design for recycling, how a designer can design for cyclability, design for chemical impacts,
design for water impacts. And also, we give tips
on how to be a design activist. And we’d actually trialed these strategies with mainly student designers
all over the UK and Europe, but now was our opportunity
to train professional designers in the heart of the industry. And, when we’re training designers
to use these strategies, we get them to take a garment design
from a past collection, something they’ve done, maybe a pair of denim jeans
or an outdoor jacket. And they use the strategies to map the potential environmental
and social impacts of this garment, and then we ask them
to redesign the garment to potentially lessen the impacts. So, when we talk about garment impacts,
we really need to think about life cycles. So, the garment life cycle
demonstrates the impacts across the whole life of this garment. It’s got a very long life. It takes a lot to make
a textile and then a garment. So, it starts at the raw material phase, goes through fiber and garment production, shipping and transport, when the consumer
is wearing it, washing it, and then the end of life, whether you throw it in the bin
or you give it to the secondhand markets. When we’re talking about life cycles,
we have to really consider that all fiber types and garment designs
have different impacts. So, a polyester dress
will have very different impacts to a cotton T-shirt, for example. So, let’s take cotton. Cotton is one of the largest
fiber groups in the world. I bet many of you here today
are wearing cotton garments. So, cotton is grown using
huge amounts of pesticides. They say that, in one cotton T-shirt,
500 grams of pesticide have been used. So, that’s one full handful per T-shirt, and, globally, we produce
over 1 billion T-shirts. So, an alternative to conventional
cotton is organic cotton, and organic cotton’s grown
using no pesticides, but organic cotton is often 10 to 20%
more expensive than conventional cotton and there’s often a shortage of yields. Particularly in the last five years, there’s been a really great engagement
from consumers and brands onto the issues of cotton, but it’s meant that demand
has outgrown supply. And someone may buy
an organic cotton T-shirt, wear it a few times or wear it many times
and throw it in the bin, and it may end up in landfill. And, if the T-shirt has been dyed
using toxic dyes, this may leak into the soil, and it often takes up to 400 years
for a T-shirt to biodegrade. So, it’s complex, and there’s no one solution
when we’re training designers to think about these issues, but, when we’re training them
in sustainability thinking, we’re actually training them
to be life cycle thinkers, to consider the whole life
of this garment. While I was training designers
in this large company, I really began to reflect and I began to think about the idea that you can’t force a designer to care,
or anyone for that matter. Sustainability asks us, as humans,
to consider really deep questions about our personal relationship to nature
and the ethics of our actions, and the strategies I was using didn’t
really consider these deeper issues. And often in the workplace, even if our company has a great
corporate responsibility program, we’re not often encouraged
to bring our personal values to work. So, I developed
a really simple workshop tool, a card game and some drawing techniques, to get the designer talking and thinking
about what sustainability means to them before they then apply the strategies. So, following these workshops in Europe, the research journey
then took me then to China. China is the global hub
of textile and garment production. They sure know how to do this. I was interested to go to China
to look at workers’ rights issues, particularly in garment production. Like many people from the West, I had some assumptions
based on the notion of sweatshops about possibly how Chinese garment
workers are treated and how they’re paid, and I also knew that the methodology
that most western fashion brands use to justify their employment
of workers in China was to audit factories, but I also knew that this
wasn’t working either. So, I wanted to go to China
to not just look at the problems. I wanted to come up
with some creative solutions. I really wanted to hack a factory and I wanted to co-design with workers and come up with a range
of garments and product design. That was a little hard
and I didn’t manage to pull that off, but what I realized in talking to workers and to many different
stakeholders in China was that the assumptions I had
weren’t necessarily correct. A lot of production workers
in Chinese garment production are women, aged between 18 to 25. They’ve come from rural villages to work
in factories in the city, they’re living in dormitories
next to factories, and they’re really happy
and grateful for the work. They often do it
for up to three to five years. They save a large amount of money
to take back to their families. They also see the opportunities to potentially meet a husband
in the cities, for example. And I also visited some factories,
not all the factories in China, but, well, the first thing
I was impressed by was the sheer scale of these places. I don’t know if anyone’s been
to textile production factories, but they are amazing. And so, I was sort of awed by the sheer
scale of this industrial production, but I was also pleasantly surprised. Many of the factories were clean,
the workers seemed to be safe and happy. So, there was no resolution, I guess,
from my experience in China. I didn’t end up doing
the creative project, but I did manage to sit
with a group of garment workers in a room above their factory. And rather than talking to them
about the problems, or trying to, through a translator, I actually just shared a simple
textile print technique with them. It sounds a bit funny, but I just felt that rather than me
trying to solve any problems, which I naively thought maybe I could, it was actually very lovely to just sit
and share a creative process through textiles. The journey ends
with me coming back to London. I’d been on this whirlwind journey
through a global supply chain, I’d worked with the designers
in the heart of the industry in Europe, I’d been to China
and now I came back to London, and the final project that I worked on
was that I made a jacket by hand. I spent three weeks
working on this jacket. I hand-stitched many small pieces
of patchwork together and hand-quilted three layers of fabric. Louise Bourgeois, the late French artist, talks about the act of hand-stitching
with a needle and thread as a form of reparation, that the sewer is repairing something
or bringing things back together. And it was in this very simple
and mindful act that I was able to bring the many aspects
of the research together and to make sense of the findings. So, using the mind and the body, I literally stitched my way
to an understanding of fashion and sustainability. And we can choose
better organic materials, we can choose a better factory
that’s been audited and assessed, we can even try and change
consumer behavior through teaching them
these mending techniques, but, ultimately, sustainable
fashion is about values. We have to decide what we value. A designer working in an organization, in order for them to engage
with their company’s CSR policy, they have to really get clear
on their own personal values and to feel empowered. Equally, a young Chinese garment worker
has her own set of values based on her culture
and her life circumstance. We can’t assume to know what she values, but we can collectively work to ensure that her human employment
rights needs are met. And for us here in Australia,
for people who love fashion and who shop, we have to decide how we spend our money and how we care
for the clothes we already have. We have outsourced so much of our lives
in the form of food and clothing, but now it’s time
to bring things back home. It is easy to point the finger at a brand
for not having a transparent supply chain, or the government for not having
a landfill tax, for example, but we have to really take
responsibility for our choices. And there are several ways we can become
more mindful lovers of fashion. The first thing I would say is: learn the simple art of hand-stitching
with a needle and thread, like they used to do it. It’ s really good way to tune
into your own inherent value system and your own creativity. We all have it in us, we’ve just lost
that touch with clothing and fabric. It’s lovely to go shopping
on a Saturday afternoon and, sometimes, it does make us
feel better and happier, but not always. I would say that, most likely,
if you do tune into your inner knowing, it will tell you that what you really want
is to feel more connected to others, or even to nature. So, what else can we do? There are several apps now in Australia
that you can download onto your phone. They use a really simple rating system to rate clothing brands
about their ethical practices, so we can really start to get more
knowledgeable about the supply chain and feel empowered about how
we’re going to spend our money. I would also say: buy secondhand clothes,
swap with your friends, and ultimately, buy less. Very simple, but very radical. We’ve become such consumers
that we’re not sort of used to that idea, and we’ve got such
cheap clothing at our fingertips. So, it turns out that I was
on the right track that day in London, in the workshop, that the active hand-stitching
can make a world of difference. We all wear clothes, even if we’re
not necessarily lovers of fashion, but we all wear clothes
and we’re all connected and responsible for the transition
to this flourishing fashion industry. Thank you. (Applause)

