On the Value of Eco-Conscious Fashion Design

Posted by Fiona McAlpine on

My name is Sheridan and I am the newest member to The Fabric Social team. The story and transparency of this project was what attracted me, as I am an advocate for sustainable fashion design. For a designer going out into the ‘real world’ it’s been a bit disheartening trying to find ethical design opportunities where my values align with my career goals. 

When I say sustainable fashion, in no way do I mean the baggy, shapeless, ‘naturally dyed brown or khaki’ kaftans or maxi skirts that are 100% hemp. I feel that sustainable or ‘eco’ fashion has been separated from other areas of fashion such as ready to wear or haute couture because of these engrained daggy images of sustainable fashion. Those associations have made it hard for sustainable design principles to be properly adopted as a standard part of design. 

The modern fashion that we take part in is fast. Larger brands focus more on profits made and units sold while consumers place value on quantity rather than quality. Fashion is now a game of marketing and economics.

Over time this has had a devastating effect on three aspects of garment production.

Firstly, the amount of waste produced by fast fashion contributes to literally tonnes of landfill. Fabric recycling plants have been generated as a response to this, but the fast rate of demand makes their work challenging.

Secondly, the quality of garments produced has decreased to reduce production costs and maximise profit. On average, items are worn out by 10 washes but also, because of the cyclical nature of fashion, it’s more common for clothes to just be discarded to move on to the next big thing.

Finally, the anonymous people who are producing these clothes in factories (more often than not in third-world countries) are forced to do so in conditions that are less than satisfactory. Imagine if you were a woman working in an environment where if you were to become pregnant you would not be afforded maternity leave, just replaced. What’s more is that workers, on average, only earn 5% of what a garment costs to be made.

You can check out an example of this type of environment reported by undercover reporter, Raveena Aulakh here

Sustainable fashion design has intrigued me since participating in a unit in my second year of my degree. All the projects I completed in my university catalogue that have contained aspects of sustainable fashion, such as Zero-Waste Design Theory and Slow Fashion principles, I found to be more meaningful pursuits of design. This led me to completing my honours qualification last year with a focus on these practices. My research answered the question:

‘How can Zero-Waste design be used in collaboration with traditional folk art techniques to improve sustainability in modern fashion?’ 

- exploring a combination of Zero-Waste pattern design and Slow Fashion principles.

As a result of that investigation I produced a collection and exegesis (small-scale thesis companion). My main objective was to explore the process of garment production in a way that refocused on quality and the impact fashion can have.

The collection itself consists of outfits that have been designed adopting zero-waste design theory and embroidered into using traditional Norwegian folk art as a visual reference and link to my own heritage.

In order to make these practices relevant to contemporary fashion, I incorporated modern technologies and software to increase quality and introduce the idea that technology could be used to ‘craft’, in a modern sense of the word. 

My Hons research was the most demanding and hardest project I have ever set out to do. I also had other things going on at the time such as showcasing in Germany at the Frankfurt Style Awards, as well as being part of the Perth Fashion Festival Student Runway (Eco-Fashion Category of course!) and showcasing my second graduate collection at last year’s No.13 Show (Curtin University Graduate Parade).

However, it allowed me to take a year to immerse myself in a topic that I am passionate about. While it’s not necessarily a pathway for everyone studying fashion, allowing yourself a year after completing your main qualification is a worthwhile way to find where you fit in the industry and what your ethos is as a designer.

Once out in the ‘real world’ I was a bit skeptical about finding anything that related to sustainable fashion in Perth.

Then I came across The Fabric Social and was excited by the fact their design ethos combined both slow fashion and Zero-Waste Design, but pushed it further by putting ethical treatment and humanitarian values at the foundation of their projects.

While having a consciousness of the people who are in those factories working has always been important to me, I have never really had a chance to engage with it because I have always produced my own projects. Working with the team has allowed me to include those issues in a way that isn’t theoretical or superficial, but real and tangible. 


Sheridan is a design advisor and a sustainable fashion advocate based in Perth. All images are from @skylarkthelabel on Instagram. 

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