Founders of ethical platform, The Helm Society, Nicole Bennett and Aleysha Campbell, know a thing or two about curating the ideal ethically sourced closet. I caught up with the ladies who are debuting a splash for sustainable style, as they reveal how they created their enviable website as well as the importance of understanding the perils surrounding ethical fashion choices.
Tell me a little bit about the ethical fashion industry here in Australia.
Helm: We Aussies love to consume. In fact, if everyone else around the world consumed as much as we Aussies do, we would need four (4) planets to supply the demand.
Knowing this, it really wasn’t a surprise, when Fast Fashion giants; Zara, Topshop and H&M arrived on our shore, all in the last five years, and we saw consumers welcome them with open arms and wallets. These giants came with a promise to deliver, by the shipload, on a weekly basis, ‘affordable’, ‘on trend’ threads.
However, in the last year, we have seen a large amount of initiatives, organisations and individuals popping up in the area of ethical fashion, which in turn has seen many more ‘ethical fashion’ savvy consumers, who are asking the hard questions and expecting answers.
“How can they produce on trend clothing so fast?”
Recognising that same trend on the runway in New York as little as 3 weeks prior to being on shelves in Sydney.
“How can they make a tee for $5?”
Surely the cotton farmer cannot be receiving their fair share.
“What are the impacts on our planet when we produce clothing in such massive quantities?”
Natural resources are limited and surely this practice is not sustainable.
And once we start asking these questions and spending the time answering them, we have to ask ourselves… Is being ‘on trend’ really worth it?
How do you think ethical fashion is impacting emerging designers?
‘Ethical fashion’ is acting as a reminder to designers and brands that they need to take responsibility for their own supply chain. Globalisation saw majority of designers and brands move their production offshore. Consequently, this removed the designers ‘need’ to be responsible for how their clothes were being made, alongside the people who were making them.
[Out of sight, out of mind]
The slow fashion movement (which supports ethical and sustainable methods) is encouraging designers and brands to firstly, trace their entire supply chain, starting at the farmer who is picking their cotton, followed by where and how there cotton is being milled. After tracing their supply chain, they then need to own the responsibility of these people,resources and methods.
For emerging designers, it is a whole lot easier. They can start with the right processes in place alongside the understanding of what can go wrong when you fail to know who are making your clothes and how they are doing so. A big challenge for emerging designers is to choose their materials wisely. I would encourage them to look at the impact each material has on both people and our planet. What chemicals are required? How many pesticides are needed? How many litres of water are being used? What are the health impacts on the workers? etc
When emerging designers welcome this challenge, they become more than just designers, they become game changes… iconic game changers like Stella McCartney, Paul Van Zyl and Kristy Caylor from Maiyet and Bono from Edun.
How did you first become involved and passionate about promoting and education others on ethical fashion? And, how did the Helm Society first take off.
I have witnessed first hand the negative impacts of the fashion industry on both our planet and peoples lives, through out my travels in Asia, plus having worked in the fashion industry for nearly 10 years. And it never made sense to me, that something as beautiful as fashion could have such an adverse affect on the world.
My first job in the fashion industry was working for a wholesaler, who produced garments for many large [unethical] companies… all who received a D in the Australian Fashion Report. It was during this time, I gained a solid understanding of the fast fashion business model, of which there was no respect for their suppliers, no creativity in the ‘design’ process (we purchased garments from overseas and on-sold them to our customers) and there was definitely no thought towards the environment. The sole focus was margin.
Young and naïve, I thought I could do better, so I set up my own brand. Through out this experience I learnt so much on what NOT to do when setting up a label, whilst at the same time growing my understanding of the realities of the fashion industries. I wanted to share these findings, so after an inspiring talk from Lisa Messenger, I set up The Helm Society.
The Helm Society is a social enterprise that is steering the fashion industry in a sustainable direction by building awareness and promoting choice.
You can see what The Helm does here
As consumers, how can we contribute toward promoting sustainable fashion choices?
“As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy” Emma Watson
We couldn’t agree more with Emma.
The consumer really does hold the power in their purse.
Today, we can make a positive difference in the world by becoming more thoughtful, considered consumers.
Let’s start by thinking about our inner-style… shifting our mindset from trends to style.
If we can see this shift occur, the ripple effects will be ten-fold.
Right now, our society is driven by trends… but the thing about trends, is they go out of fashion… fast! Which of course means we don’t want to spend a fortune on clothes we will wear once! (drum roll… introducing… fast fashion!)
What if we stopped wasting our money on disposable ‘trendy’ clothes and we start investing in our inner style… I mean, if we really start to understand which garments suit our body shape, skin tone and personality… we therefore wouldn’t need trends to dictate what we wear and we would start to curate a wardrobe that we are proud to wear.
[Ripple] We will choose quality garments … garments that we will be happy to wear it 30, 40, 50 times.
[Ripple] We will be happier to spend more money on said item of clothing, which in turn will [hopefully] guarantee the
people along the supply chain will be paid a fair wage.
[Ripple] We will start to see the CPW (Cost Per Wear) instead of the RRP (Recommended Retail Price).
[Ripple] Our relationship with clothing will start to change and once again we will treasure our clothing.
[Ripple] If we treasure our clothes, we will look after them and ultimately keep them out of landfill.
The ripple effects go on and on and on…
Right now 40% of a purchasing is done on a whim.
You know… when you are walking around the mall and you see those freshly cleaned marble floors, reflecting lights and some spectacular eye-candy… topped off by a super reasonable price tag. You decide to forgo the coffee and buy the dress.
Frivolous, meaningless consumption.
Easy to do but it is not a sustainable practice. It is a practice that is hurting our one and only planet, humankind and our society.
Let’s stop this behaviour and become considered consumers.
Consumers who are aware of their purchasing power…
Consumers who have considered what they ‘need’ before they go shopping…
Consumers who have taken the time to research which brands are worthy of their hard earned money…
Consumers who know which style suits them and don’t need trends to dictate their wardrobe…
Consumers who know which fabrics they want to wear and why they want to wear them…
Congratulations on your recent appointment as ethical sourcing specialist for David Jones, it is great to see such a big name supporting the ethical garment industry. What does a typical 9-5 day look like within this role?
It is so exciting and such an honour to be involved in such a program.
There is no typical day in the office, which I love!
Each day, I am juggling about 25 things at once, such as communicating with over 1200 suppliers, engaging with our stakeholders, holding training session, reviewing audits, verifying non-compliances, researching new laws and so much more!
Check out here for more details on the program.
Lastly, what are your favourite ethical fashion brands here in Australia?
Where do I start?!
Graziela the Label is stunning! And you should see the quality!
Sarah J Curtis has the most incredible artisan made hats
For a special occasion, Kit X
Zefyr Jewels has beautiful fine jewelry for any occasion
If I’m in need of basics I head to Bon the label
And for a splash of colour, Purple Mango.