About Ralph Robinson

Read All Posts By Ralph Robinson

40 thoughts on “How to Engage with Ethical Fashion | Clara Vuletich | TEDxSydney

  1. Spot on advice on our taking the responsibility of sustainable fashion back! Even using a home sewing machine and little home alterations means we begin to see the effort and value in the making of our clothing.

  2. Look for GOTS labelled clothes when you buy something new and you can be sure that the whole process is environmentally and worker friendly.

  3. 0:55 Yeah right

    I only have three sets of clothing (underwear, pants, shirt, socks)
    I have to make sure my laundry gets done overnight just so I can alternate between them

  4. Education is key. Countries that have the sustainable debate the most in the public space are those who educate their children and young people about sustainability, like Germany. Sustainability should now become a value in our society as we are all affected by it and we all need to take responsibility. It is too big an issue for a small group advocats to publicise, the main stream media and our governments need to bring the discussion to the spotlight

  5. As a lover of fashion and what it has meant to us throughout history, I would love, love love to be able to make my own clothes!

  6. In general Fashion Designers are very low on knowledge and in-depth understanding of the science and technology which form the intricacies of product life cycle and the process design that goes into it….& excuse me…what is the conclusion of this talk…. ??…hand stitching….buy less use second hand clothes…??….EVEN IF THE ENTIRE WORLD DESIRES / FANCY THIS, IS IT PRACTICAL…..!!!

