Fashion and the Future

I've had this half-written post sitting in my drafts for sometime now, and I wasn't quite sure how to conclude it. Most of you who read this won't care, but I feel that I need to explain what is amounting to a quite substantial change in my professional trajectory, and I need to outline the reasons for my new direction to those I've worked with for the last few years. So, here they are.

Four years ago, when I took my first ever job in the fashion industry as a brand PR coordinator, it was a harsh wake up call and counts as the most upsetting 10 weeks of my life. I learned pretty quickly that the industry was not as beautiful as it appears on the outside, and I thought for a while that it wasn't the industry I wanted to be involved in.

But rather than walking away from it, I threw myself into galvanising the people who are working to create a beautiful industry - the kind of industry I want to see. In the four years since, I accidentally built myself a reputation as someone who knows things about sustainability in the fashion sector. Thanks to a great many conversations over the past few years, I know that there is an immense amount of good intentions, clever thinking and passion in our local industry.

But the longer I spend absorbing the magnitude of the issues present in the fashion industry (and they are enormous), the more I am convinced that these issues are just a symptom of a broader broken system.

Now I know better than most that there are amazing opportunities afforded to emerging economies by fashion and textile production. Many developed economies have grown off the back of fashion manufacturing. The industry employs and feeds millions - from cotton farmers, to garment makers, to the innovative designers working here in Melbourne. But the percentage of fashion companies actually facilitating the kind of economic development I like to encourage are so few that I have find myself in such a state of anxiety whenever I'm faced with the task of making a purchase decision.

With this isn mind, I'm going to be stepping away from the industry I've invested a huge amount of energy into in recent years. Below are the reasons for my decision.

Reason #1: I feel that encouraging fashion lovers to adjust their consumption habits so that they preference "ethical purchases" rather than fast fashion completely ignores some very deep seated systemic issues. It allows us to leave our habits of consumption, patterns of global inequality and resource exploitation almost completely unexamined, because we're told our shopping is actually doing more harm than good. This may be the case, but I'm unconvinced.

Reason #2: Anyone working in the local industry knows that it is facing a really challenging period at the moment. I think that if it does survive it will look vastly different, but there is a very real change it won't survive. There have been political issues caused by fundamental differences in values and opinion and it feels to me that it is creating an even more challenging scenario if real change is to be realised.

Reason #3. In the early days of developing Sustainable Fashion Australia, I thought it would take someone like me to set the agenda. I've realised though, that it isn't enough for me and a handful of other passionate individuals to be campaigning for change. For real change to happen, there needs to be large scale buy-in from industry and consumers - and that would take a lot more of me than actually exist at the moment.

Reason #4. I have run out of energy. I've written about my health here previously, and that is one side of things. But the reality is that what I've done in the last 4 years has also been financially and emotionally draining. I really believe that large scale change will only happen if many become partially emotionally invested, allowing a great number of people to give a little, rather than change relying on the absolute commitment of a very few. I've given what I can, and unfortunately I don't have the skills or the capacity right now to take it the full extent I would have liked to, but for now it is up to others to take it from here.

Reason #5. I am a systems thinker, and as such, I know that the problems with our industry are founded in some pretty serious problems outside our industry, and also that there are more powerful leverage points to be accessed. My interests have shifted to media, policy, economics - I want to understand these as best I can and work to create changes from higher up. Hopefully, this will make the changes easier to realise for those within our industry.

So I am taking a big side step but, I'm not stepping away entirely. I'll be lecturing in Ethical Business at Melbourne School of Fashion and finishing off a few specific contracts in the sector, but for the most part, I'm going to be focusing on my work at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, finishing my Masters (and maybe starting a new one), restoring my health, and writing. I really hope that the things we've started will go from strength to strength, and that the community and it's goals will continue to move forward. I will observe with great optimism.

The recent tragic events in Bangladesh have shone the media spotlight on something that most of us have been incomplete denial of for far too long, but that those of us in the industry are far to aware of. This isn't new - it is a far too common occurence. What is new is that the media seem to care about it. The response from consumers and industry has been interesting to say the least, and I'm hopeful that it is a turning point for global change.

Everyday Heroism

At uni this morning my lecturer spoke about how being aware of all the big things we can do to make a difference environmentally becomes overwhelming at times. Sometimes you need to remember the small actions you can take.

