It is a particular emotion to talk today about and with a colleague who not only lives on the other side of the globe, in Australia but who has made a similar path to mine, starting to love and write fashion but feeling in time a vocation always stronger for the well-being of the Planet. Today Clare Press is Australian VOGUE’s Sustainability Editor-at-Large and she sits on the Australian advisory board of Fashion Revolution but she is also writer and, above all, a passionate advocate for ethical fashion.
Now I prefer to turn it over to my guest, as usual, because it is the best way to introduce her to you too 😊
Clare, it’s such an honor to have you here. And it’s great that it happens on the first anniversary of eco-à-porter! (yes, today we celebrate 1 year :-)) So I’d like to start our interview with the reasons that led you to embrace sustainability. In particular I would like to know if fashion came first or the interest in ethics?
Thank you! And happy birthday! Well done producing this wonderful site – I love it. My first thought was to answer, “Oh, fashion absolutely came first,” because I spent many years as a regular fashion journalist, and didn’t specialize in any particular area. It was my job to write about fashion shows and new collections, interview designers and craftspeople, track trends. But actually I was quite a political teenager—I studied politics at university. I’ve always cared about the environment and understood that we must protect Nature. I used to get very upset about cutting down trees; nothing much has changed there. So I guess the truth is somewhere in between.
Over the last few years I have drawn those threads together. I began to delve into fashion’s impacts on people and planet while researching my last book, ‘Wardrobe Crisis’. I now present a podcast of the same name, and interview designers, academics, scientists and fashion industry insiders about all aspects of sustainable fashion. Today I cannot disassociate fashion from its political and environmental context.
Some people might see only a pretty dress, but I see a garment made by human hands, with a greater or lesser impact on the environment. I see the potential for durability and circularity, versus landfill fashion and wasted resources. I look at every garment through the lens of sustainability now.
I understand, because it’s the same thing that happened to me. You are Australian VOGUE’s Sustainability Editor-at-Large and you were previously a fashion editor at many fashion magazines; what changes have you seen over the years in the way that fashion approaches sustainability? Do you think that the Rana Plaza tragedy represented a watershed?
Rana Plaza had an enormous impact, on those directly affected of course, but also on the wider fashion community, on the business of fashion and on consumers. Its scale and horror—1138 people died, many more were injured—is impossible to ignore. The Fashion Revolution campaign began as a response to this, with a mission to make the industry more transparent. Since then we’ve seen fashion supply chain issues being discussed at the highest levels of government and industry. Today the conversation around what a responsible, ethical, sustainable fashion industry should look like is much further advanced than it was when I started working in this area five years ago.
About Rana Plaza; your second book, ‘Wardrobe Crisis’, come out in Australia in 2016 and published this year in the United States too (congratulations!) was somehow an answer to that dramatic event? And the namesake podcast on your site is a deepening of the book itself?
Just a frivolous question: but the wardrobe crisis t-shirt was really made? I simply love it!
I was driven to write that book by two things: one was Rana Plaza and my involvement with Fashion Revolution. The other was interviewing Simone Cipriani for Vogue about his work with the UN’s Ethical Fashion Initiative – Simone has been a major inspiration for me. He encouraged me to take action, to use my talents to advance the conversation. It was Simone who told me to go write a book.
Ah no, the T-shirt was made by the graphic designer! It’s an homage to one of my favorite British fashion designers Katharine Hamnett, who started making her slogan T-shirts, using similar black lettering, in the 1980s. Remember the ‘Choose Life’ versions Wham wore in the ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ video? That was Katharine Hamnett. She also did them with ‘Stop Acid Rain’ and ‘Save the World’ and ‘Education not Missiles.’
I interviewed Katharine for ‘Wardrobe Crisis’, about the story of organic cotton and her struggle to access it in the 1990s. She commissioned some research, from the Pesticide Action Network, and discovered just how toxic and thirsty conventionally grown cotton can be.
I would like to wear a t-shirt like that! Anyway…‘Rise and Resist’, your most recent book, just came out. Would you like to talk about it? The title seems an invitation to the fight … against what?
I do like the idea of a resistance, to the status quo, to the assumption that money is what matters most, to the wholesale destruction of Nature, to our failure to protect our wild spaces, to our wastefulness, to injustice and inequality. But ultimately this is a positive book of inspirational stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make our society more sustainable. The secret is in the subtitle, which: is ‘How to change the world’. It’s a book about the new activism.
The idea struck during the Women’s Marches in January 2017, when 5 million people took to the streets worldwide. Donald Trump was the catalyst – the spark the lit the fuse – but the deeper reasons for the marches were much bigger than Trump. They were about equality in general, social and climate justice. What sort of world do we want to create for future generations? The big issues affecting humanity and sustainability are all interconnected, and yet I recognized a clear disconnect between what many people want, and the self-serving agendas of a small number of people on power. I started thinking about a book on activism and fashion, or feminism and fashion, trying to figure out a narrative.
Then in September 2018, I went on a trip with some climate scientists to the Great Barrier Reef with an Australian NGO called the Climate Council. The idea was to show us first-hand what happens to our coral reefs when the oceans warm and become more acidic due to climate change, and encourage us to spread the word in our own communities. My solution was to write this book.
Clare, a question I ask all my guests: do you think we can already talk about eco-à-porter? So I wanted to call my blog because I hope so …
I think we’re getting there, but slowly! More people are switching on to sustainable fashion, however the old system is still dominant. Did you know that of the 100 billion garments produced each year, 87 % of ends up in landfill or the incinerator?
Yes, I know Clare, what a waste! Last but not least, you have the important task of ‘nominating’ the last guest of the year! Who will be?
I nominate Maggie Marylin.
Good! I saw you wearing something of her own😉 And I like the idea of having another eco-designer as my guest. So till December with Maggie Marylin. Thank you so much Clare🙏🏻