  7. I totally understand her. I tried to make startup that could reduce the waste , it sadly did not work out. I am now trying to make Youtube about it as well as talk about it on Instagram. Most things move through stages on the market acceptation as following "innovators–> early adopters –> early majority". For something to take off it has to move into early majority. It will take a lot of work to move people from that category. People care, it just the question of convenience.
    I feel like she lacked the general conclusion. The problem is the Life Cycle Thinking, it have to be done on a part of the producer and the government to move mountains. As consumers we can do a lot about it, but first when we get the numbers. But we can a specially controlling our personal habits, they rob of on people. If you want to make a change , change your personal actions, with a lot of people moving it will create snowball effect.
    Since today it is just financially hard to create a moderately priced sustainable clothing and clothing should not be cheap in general. It is hard for them to compete with conventional. Moving yourself will move the demand.
    There is also no consensus when something is sustainable on terms of product, to winch degree it is, it is such a mistreated word.
    You can control who you support with your money . If you have "shopping" addiction as a lot of people do you can make clothing exchange events . It sort of make you feel like you have a lot of new things.

  8. What with the "happy young Chinese women working in factories who are glad and thankful to have a job allocating them to save a ton of money" ?

    Is it such a "dream" everywhere ? Is it just a majority of factories ?
    I don't get it.

  9. 2:13 After 10 years in the fashion industry she is unable to point the finger at those responsible for the human and labor losses. Don't listen to her smoke-screen techniques and outright lies 11:25 and 12:10 (the workers are happy. NOPE.): her incrementalist political reforms will never solve the root of the problem: The Big brands, and their wealthy CEO's, and all the apologists who insist on "change" are all responsible 9:03. The solution requires us to organize garment workers, general-strike, and either abandoning or taking over the factories. Stop production, return to the countryside, fast-fashion retail workers can give away all the current stock and go on solidarity strike. The industry cannot be reformed, it must be abolished, and the owner elite must see massive profit loss.

    Her solutions are false. How many times does she mention "empowerment", "sustainability", and "self-made". Any cursory study into this subject. 15:22 She advocates that we learn how to sew, rate brands with apps, instead of pushing for corporate transparency or government reforms. My "inner knowing" is telling me that this is BS.

    Watch the documentary: The True Cost

  10. As a dude that barely buy clothes for years….. I always confuse why people shopping clothes like every month… that doesnt make any sense….. it is not like it is broken or something…. one t-shirt could survive for 10 years without scratch… 20 years until it look weird… please people clothes is not food… it value decrease by a lot of time not one time used

  11. one word, taylors. expensive? nope. order one piece from taylor is not more expensive than buying many cheap ones. we must go back hundred years. no chinese products. local taylors were used. i dont want to suport china, i wan to suport local people. its also the most original piece, you get to choose the style, you get to choose the fabric and you get perfect fit. hopefully people realise it fast.

  12. Today Chinese Industry also start to care about the sustainable fashion. But the difficult thing is How to build the awareness to the consumers. Like She said : It is all about the value.

  13. Thank you for such an interesting and important talk! It is hard to be perfect but we can definitely all start by taking small steps in our everyday decisions that will make a difference. I recently posted my first YoutTube video "12 Top Tips for being Sustainable with Fashion" for people who want to make a change but don't know how 😊♻️

  14. My intro to Fashion class opened our eyes to the harms of fast fashion and the fashion industry in general. Now I'm looking to start my own eco-conscious clothing company. If anyone has any tips on where to start looking please let me know 🙂

  15. Very knowledgeable lady. She knows about fast fashion at its core. Definitely worth watching from start to finish.

  16. It is surprising that anybody may accept uncritically the perception of happiness of the Chinese workers this video refers to. Working in the factory is heaven compared to the exhausting farm work and famine stricken communities they come from.

  17. I read somewhere that fur was considered sustainable.. technically it is and better than “fast fashion”.. am I off on that

  18. In this flourishing fashion industry, who can stop "fast fashion" which is getting bigger and bigger all over there world. With a fact that development of technology in the fashion industry is even being accelerated, it seems that it is almost impossible to stop such huge companies.
    Have you seen people shopping in Primark? It is such a huge business out there. People carry a wheel-basket in the shop and just put clothes in the basket and some clothes are like literally thrown and laid down on the floor. This is insane. Most importantly, we can not deny that products produced by a big company like Primark are attractive enough because they are cheaper than you expect. Last but not least, from my point of view, any types of artists seeking sustainability need to be highlighted and paid attention from the public to solve the problem of clothing waste. Furthermore, It also needs to go with the idea that artists are responsible for producing a valuable outcome so that people will finally get into it.

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