Opinion

Taking the revolution to the runway

Lisa Heinze, co-founder of the Clean Cut Designer Showcase and University of Sydney PhD student, shares her thoughts on tackling sustainability in the fashion industry in a realistic way.

Camera-men and women jostle for position and their flashes light up every corner of the room. Twigs, flowers and garlands hang artfully from the ceiling and walls. Hipster DJs play ethereal techno tunes that almost mask the sharp clicks of stilettos as Australia’s fashion set (plus entourages) stream into the sundrenched art gallery to find their seats.

Backstage is another chaotic scene as models sit for hair and makeup amidst mounds of lace, racks of clothing and piles of shoes. The show’s producer looks on from his balcony perch above the gallery, headset on and ready for action. Suddenly, a journalist is in front of me with a mic, asking me how it feels to have this show in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

How should I respond? As any Fashion Week participant can attest, it feels surreal to be included in Sydney’s premier fashion event. Thrilling and unbelievable and every other word you can think of for EXCITING! But this show is also historic.

This is the Clean Cut Designer Showcase, the first sustainable runway to ever be included in Sydney’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. And I am one of the proud co-founders of Clean Cut who worked for over a year to make this show, which features eight sustainable fashion labels from Australia and around the world, a reality.

This reality includes seating the fashion media on benches made of reclaimed timber and offering them organic beverages. The goodie-bags are reusable organic cotton totes that feature (among other items) signed copies of my book, Sustainability with Style. The models’ hair and make-up was courtesy of a company that only uses ethically sourced ingredients and recyclable packaging.

The racks of clothing included recycled lace, organic Fair Trade cotton, and Birkenstocks. And I was wearing an amazing upcycled dress, made of sustainable materials and reclaimed textiles, worthy of any runway. And by all accounts the show was a hit, generating millions of dollars worth of publicity for sustainable fashion across Australia.

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As a fashion-loving environmentalist, I find myself frustrated by fellow-environmentalists’ frequent calls to “live with less” and “just stop shopping”. While there is no denying that individuals need to reduce the amount of new goods we consume, these ‘simple’ requests ignore the context in which both environmental and consumption decisions are made.

Until there is greater understanding of these nuanced decision-making processes, the environmental movement risks its messages being ignored. Instead of shaming people for their lifestyle choices, it is time to better understand those choices and explore truly sustainable solutions to currently unsustainable lifestyle practices.

The Clean Cut Designer Showcase took place in April of this year and remains an immense source of pride for me because of the progress we made for the sustainable fashion movement. We had infiltrated the fashion industry from within. Instead of chastising fashion lovers for overconsumption, we offered a fashionable path to environmentalism.

We highlighted the best of both worlds by showcasing stylish fashion made in safe working conditions with ecologically sound fabrics. There was no scratchy hemp or dreadlocks in sight – only beautiful, conscious clothing shown off in a contemporary, chic atmosphere. We had taken our sustainable fashion revolution to the largest runway in Australia, and it looked amazing.


Lisa Heinze is a sustainability consultant and author of the book Sustainability with Style. She is currently working on her PhD project, Fashioning Sustainability, through the University of Sydney’s Department of Gender and Cultural Studies.