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A well-worn argument

Volume 6 Number 11 November 8 - December 12 2010

Can the multi-billion dollar fashion industry ever be sustainable? Tullia Jack, a Masters student from the Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, told David Scott she thinks it’s possible.

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For Tullia Jack, fashion has the power to change the world. “What we wear shapes the world around us,” Ms Jack says.

“A pair of jeans could be made up of cotton from Uzbekistan, woven fabric from Japan, thread from the United States, buttons from China and then it’s all packaged up and shipped here.

“It’s not very transparent and environmental standards aren’t necessarily adhered to. And that’s just one of the obvious examples of the problems facing the fashion industry.

“By engaging more in how and what we wear, we have an opportunity to understand more about sustainability on a global scale.”

And what we wear takes up more than just space in our wardrobes: the washing and drying process is where up to 80 per cent of an item of clothing’s environmental impact is felt, while approximately 30 to 40 kilograms of textile waste per person ends up in landfill each year. “That’s half of my weight!” exclaims Ms Jack. “Fashion is the archetype of consumption-driven growth. If something’s ‘in’ fashion, we will quite happily throw out last year’s rags and buy again.”

A MPhil candidate for the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, Ms Jack says she always had a passion for sustainable fashion, but puts her candidature at the University down to a chance meeting.  “I was fortunate to meet my future supervisor, Professor Chris Ryan, at a public lecture on social innovation and sustainability, and he was at Melbourne Uni heading up the Eco Innovation Lab under the banner of the faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning which is well resourced and supportive of my slightly alternative research area, and I like to borrow concepts from the broader design sphere, so despite people’s initial reaction I have found studying in the Faculty’s Melbourne School of Design a positive experience.

 “While I did textiles and fashion merchandising management in my undergraduate, I also had the chance to explore fashion and sustainability in a research project in my final year, which really crystallised my interest in sustainable design.”

Indeed, research into sustainable fashion and design has charted quite a rise in popularity in recent times; beginning with UK-based Kate Fletcher’s work on sustainable design and textiles, to more local focuses, from Anthea Van Kopplen’s discussions on excess to Kate Luckin’s establishment of The Clothing Exchange. “It’s been quite a prolific discussion over the past 10 years, and while I plan to build on some of the great work already done, I’m keen to explore deeper into a social innovation for sustainability aspect,” says Ms Jack.

“I’m excited, because clothing and fashion are beautiful ways to explore sustainability, and I’m really interested in the way community and consumer roles shape the way industries operate. Fashion is such a big part of our cultural and self-expression, particularly given its participatory nature. Think about it: everyone gets up in the morning and puts clothes on, and that’s how you present yourself to the world. It’s a communication tool, in that what you wear you communicate to others, so if you can be sustainable in what you wear, you communicate that to others too.”

Real change in the sector is possible, according to Ms Jack; from better lifecycle analysis of the processes bringing fashion into homes, to zero waste production that use every part of a roll of fabric. But in the end it is consumers who have the power to affect the biggest change. “To drive change we should be conscious that every purchase is impacting on the fashion system,” says Tullia. “If we buy second hand clothes, or even fewer clothes that are more durable, we’re playing a role.”

“But we can do more than that, such as washing clothes less and at lower temperatures while using eco-detergents.”

Ms Jack is seeking participants to take part in a 20 minute survey, 1 hour focus groups and a 3 month wearing study. If you are interested in being involved contact