PThe fashion world’s relentless pursuit of a new look for every season doesn’t take into account the impacts of throwaway culture. Element meets a designer who makes things to last. erusing a Starfish store, you’ll come across the likes of jeans reborn as stonewash denim satchels and organic t-shirts being sold to fundraise for Amnesty International. You’ll find the world’s first Fairtrade sneakers and clothes that won’t fall apart when your daughter discovers them in your wardrobe in years to come. The Starfish brand exists within a trade where the very nature of the beast is to create the next fly-off-the-rack design, yet somehow Starfish designer and founder Laurie Foon has managed to champion what could easily be considered an ironic concept – sustainable fashion.
Foon has long been regarded an example within the industry for her commitment to sustainable practice and product and is a regular at the country’s biggest fashion events. “We were the first to present three eco collections at New Zealand Fashion Week, bringing awareness to the fact there are environmentally friendly clothes out there.”
Despite, and perhaps in spite of, what she sees as a “disturbing” climate of throwaway fashion, the Wellington based designer – head of the first fashion house to win a Sustainable Business Network award – is successfully forging ahead.
“Our mission is to prove we can look great while having a minimal impact on our environment. Fast or throwaway fashion is possibly the biggest problem we have and it’s escalating. It goes without saying that the resources used to manufacture something to last for a few wears will have a direct effect on creating more waste for our landfills which are already over-full, let alone the environmental impact.”
Foon’s pattern follows a concept of Eco Design, choosing fabrics for their longevity and considering the life cycle of the final product.
“For us, the materials are becoming one of the most important factors in ethical clothing as a good fabric choice will help the garment to last.” She believes, by using good fabric, the customer will love wearing the garment and be inclined to wear it more often.
While Foon can recall her grandmother buying one new coat to last five years, her efforts to create similarly long-lasting pieces run against the trends of mass production and consumer’s mass consumption.
“Because we want clothes cheaper, fabrics we are choosing are not biodegradable. The market these cheaper brands are talking to is not yet aware of all these issues. Having a new garment that is hot right now is more important than the long-term environmental impact,” says Foon.
“We are still learning about environmentally better fabrics so we try to share this information with our clients so that they, too, can start to be aware of good fabrics that work for them and the environment.”
While Foon admits the role of a sustainable fashion designer is a tough one, it’s a duty she won’t give up on.
“Trying to design in this sustainable space at times has had me on my knees. Trying to decide what looks hot and what our customers would love over using environmental fabrics is no easy place to be. We work with the brief that there is no perfect, but there is better. These attitudes free us up to achieve and slowly we are getting there by increasing our use of sustainable fabrics while still looking great. Can we do it? We are getting there and I know our Starfish followers really love that we are trying.”
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Photo: Greg Bowker