Sustainable fashion that doesn’t cost the Earth

18 August 2015

Most people seldom consider where their clothing comes from. Unless there’s a factory fire or building collapse our eyes rarely look towards the world’s sweatshops. WE’AR, featuring at NZ Fashion Week, is trying to bring sustainability centre stage.

WE’AR is a New Zealand company facing the challenges of producing ethical clothing, not only in its production but also in its impact on the environment. With increased consideration – and ethics – around clothing comes an increased cost but Jasmin Easterbook, sustainability consultant for WE’AR, says that social good outweighs any increase in business costs.

“It does cost more to operate this model of business, but we don’t see it as a balance,” Jasmin says. “Because social and environmental responsibility is our reason for being, we can’t compromise on that. Instead, we have to focus on making our customers happy and on what we need to do to make that happen.”

With such strong motivations Jasmin says the company hopes to inspire other businesses to ask themselves what they can do to become more sustainable, and for start-ups to help solve existing social problems.

“Sustainability, being one of our foundational principles, has been of essence since well before we began. The dreaming up of WE’AR was off the back of realising the environmental and human impact of every one of the choices we make as businesses and as consumers affects the planet.”

WE’AR is featuring at this year’s NZ Fashion Week (24-30 August) and Jasmin hopes it will open sustainable clothing up to a new audience, showing them that it can be fashionable and high quality.

“Our latest collection explores the allure of effortless sophistication, with a playful twist. The eco-luxe fabric selections are also a stand out feature that will whet anyone’s appetite.”

For such a boundary breaking company to be part of Fashion Week, Jasmin says, “brings sustainable clothing into the mainstream spotlight”.

“We feel that normalising sustainable fashion through aspirational events such as NZ Fashion Week is an important step towards consumers starting to demand ethical social and environmental practices.”

 WE’AR is looking at sustainability throughout its supply chain. “One of our key textile suppliers has just developed a new green mill and has won the Indonesian bid with Lenzig, a fibre manufacturer, to produce textiles such as Tencel,” Jasmin says. “This will allow us to source top rated eco-textiles locally in Indonesia, which reduces logistics footprints and allows us to support local manufacturing.”

 Growing awareness and education is a challenge in itself and Jasmin champions NZ Fashion Week’s involvement as well as smaller events.

“We’d love to see sustainable practices become the status quo but for now we see alternative fashion shows as having an important role to keep pushing the limits with new innovations and solutions to our collective design, manufacturing and freight challenges.”

The key to success though is effective communication and while Jasmin says that opportunities at Fashion Week can be limited – as people are focused on the style, not necessarily the ethics – WE’AR is making the most of the situation.

“We are communicating in goodie bags, taking part in a few connected events and taking up opportunities to engage with other participants and guests.”

Jasmin hopes that Fashion Week will be one long strut forward for WE’AR.

“It’s about authenticity. We started with heart and that’s also how we grow. If you can do that while making people happy, maybe even inspiring them, then it’s worth it. I think that’s really what makes people want to engage with WE’AR. We make them feel good.”

Some of the other great initiatives taking place in sustainable fashion in New Zealand include NZ Eco Fashion Week, and an innovative project by NZ Post to recycle old PostShop or Kiwibank uniforms into children’s clothing. See also Space Between, a social enterprise in which design thinking is being applied to find solutions for textile and clothing waste. NZ Post is working with Massey University on the project together with Earthlink and Booker Spalding.