Fashion / Style

Sustainability in motion: the brands at AAFW championing ethical and impactful change

The brands at AAFW championing ethical and impactful change

If there’s a term that feels about as fatigued and opaque as any in the fashion industry, it is ‘sustainability’. It’s a word which is too-often brandished performatively, usually by designers not often preoccupied with the concept of meaningful, expansive change. True sustainability should feel impactful, transparent and authentic – never scripted.

In its lead-up, we wanted to sit down with some of the designers involved in AAFW 23 who champion true sustainable practices, and who authentically embody sustainable, ethical, eco-conscious ideals. For these brands, being ‘green’ goes beyond checking boxes. It’s an attitude, a lifestyle and an ethos.


In conversation with Bianca Spender...

How would you describe Bianca Spender’s approach to sustainability?

I am someone who innately connects to nature, so the planet and its longevity has always been a driving force for me. With each collection, we continue to innovate and strengthen our sustainability measures. We design and produce each of our pieces locally in Sydney, and a significant part of each collection is crafted from dead stock fabrics. Every range is started with sustainability at the fore, looking to styles that walk through life with you, in their quality, longevity, and adjustability.


What motivates Bianca Spender to continue to develop and adhere to sustainable practices and principles?

Our planet is precious! This is not a question, it’s a necessity.


In what ways have your designs or practices developed over time to be more circular or ethical?

A few years ago, we set ourselves a clear goal for 50 per cent of the styles within each collection to be crafted from dead stock fabrics. This completely shifted the way I design – using available resources as the starting point for each range.


Is there a sustainable initiative, practice, or commitment that you’re particularly proud of as a brand?

In 2021, Bianca Spender was accredited as a carbon neutral organisation. This accreditation focuses on our holistic business practices, and ensures transparency across all elements of the business.


Your runway show at AAFW this year will be zero-waste, with all set elements borrowed, reused or repurposed. I’d love to know more about this commitment.

I think being resourceful has just always been in my nature. I always look at how pieces can have longevity, be reused or repurposed. This year will be the second year we look to a less-waste runway, where all elements of the set design have been loaned or will find a new life in a new space off the back of the show.
What is your ethos or vision for the future of Bianca Spender in the field of sustainability?
As a brand, we will continue to develop our sustainable business practices, and remain innovative and supportive of the local manufacturing industry. I have a vision for the Australian fashion industry to work closely together to develop ethical and sustainable ways of working.


In conversation with Maggie Hewitt of 'Maggie Marilyn'...

How would you describe Maggie Marilyn’s approach to sustainability?

Maggie Marilyn believes that our planet’s survival hinges on its ability to dream up a better tomorrow, which is why we believe that the future of fashion is one rooted in transparency, circularity, regeneration and inclusion. I think our approach to sustainability is driven by our hunger for solutions and continuous improvement. We never want to gate-keep good ideas when it comes to addressing the fashion industry’s role in the climate crisis, which is why we’ve been vocal about our integration of technologies like FibreTrace®, which verifies our supply chain from farm or origin to finished garment and adds another layer of transparency to how our clothes are made; or the ongoing work to transition our natural fibres to regenerative fibres, like the 01 Blazer which is now made from ZQRX Merino and Good Earth Cotton.


What motivates Maggie Marilyn to continue to develop and adhere to sustainable practices and principles?

Last year we were so proud to receive our B Corp. certification and be identified as a world leader for our positive social and environmental impact. B Corporation acknowledges those using business as a force for good. Their rigorous process measures a business’s impact across governance, workers, community, customers and the environment, and MM's score of 109 is a vote of confidence in our mission to create a better world and redefine what a successful fashion formula looks like. These are the roots of our brand, and as a team we're both honoured and reminded that the onus is on each of us to uphold these commitments to you – our stakeholders – every single day. But what excites us most is that, as a business who intends on being here 100 years from now, this score lays the foundation for the kind of social and environmental impact we hope to have.


In what ways have your designs or practices developed over time to be more circular or ethical?

We’ve spent the last few years working towards transitioning our natural fibres like cotton and merino to regenerative fibres, and we were so proud to achieve this last year with the 01 Blazer; which is now made entirely from regenerative fibres – ZQRX Merino from Lake Hawea Station and Good Earth Cotton. Organic cotton is an incredible solution to treading more lightly on Mother Nature, but regenerative farming practices represent a future wherein the fibres we use in manufacturing and textile production can sequester more carbon than they emit and have a regenerative impact on the environment.


Is there a sustainable initiative, practice, or commitment that you’re particularly proud of as a brand?

As a young fashion brand committed to using business as a force for good and treading lightly on the planet, every day we are tasked with making complex decisions – and deciding which farms to source our raw natural fibres from is something we find particularly challenging. So in 2021 we released our Regen Report, which is a body of work outlining the conversations we had with a selection of farmers, industry bodies, scientists and private entities to see where we could find common ground on the definition of regenerative agriculture compared with the traditional agriculture system and, in doing so, rethink the role we play in regenerating the planet.

