Everlane Goes Global…for one week

So just last week, I went to Everlane.com while browsing for Christmas presents for my boyfriend and was bummed to find out that they didn’t ship to Australia. Boo. Australia never has anything cool. Rage. Etc. But then I get an email today  – Everlane has $15 international shipping to Australia for 1 week only. Hooray!

I assume this is Everlane dipping their toes into international waters to see whether it’s worth the investment and risk that comes with a global e-commerce business. So WE NEED TO GET BUYING and let them know that it will work! Australians are desperate for stylish, quality, affordable and transparent fashion alternatives.

Backing up a bit – the low down on San Fran-based Everlane…

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Fashion, Opinion

Vogue Online Shopping Night – An Ethical Approach


Vogue Online Shopping Night (which is today! 28th October) makes my brain go a bit haywire.  So many brands, so many beautiful brands, with large store-wide discounts that I can shop from the comfort of my couch. Each year more retailers join, with more products to buy, at even greater discounts.

But these wide-scale discount events (think also Click Frenzy or Cyber Monday) have huge potential for wasteful, unconscious buying. How many times have you bought something and said “I’m not sure I even like it, but it was on sale.” This “I only bought it because it’s cheap” mentality drives the consumption of fast fashion and contributes to the disposability of fashion.

BUT I don’t want to be a total Debbie Downer. Shopping can be great. Shopping and getting a bargain can be great. But like any consumption in the 21st century, it’s up to us as shoppers to be informed and make the right decisions. We can’t leave it up to corporations to do what’s right for the planet or for workers, we must educate ourselves and (even though I find this saying lame) “vote with our wallets”.

So with that said, here is how I would go about shopping at VOSN tonight.

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Fashion, New Collection

REVIEW: KITX Collection No. 3 – Australian Eco Luxury on the Rise

I have enjoyed watching Kit Willow Podgornik’s triumphant return to Australian fashion. It’s been 2 years since she was unceremoniously dumped from her namesake label, Willow, which was bought out by The Apparel Group (owners of Australian high-street retailers  Saba, Sportscraft and JAG) in 2011. But now she’s back with a new label, KITX, and a new focus – a slow fashion business that is mindful of its impact (environmentally, socially and economically) on the world.

As she said to Wallpaper mag:

“KitX is the direction I wanted to take Willow in; to create beautiful clothes that have a deeper meaning,’ said Podgornik, who spent much of that break reseraching fashion’s environmental accountability. ‘I never realised the effect that the materials used in fashion have on the planet – even just the packaging,’ she continues. ‘It made my blood boil. I realised that fashion industry is the second biggest polluting industry in the world; many cotton farmers don’t live past the age of 45 because they die of cancers caused by all the chemicals they’re exposed to, which in turn pollute water supplies for villages. I had space to look around and think about what to do next, what women want and need, and it was so clear to me that the way forward was a brand with no negative effects on the planet or its people, right down to having happy salespeople.”

Despite the slow fashion mantra, success is coming quickly – she is stocking at many boutiques and department stores including David Jones, is about to launch her third collection with a lookbook shot in Paris and has just opened a flagship store in Paddington, around the corner from the Willow boutique. How’s that for a comeback?

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Fashion, Opinion

The H&M Problem

H&M have received considerable praise in the media this week about their sustainability efforts, but is this real progress or are they just pulling the (100% certified, responsibly-sourced) wool over our eyes?

With the release of their ‘2014 Conscious Action Sustainability Report’, the launch of their latest Conscious Collection, and being recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies by independent body Ethisphere, fast fashion retailer H&M is once again being lauded as a leader in sustainable fashion.

Yet with a planned 400 new stores opening in 2015 (to add to their existing 3500 stores worldwide), their aggressive sales growth leads to an equally aggressive increase in manufacturing, which means more natural resources used, more strain on factories and their workers, and more apparel ending up as landfill. It begs the question: can a business built on the unsustainable model of fast fashion ever really be sustainable?

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A screenshot from H&M’s sustainability report

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Black Milk, ‘Sharkies’ and the Rise of a Fashion Fandom

This is a piece I wrote at the end of last year about Black Milk Clothing for Business of Fashion. Not exactly ethical fashion, but I thought I would share anyway.

Fandoms are communities that take root and grow around cultish aspects of pop culture. Think Potterheads (fans of Harry Potter), Trekkies (Star Trek followers), Bronies (male fans of My Little Pony) and Beliebers (Justin Bieber fangirls). But aside from cosplay and the occasional fandom-related t-shirt, these communities rarely intersect with the fashion industry. Until now. They call themselves ‘Sharkies’ and they worship at the altar of Black Milk, an Australian fashion brand specialising in shiny printed lycra.

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E-Tailers Must Tell Consumers Where Their Products Are Made

Below is a piece I wrote for Business of Fashion. 

