For a long, long time Australia was seen as a fashion desert, with its lack of ‘major’ brands, its odd seasons – compared to the rest of the fashion world – and the country’s laidback lifestyle. Even its most cultured of cities – Melbourne – tended towards the basics of shorts and tees in summer and tracky daks and uggs in winter.
Somewhere in the 80s, however, there seemed to suddenly appear a nascent Australian fashion scene. Ksubi sent rats down the runway, magazines proliferated and the average Aussie girl started wearing cute little dresses and Sass & Bide lowrise jeans. Yes! Australia had fashion.
By the beginning of the 21 century, unfortunately this burgeoning fashion industry started to collapse with the influx of high street brands from around the world; the introduction of online shopping seemed the final nail in the coffin of a small, off-season regional fashion industry.
But all is not lost. In the last five or so years there has been a rise in small production, locally manufactured, sustainable fashion brands sprouting in Australia. These brands are focused on circular production systems, waste reduction, ‘slow fashion’, limited production runs, using sustainable fabrics and dyes, and generally not wanting to be ‘huge’ or international brands.
As the coronavirus hits the global economy, many fashion brands are finding their supply and distribution chains at risk. In conjunction with these issues, more customers are thinking about the idea of #shoplocal, of supporting their local economy and small businesses. This situation therefore may become a great opportunity for small, local, sustainable fashion businesses.
Here are six small, sustainable Australian fashion brands to check out. Remember, just because they are small, doesn’t mean they don’t sell online, and ship globally (in biodegradable packaging).
Founded in 2017 by Courtney Holm, A.BCH is a womenswear and menswear brand with many garments fitting into the non-gendered definition and in fact shot and sold on both men and women. The core of this brand is its circular production cycle, or circular economy standard.
The brand’s line of elevated basics are all made in Melbourne from organic, recycled and renewable materials; buttons are made from seeds of fallen corozo fruit and their factory is family owned and operated in Melbourne.
A.BCH’s design is a mix of practical basics – sweaters, tees, shirts, pants, skirts etc – in muted neutral shades and simple patterns. There’s an earthy, relaxed and comfortable vibe about the brand, it’s almost anti-fashion.
Although the focus of the design is on reducing waste, the odd thoughtful detail on a basic garment helps elevate the brand to something a little bit more interesting.
This Melbourne denim brand is all about sustainability and ethical production. Everyone knows that denim is one of the worst fabrics when it comes to pollution, water use and waste, which is why the team behind the brand is focused on making ‘clean’ denim garments.
All the garments are made in Melbourne with guaranteed fair working conditions employing over 80 staff; Nobody Denim is also accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA).
The brand is also very careful in where it sources its materials – which means working with suppliers who meet IS014001 standards, use natural enzymes in their laundry, have reduced their water use for certain processes by 50% and support Australian hardware suppliers like YKK zips to reduce their carbon footprint.
Nobody Denim doesn’t just do jeans, the brand also offers womenswear tops, skirts and even dresses in fabrics like organic cotton and silk. But it’s best pieces are the denim, particularly their season collection items like coloured denim, wide-leg jeans and slim cut denim jackets.
Made in Melbourne brand Kuwaii was founded in 2008 by designer Kristy Barber and is all about the slow fashion movement and local production. The womenswear brand focuses on creating anti-fast fashion pieces that are less trend driven, more about personal style, comfort and longevity.
All garments are made within a 15klm distance from the design studio, and even its footwear is made by one of the last surviving Australian footwear factories, where each pair of shoes takes up to a day to make by hand.
Kuwaii is also focused on transparency with its environmental goals posted on its website; it aims to be carbon neutral by June 2020. It’s packaging is either biodegradable, compostable, recyclable or reusable; even for online shopping the brand uses compostable bags and a biodegradable sticky tape. Fabrics are as environmentally sustainable as possible, the brand also uses surplus fabrics in their collections thereby repurposing waste from larger brands.
Kuwaii’s aesthetic is a combination of comfortable shapes, natural materials and colourful prints. The brand collaborates with local artists to create unique print runs on limited pieces, mixing these with muted solid colours and neutrals. It’s a casual brand creating comfortable clothes for women of all body types and ages.
Launched in 2018, Joslin is a womenswear brand based in Melbourne founded by designer Elinor Joslin. The brand is a slow fashion label with an emphasis on limited lines in sustainable fabrics.
Joslin is a softly feminine brand and is best known for its signature linen dresses adorned with ruffles, pintucks, smoking and button detailing. More recently the brand is being noticed for its stylish and flattering range of knits, which also have a quietly feminine touch. The brand features a lot of traditional fabrications and techniques.
On the sustainability front Joslin uses 100% compostable bags and packaging for its online shipping, including 100% recycled tissue paper, and its international orders are carbon offset using DHL’s GoGreen Climate Neutral service.
The brand uses natural fabrics, and only uses synthetics if there is totally no other alternative; its signature linen and ramie fabrics, silks, organic cottons and merino wool fabrics are used in conjunction with recycled cotton and nylon. For 2020 the brand’s design team is working with natural dead-stock fabrics and working on discovering alternatives to synthetic fusings and plastic zips and buttons.
Another Melbourne based brand, Devoi is all about slow fashion and ethical consumerism. Known for its original prints, the overall vibe is fun, colourful, wearable and comfortable. From its launch, the team behind Devoi decided to focus on ensuring ethical manufacturing practices and sustainability.
This womenswear brand’s design is less about trends and more about longevity – like most of the brands in this list. Devoi does not use synthetic fibres, instead using silk, viscose and linen – mainly because all these fabrics can be dyed and cleaned in cold water with natural detergents. The custom prints are digitally printed since it uses less water and produces less toxic waste. The dyes used for the printed fabrics are AZO free dyes and natural plant dyes.
The brand’s manufacturing is done overseas, however it works with factories that are connected to NGO organisations, supplying mattresses made from scrap fabrics for those in poverty. That same factory reuses cardboard boxes for delivery to Devoi. Devoi’s textile dyeing mill has a treatment plant that uses evaporation and separation technology to clean the water used in the dying process, and then reuses the recycled product.
In line with much of the slow fashion movement, Devoi produces limited runs so there is no wasted fabric or stock wastage, and the brand uses the print fabric offcuts to create accessories like belts, headbands, pouches etc.
This brand is less a fashion label and more an art project led by Sean Tran. While SHHORN does produce clothes, it is also focused on creating handcrafted fabrics and other objects in search of the “inherent traits of natural materials through design and construction activity”.
Tran is a self-taught tailor who used to be an architect and jeweller, and spends his time between an atelier in Sydney and a handcrafting fabric studio in the Blue Mountains. The resulting garments are hand stitched from fabric that has been crafted from raw fibres also by hand.
There is something very Japanese about SHHORN in the way the process of the making is as important as the final garment; the pieces – both menswear and womenswear – have an old fashioned feel to them with a kind of artistic Amish vibe.
There is also an element of non gendered design, with pieces being shot on both male and female models. There are menswear pieces that echo womenswear cuts, and also a touch more of the Japanese artist’s aesthetic with short-cropped trousers and voluminous cocoon shapes for both genders.
The cuts have a timeless quality about them with generic shapes being made important and interesting due to the way they are produced, rather than any strong creative urge. Accessories include kangaroo leather pouches and belts, all very authentic and hardwearing, again the design is about functionality and longevity.
For more on Australian fashion, read Thoughtful, wearable clothes for every body by Jude Ng.