You’ve put together care and repair guides on your website and on garment labels as a way of doing your part to extend a garment’s lifespan in the wearer’s wardrobe. I’d love to know more about this initiative.
We want our customers to cherish their Maggie Marilyn clothes forever, and we also know that a lifetime of love means a little wear and tear along the way. So we introduced MM Repair Kits as a way to extend the life of our clothes, and dis-incentivise customers from buying something new. Our makers helped us to curate a range of kits with the tools needed to mend your clothes. For example, one of the kits contains black, ivory and grey merino thread and two needles, so that you can darn a hole in your MM cardigan or Merino 01 Singlet.


In conversation with Sarah Munro of 'Sarah & Sebastian'...

How would you describe Sarah & Sebastian’s approach to sustainability?

At Sarah & Sebastian, we believe that sustainability is a responsibility we all have to protect our planet for future generations. Our goal is to create beautiful, high-quality jewellery that our clients can wear knowing it was made with care and consideration.

As a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, we are committed to using ethical and responsible practices in our sourcing and manufacturing. We still to this day operate a workshop in Sydney, employing over twenty jewellers and work with a network of like-minded suppliers and international manufacturers who share our values. We speak about sustainability being an ongoing journey, there will always be opportunity for development and innovation, and that’s what we focus on.


What motivates Sarah & Sebastian to continue to develop and adhere to sustainable practices and principles?

One of my biggest passions is diving, which has given me a firsthand look at the impact climate change, pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction is having on our oceans and its delicate ecosystems.
Because of this it’s important for me to be able to use our platform to bring awareness to these issues.

Last year in collaboration with my close friend Alice Wesley-Smith, we started our Now You See Me film series to raise awareness about the issues facing Australia's endangered marine life. By showcasing the beauty and fragility of these species, we hope to inspire action and drive positive change.

We also are committed to supporting the work of our  Xanthe Project partners, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Ocean Impact Organisation, Sea Women of The Great Barrier Reef and Take 3 for the Sea. We believe that it's important to not only minimise our impact but also to support the work of those who are dedicated to preserving our oceans for future generations.


In what ways have your designs or practices developed over time to be more circular or ethical?

Our design is deeply influenced by the ocean and aims to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the environment. With this in mind, we handcraft made-to-order pieces at our Sydney Studio and refine and recycle precious raw materials to go back into the production lifecycle. We continually strive to improve the environmental footprint of our production process.

The longevity of our jewellery is also a key focus and to support a circular economy we offer a repair and refurbishment service to ensure our pieces are loved for years to come. We have also introduced a recycling initiative which allows clients to exchange their pre-loved jewellery for a credit toward a new piece of jewellery.


Is there a sustainable initiative, practice, or commitment that you’re particularly proud of as a brand?

Last year to honour the 10th anniversary of Sarah & Sebastian, we proudly established the Xanthe Project, our pledge to donate over $1 million dollars to ocean conservation within the next decade. The Xanthe Project supports four independent Australian not-for-profit organisations that align with our values and focus on education, activism, political change, and commercial impact. This is still only a drop in the ocean though (excuse the pun), so much additional support is needed for the protection of our precious oceans and marine life, which is crucial for a sustainable future.


Last year you pledged to donate $1 million toward ocean conservation over the next decade. I’d love to know more about this commitment and why the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef is close to the brand’s heart.

The next decade is deemed to be crucial for ocean conservation because it represents a window of opportunity to take action and address the many challenges facing our oceans.

The Great Barrier Reef is where I experienced diving for the first time and its incredible coral informed some of our earliest collections. Our Now You See Me film The Reef centred around the monumental challenges it faces. At this years AAFW, we are excited to be premiering the third film in our Now You See Me series, focused on shark and rays which is set in the temperate waters of the Great Southern Reef, my home - where I now spend a lot of time diving. For this project, Alice and I filmed at seven locations along ‘the string of pearls’, Grey Nurse Shark aggregation sites up and down the coastline from Jervis Bay in southern New South Wales to Wolf Rock in south-east Queensland.

Like our precious GBR, Australian shark and ray populations are also at great risk, with 1 in 8 species threatened with extinction in Australian waters. Scientists say that we need to protect at least 30% of our global oceans with well-connected networks of highly protected marine sanctuaries, by 2030. Right now, sanctuary areas cover 19% of Australia’s waters, but there are major gaps in the network and many vital habitats remain unprotected – we need to do better.

We are passionate about bringing to light these issues and supporting the work of our project partners particularly the Australian Marine Conservation Society whose mission centres around these issues.


What is your ethos or vision for the future of Sarah and Sebastian in the field of sustainability?

As a brand, we feel a great responsibility to protect and preserve the natural world which we take so much inspiration from. We value innovation, always exploring new ways to identify and minimise our impact and will continue to use our platform to speak up about the importance of ocean conservation. We hope that our commitment will inspire others to take action and do their part in protecting the ocean and its inhabitants.


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Images courtesy of Bianca Spender, Maggie Marilyn and Sarah & Sebastian.