 In the wake of last year’s tragedy at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, much has been written about the widening gap between producer and end consumer in the global garment industry. As fast fashion companies, in particular, aim to speed up production, while simultaneously increasing profit margin, supply chains have become increasingly murky and customers are often left with little idea as to where, how and by whom their clothes are made.

Unfortunately, the rise of e-commerce has done nothing to improve transparency, as consumers shopping most fashion e-tailers are exposed to very limited information on how and where their clothes are made, making it difficult to make responsible choices. Unlike shopping at traditional brick-and-mortar stores, shoppers can’t touch clothes to assess quality, read tags for manufacturing information, or ask a shop assistant about the origin of an item. Instead, they must rely on the limited information provided on product detail pages, which, in most cases, says nothing about country of origin, let alone the specific conditions at the factories where items are made.

Country of origin (COO), or the “Made in” tag, is a basic form of labelling that most clothing manufacturers feature on their products. The legal requirements for COO labelling vary from country to country. In the US, the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act requires that a “textile product made entirely abroad must be labeled with the name of the country where it was processed or manufactured.” Most of Europe, the UK and Australia have no such legislation, but it is considered best practice to include this information on clothing tags. Yet log on to your favourite fashion e-commerce store and it’s all but impossible to find out where a piece of clothing was made.

In fact, some large multi-brand websites, including Net-a-Porter and MyWardrobe, fail to mention the country of origin of the products on their website, even though the Textiles and Wool Act states that imported products must be labelled as such “in mail order or internet advertising, such as catalogs, including that disseminated on the Internet.”

Daisy Gardner, corporate accountability and fair trade advisor for Oxfam Australia says that simple COO information enables consumers to ask companies questions about the conditions for workers in that country. “When e-retailers do not provide even country of origin on their websites it takes away even the most basic information about where the garment was made,” she says. “If retailers want to be part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) international best practice they need to not only disclose the country of origin, but also provide public lists of all their supplier factories.”

It’s not hard to see why fast fashion websites selling products manufactured in places like Bangladesh would want to obscure this fact, considering the widespread issues with human rights and worker safety that plague the country. More surprising is that luxury e-tailers don’t include COO information either, even when it has positive connotations such as “Made in France.” COO can be a selling point, particularly for luxury or premium product. And yet, still, very few high-end e-commerce stores include this information.

Alice Strevens, senior ethical trade and sourcing manager at ASOS, acknowledged the importance of providing customers with information that helps to demystify the supply chain. “We are dedicated to informing our consumers about what we do and how we do it, and as a result have a website committed to openly sharing this information,” she says. But information on the ASOS website focuses on high level ethical codes and standards rather than providing specific information about individual products, meaning there is no way for customers to quickly check where something is made before purchasing, as they are able to do in a brick-and-mortar store, simply by looking at the label of the garment.

And yet the very nature of e-commerce allows companies to disseminate product information more easily than at traditional retail, giving them the unique opportunity to empower customers with in-depth product knowledge, which only needs to be input once when the product is uploaded to a site’s content management system. There is already someone, usually a content writer, entering sizing, fabric and care information; manufacturing information could easily also be included at this stage. But despite this, most fashion e-commerce companies include a bare minimum of information on how and where products are made.

Sara Brinton, digital marketing and e-commerce manager for ethical retailer People Tree says that the detailed manufacturing information they provide on their product pages has increased sales. “When we created the ‘How It’s Made’ section on the website and shared it with our customers on social media, we received very positive feedback. We think it does positively impact sales and we’re working now to add even more information about how our products are made to our website.”

In an industry where it’s becoming more and more difficult for consumers to unravel complex supply chains in order to determine where their clothes are made, the majority of online stores are further obscuring the reality of garment manufacturing. If fashion is going to take its ethical responsibilities seriously, manufacturing information must be made available to customers, who will then have the opportunity to hold retailers accountable for the working conditions of the people who make their clothes. Being transparent about country of origin is a small but important step in demystifying the fashion supply chain and ensuring that workers receive fare wages and decent conditions.


Bursting the H&M bubble: Why I’m not excited about H&M’s Australian launch.

The new Melbourne H&M store. Image courtesy of Herald Sun

The new Melbourne H&M store. Image courtesy of Herald Sun

As H&M opened the doors to its first Australian store in Melbourne over the weekend, fashion media and consumers alike were chomping at the bit for the retailer’s dirt-cheap ‘fast fashion’. Labelled by some as “the best thing to happen in Australia all year”, H&M’s 5000-square metre, three-level megastore in Melbourne’s GPO building houses over one millionitems of fashion, accessories and homewares, and all at prices so cheap that you needn’t think twice before buying.

And therein lies the problem. Well, one of the problems. H&M, with their $6.95 tanks and$12.95 jeans, encourage the kind of mindless consumerism that fast fashion  thrives off — buy cheap and buy lots. The proliferation of wallet-friendly clothes and accessories that are ‘designer-inspired’ (a lovely little euphemism for ‘shameless rip-off’) has led many to confuse this increasing disposability of fashion with ‘democratisation’.

