CHANGE MER­CHANTS

De­sign­ers con­cerned by un­sus­tain­able prac­tices in the fash­ion in­dus­try are build­ing busi­nesses that aim for pos­i­tive change

The Australian - - LIFE - GLYNIS TRAILL-NASH FASH­ION EDI­TOR

It was never the in­ten­tion for Cit­i­zen Wolf to be a poster brand for eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able fash­ion.

“We set out to solve a fit prob­lem,” says Zoltan Csaki.

His busi­ness part­ner, Eric Phu, ex­plains: “I’m re­ally short and stubby and strug­gled to get cloth­ing that fits. If I need a busi­ness suit, it’s easy enough to find a tai­lor who will make me a suit. What about the stuff you wear 95 per cent of the time?”

Their tai­lored T-shirt busi­ness is now two years old, and as well as nail­ing what they be­lieve are “the best T-shirts you’ll ever wear”, their busi­ness model now aims, among other goals, to pro­duce zero waste.

Mon­day sees the be­gin­ning of Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion Week, a move­ment that be­gan fol­low­ing the Rana Plaza col­lapse in Bangladesh in 2013, in which 1138 peo­ple died in a fac­tory mak­ing cloth­ing for fast-fash­ion com­pa­nies. It aims to ad­dress ques­tions around fash­ion in­dus­try sup­ply chains, in­clud­ing ques­tions of en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts and sus­tain­abil­ity. As part of the ac­tiv­i­ties, Syd­ney’s Cit­i­zen Wolf is one of a hand­ful of brands across Aus­tralia in­clud­ing A.BCH, KitX and Brigid McLaugh­lin, that are open­ing up their work­places for Open Stu­dios, where the pub­lic can learn more about eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able fash­ion and per­haps get a lit­tle hand­son in the cre­ative process or learn some new skills.

The big­ger mes­sage, of course, is about un­der­stand­ing where our clothes come from through­out the sup­ply chain. But it also raises ques­tions about our per­sonal re­la­tion­ship to them: why we need so many, how we look af­ter them, and whether it’s time to buy less, buy bet­ter and take bet­ter care of the things we do have.

Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics, ev­ery year about 500,000 tonnes of tex­tiles and leather goods end up in land­fill — and that’s just in Aus­tralia.

For Csaki and Phu, own­ing a cou­ple of T-shirts that are made from or­ganic cot­ton or wool, and made to mea­sure for your size and shape, should mean they are bet­ter than 10 cheaper op­tions avail­able to you — and you’ll keep them for longer. It also jus­ti­fies the higher price tags, which start at $59 and run up to $129. Not be­ing from fash­ion back­grounds — the pair met at a dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing agency “many moons ago”, says Csaki — they had to do their re­search. It threw up a lot of ter­ri­fy­ing sta­tis­tics along the way.

“Fash­ion has a tremen­dous amount of waste,” says Phu. “Tshirts are the gar­ment that peo­ple spend the least money on and think least about. That’s the other side of the equa­tion that we’re very con­scious of. One-third of gar­ments (made in the fash­ion in­dus­try) never get sold be­cause they were poorly pre­dicted by the buyer or the de­signer, or are the wrong fit, and they go straight to land­fill. An­other third will be worn once and then thrown out be­cause they’ve shrunk in the wash or fell apart af­ter two wears. That’s 50 bil­lion gar­ments a year (glob­ally) that don’t need to be made.”

Csaki con­tin­ues: “That’s ob­vi­ously un­sus­tain­able. The an­swer has al­ways ex­isted. The an­swer is tai­lor­ing.”

T-shirts, they say, are just the be­gin­ning of the jour­ney for Cit­i­zen Wolf, and they hope one day to be able to cre­ate en­tire wardrobes for cus­tomers. Their per­fect fit is based on the mea­sure­ments of 2000 early cus­tomers, writ­ten on pa­per, then digi­tised to cre­ate an al­go­rithm to en­sure a cus­tomised tee for each in­di­vid­ual. All they need now is your height, weight, age and, for women, bra size. You then choose your T-shirt style from dif­fer­ent ver­sions, ei­ther in store or on­line (cit­i­zen­wolf.com), in a fab­ric of your choice, which is laser-cut in-house and sewn up by skilled lo­cal work­ers.

They source mostly or­ganic cot­tons and wool, as well as tak­ing end-of-run fab­rics from No­body denim in Mel­bourne; all of their left­over fab­ric scraps are sent to Sel­jack (sel­jack­brand.com.au), which uses them to cre­ate blan­kets at Aus­tralia’s old­est weav­ing mill.

“Now we’re try­ing to con­sciously be­come a zero waste com­pany,” says Csaki.

To that end, they’re also now of­fer­ing free life­time repairs on any Cit­i­zen Wolf item, to keep them in cir­cu­la­tion longer.

Court­ney Holm, founder of Mel­bourne’s A.BCH, knew all too well “the waste­ful­ness, the se­crecy” of the fash­ion in­dus­try. This com­pelled her to cre­ate a brand with full sup­ply-chain trans­parency, from “the farmer level” of crops such as cot­ton or linen, right through the man­u­fac­tur­ing process to the point of pur­chase.

“We take it to the fur­thest pos­si­ble point,” says Holm. “Ev­ery com­po­nent, threads, la­bels, but­tons — ev­ery item has to be re­cy­clable or com­postable. The in­dus­try stan­dard for sew­ing thread is polyester-cot­ton blend or pure poly, which would ren­der any­thing we’re cre­at­ing un­re­cy­clable. So we’re work­ing with pure ma­te­rial — 100 per cent or­ganic cot­ton right down to the threads and lin­ing, even our dyes are biodegrad­able. We don’t cre­ate any­thing with­out a clear life cy­cle.”

One of the is­sues fac­ing startup brands — A.BCH is now 14 months old — is that even though an in­creas­ing num­ber of suit­able prod­ucts and so­lu­tions are now avail­able glob­ally, they in­volve min­i­mum or­ders that are out of the reach of smaller busi­nesses.

“It took eight months to meet the min­i­mum for biodegrad­able elas­tic. When I was able to do elas­ti­cated waist­bands it was the great­est day of my life!” Holm be­lieves there could be more col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween brands to meet those min­i­mum or­ders to­gether.

While many de­sign­ers would feel con­strained by the lim­i­ta­tions Holm has set her­self, she sees it as a chal­lenge. “There are def­i­nitely pa­ram­e­ters and these lit­tle com­pro­mises you make, you have to come up with a so­lu­tion. That’s the beauty of real de­sign. It means you have to be more cre­ative.”

Given A.BCH is a ver­ti­cal re­tailer sell­ing di­rect to con­sumers on­line (abch.world) and via its pop-up shop, Holm can con­trol ev­ery as­pect of the busi­ness, down to the la­bels they put on your postal pack­age. “We use pa­per tape, re­cy­cled pa­per pack­ag­ing, ev­ery­thing is re­cy­cled and re­cy­clable. Be­fore we launched the web­site we sourced re­cy­cled tis­sue pa­per and stick­ers.

“It seems like a lot of ef­fort, but the whole idea of trans­parency is that it holds us ac­count­able from the be­gin­ning,” she says. “If we have that level of trans­parency on ev­ery­thing we do, we’re go­ing to strive to do bet­ter.” Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion Week runs from April 23 to 29; for more in­for­ma­tion, see fash­ion­rev­o­lu­tion.org.

Cit­i­zen Wolf founders Zoltan Csaki and Eric Phu were sur­prised by the amount of waste in the fash­ion in­dus­try; be­low, a de­sign by Mel­bourne’s A.BCH, which strives for trans­parency

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