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Fashion Week Shows Ethical Clothing Is No Longer Niche

24 August 2016 at 8:50 am
Wendy Williams
Ethical fashion is “good business”, according to a panellist speaking at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week 2016.

Wendy Williams | 24 August 2016 at 8:50 am


Fashion Week Shows Ethical Clothing Is No Longer Niche
24 August 2016 at 8:50 am

Ethical fashion is “good business”, according to a panellist speaking at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week 2016.

Ethical clothing

Photo: Eugenio Marongiu /

Ethical Clothing Australia media and communications coordinator Sigrid McCarthy said there was a stigma attached to ethical fashion that “need not be there” and that some of Australia’s most established brands were proving ethical clothing could be commercially successful.

It comes as ethical fashion is taking centre stage on the runway at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week 2016.

The week-long event, which launches on Friday and takes place in various locations across Melbourne, has turned the spotlight on sustainable and ethical clothing, with ethical designers  including Manning Cartell, Carla Zampatti and Bianca Spender being highlighted, and a number of curated exhibitions taking place to raise awareness.

McCarthy, who will be taking part in the Fashion Forward panel on 31 August, said it was important that ethical fashion is not seen as “niche”.

“I think for us at Ethical Clothing Australia it is really important to promote ethical fashion as an industry standard and as something that everyone should be engaged in,” McCarthy said.

“So with this in mind… these type of panels appeal to the everyday sort of shopper or industry individual, we can engage with them and get them more interested in asking questions and thinking more about where their clothing is made and under what conditions.

“In order for the industry to move forward it is really important it is not seen as a niche or a niche sort of market, it is something that will only gain interest going forward.”

McCarthy said one of the challenges in encouraging conscious consumerism was a lack of awareness.

“I would say it is not a lack of care, I think perhaps it is more a lack of awareness and lack of mindfulness,” she said.

“People aren’t really thinking about where their clothing is made.

“It’s so easy for a consumer to divorce themselves from the origins of a purchase, they go into a store, they see something on a rack, they try it on, looks really nice – and they buy it, it doesn’t really often go further than that.

“And it’s not seen as a normal dialogue to have with the retail staff or with the brand itself so we are definitely trying to promote a greater dialogue and a greater awareness that people can start asking questions and be more mindful of where their clothing is made.”

Several events are being held as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week in a bid to raise awareness about sustainable fashion.

Waste Not, Want Not, by Box Hill Institute fashion design students, explores concepts including zero waste, recycling and upcycling to highlight the impact the fashion industry has on the environment, and how designers can choose to think differently about their practice in order to ensure a more sustainable future.

Ecothreads: Rags to Runway and Rockstage, in support of the Australian Red Cross, explores the power of sustainable fashion with a parade at Cherry Bar with student-designed, upcycled gear.

And a panel discussion, Fashion Forward: Sustainable and Ethical Design, will share insights into developing ethical business practices and why it’s important for the entire fashion industry to be taking progressive steps towards sustainable, ethical design.

McCarthy said people were starting to realise that buying the cheaper, unethical option is not always best.

“It is one of those things I guess that takes time removing that stigma and getting people to think more about it,” she said.

“There is also often the argument of price. People assume that ethical clothing is more expensive, we like to encourage people to look more to the price per wear and to see the longevity of the garment, and buying high-quality Australian made garments ends up saving you money because you don’t have to replace it soon after.

“So there are a few things that I think are holding this movement back but there is definitely a greater interest and people are starting to realise that perhaps buying the cheaper, unethical option is not always the best.”

In terms of business owners, McCarthy said there were several issues associated with unethical production.

“We like to highlight the issues inherent to unethical production and unregulated outsourcing in terms of risk management and brand reputational damage,” she said.

“It is very hard for a brand to come back from being found in an exploitative workplace or it being found in the rubble of a factory collapse in Bangladesh. Consumers are very savvy, they are very loyal, and when things come to light through the media it is very hard for a brand to come back from that sort of damage.”

McCarthy said Ethical Clothing Australia, which works with local textile, clothing and footwear companies to ensure their Australian supply chains are transparent and legally compliant, now has around 90 accredited brands.

“[They] see ethical production as good business and as a responsibility that they need to own as businesses owners,” she said.

“Our brands, as I mentioned before, we have RM Williams, Cue Clothing and Carla Zampatti and some of the most commercially successful Australian brands, they are accredited.

“I think for brands to argue you can’t be commercially successful or viable while also treating your workers fairly and paying a living wage and extending safe working conditions, it’s not really an argument that should be made.

“If you are a business operating in Australia and making money from your product you really should be abiding by the law and making sure that your social impact is as positive as possible.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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