But with cheap prices, the victor isn’t really the consumer — it’s the fast fashion empires. Quantity over quality is a horribly unsustainable approach, but it’s the reason why H&M Chairman Stefan Persson is making mad bank (est. $32.8 billion), and also why  most of our fast fashion purchases literally fall apart at the seams before even coming close to the 30th wear (the number recommended by sustainability journalist, Lucy Siegle).

Fast Fashion’s Hidden Costs

Fast fashion’s seductively low prices encourage us to buy things we don’t need (and sometimes don’t really want) with little regard for the enormous environmental and human costs of this rapid-fire supply chain that squeezes margin from those who are most vulnerable — garment workers in developing nations halfway across the world. H&M are estimated to produce 20-25% of their products in Bangladesh, making them the largest player in the country, and while they have gone some way to working towards a living wage (they aim to pay their workers a living wage by 2018), Labour Behind The Label — a UK-based collective of trade unions, charities and consumer organisations who work to support workers’ rights – argues that H&M’s projects “do not show evidence of delivering a living wage for workers any time soon” and that they have yet to put a figure on what the living wage actually is. H&M don’t own any of their own factories, and while they require their direct suppliers to sign a Code of Conduct and are subject to their Full Audit Program, they acknowledge that they don’t have direct contact with or influence over “second-tier” suppliers. It’s this lack of transparency in supply chains that leads to exploitation of workers, and in extreme cases, tragedies like Rana Plaza last April.

To be fair, though, as far as fast fashion empires go, H&M is not all evil. In fact, it was recently named as one of the ‘World’s Most Ethical Companies’ according to Ethisphere for its leadership in signing the Bangladeshi Accord on Fire and Building Safety, as well as its ‘Conscious Exclusive’ collection made from sustainable materials. It is also one of the world’s largest buyers of organic cotton. But these achievements are dwarfed by the sheer amount of resources used to make the estimated 550 million garments it sells each year.


Fast fashion is a huge drain on the environment — the textile industry is one of world’s largestusers and polluters of water, thanks to the prevalence of cotton (a very thirsty plant grown in mostly dry regions like India, Mali and southern USA), as well as the many chemicals and dyes used in treating fabric. A single pair of jeans uses up to 5678 litres of water, and emits the same amount of carbon dioxide as driving 125km. No matter how many ‘conscious collections’ H&M produce, as long as they make more and more clothes, their impact on the environment is significant. As Siegle wrote in her analysis of H&M’s 2012 sustainability report, “Despite an understanding of all the pressures on Planet Earth sketched out in the report, there are no plans to scale back on ambition or indeed inventory.”

Besides the manufacturing costs of fast fashion, there is also the economic impact to local retailers and designers that will be felt as international fashion empires move in. Of course, healthy competition and a range of options is a great thing for the fashion customer, but Australian boutiques run the risk of being priced out of the market by H&M’s global buying power. Plus, the speed in which H&M can copy catwalk trends will drive sales away from Australian designers, many of whom are already flailing (think Ksubi, Lisa Ho, Kirrily Johnston and Alannah Hill to name a few).

While you may argue that there is no crossover between the H&M and high-end designer customer, the response to last week’s launch by the fashion media suggests otherwise. As I watched my Instagram feed swell with giddy images of the thousand-odd media, bloggers and celebrities that flocked to the Melbourne store for the big event, it was clear that the industry was drinking the H&M Kool Aid.

H&M are a well-oiled marketing machine, and the launch was major: 300 Sydney VIPs were flown down to Melbourne on a special flight, and indie-pop darlings Haim were brought in from Los Angeles to DJ the event. Luxury fashion titles like Vogue AustraliaElle and Harper’s Bazaar covered the event, despite H&M being far from the designer labels they usually endorse. On the eve of Australian Fashion Week, it was H&M — a Swedish fast fashion, mass-market retailer — that dominated the fashion pages, leaving local designers in the dark. Through a spectacular event and a generous media buy (just have a look at the banner ads bordering  this Vogue gallery), H&M has managed to spin fashion credibility out of thin air.


As H&M continues to feed our clothing addiction with some of the lowest prices this country has ever seen, the fast fashion machine grows ever more powerful. The race to the bottom speeds up, and all the while the fashion media sips on champers and toasts the arrival of another mass-market giant. Instead of critically examining the company’s effect on the retail and fashion industry, we are left with images of ‘media personalities’ getting drunk on H&M’s bar tab. The publicists won this round — the complete narrative of H&M has been obscured by beautiful people in shiny clothes.

There’s no doubt the retailer, like Topshop and Zara before it, will find massive success in the Australian market — we do love a bargain. But if you find yourself in line this week at the Melbourne store, among the thousands of other shoppers, please take a moment to think about the true cost of your $12.95 skinny jeans.

I originally wrote this article for Junkee  on 7th April, 2014.