This is so timely given discussions that have been happening in other parts of the internets (read my posts below) between people working for social good.

We were prompted to list the small heroic things we can do to make a difference in our own lives.

For me, when it all gets too much, I think of Curracloe Farm. I think about how great it will be living off the grid and connected to nature, our food and the way we live at a level I think very few people who live in the city really are.

I think about riding my bike, walking through nature, spending time in our vegie garden, cooking beautiful food, reading and writing about things that really matter to me. I think about having deep connections with people who really care about the big stuff, and who are doing small things to affect change.

And I think about how I wish I was there now.

Read some of my recent posts about this:

10 days ago: http://laramcpherson.com/2012/08/21/what-should-i-be-when-i-grow-up/

Last week: http://laramcpherson.com/2012/08/24/learning/

Today: http://laramcpherson.com/2012/09/01/jugglingstruggling/

I’d welcome any constructive feedback.

Melbourne's Most Influential, Inspiring and Creative 2011

Almost this time last year I wrote a post about the most inspiring people I'd met throughout 2010. This was prompted by my feeling that the version published by The Age missed the mark and was not at all representative of the true calibre of people in our fair city.I'm pleased to say that in 2011 I was asked by a journalist friend of mine, Greg Foyster, (a contributor to The Age (melbourne) magazine) to nominate those people I felt to be some of the most amazing in Melbourne. Happily, the published list was overflowing with some pretty incredible people. The likes of Ehon Chan, Kate Kendall, Chantal Baxter, Juliette Anich, Zoe Condliffe, Anisha Bhoyoro, Nerida Lennon and Emma Grace have all made my year brighter and made it onto their final 100 list.

I couldn't resist the need to add a few extras that I've come across this year, either personally or professionally. Granted, this list is quite skewed to my own interests and my own circles but I feel these people are all worthy additions to the list of who's who of Melbourne.

Kate Luckins

Sustainable fashion academic and founder of The Clothing Exchange, Kate has been a valued mentor and an inspiration as I continue my work in the sector. I'm also super excited to see how her next venture - Project Otherwise - will evolve, and delighted share an office with her and to spend time with her gorgeous baby boy Jensen and husband Soren.

Samantha Hardman

A former banker, Samantha took a huge risk just over 12 months ago and left the corporate world to pursue her dream to run Bento - a clothing line concerned with quality, timelessness and local production. She creating beautiful garments in a manner that is environmentally and socially sustainable and giving us an insight into the fashion industry from a refreshingly honest perspective on the labels blog. (Her husband Charles, also an ex-banker, took a similar risk establishing 100th Gallery - a space for up and coming artists.)

Genna Campton

Melbourne-based illustrator Genna creates beautiful things. Using her mixed skills in design and her talent as an illustrator she has been featured in many a print magazine and has had her work pop up all over the place - including the Melbourne Tweed Ride logo. She is also one of the sweetest people I've spent time with this year.

Jan Stewart

As the host of Hub Melbourne, Jan has brought a beautiful feeling to a dynamic space. Her beautiful serenity, care for others and genuine interest in the members has been a welcome addition to one of my favourite places to work. She has also encouraged me to bring some much needed mindfulness into my life which she blogs about. This also very welcome and something I'll be working on in 2012.

David Seignor

I was fortunate to enjoy the boundless energy of Dave every week in his role as the Facilitator of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship I completed this year. Also a passionate educator, creator and helps people think outside the square through his consultancy Play Think. He's been a great sounding board and a friendly ear through a challenging 2011.

Sheeple Liberator

I stumbled across an amazing blog on the internets this year. The mystery lady behind some of the most on the money articles I've read this year is insightful, sometimes controversial and not afraid to swim against the current. I'm yet to meet the man behind the mask but I love the approach and the content covered - so much so that it prompted a fan rant email! I really encourage you to have a look! http://sheepleliberator.wordpress.com/

Pip Carroll

Melbourne Bike Fest Director Pip is a one woman powerhouse. Driving many of the city's bike related events and greatly contributing to the growing cycling community, Pip was happy to team up with me and other members of the Tweed Trust to deliver a record breaking Melbourne Tweed Ride in 2011. Inclusive, generous, positive and inexhaustible, she has all the qualities she needs for 2012 when baby Carroll is due to arrive!

Sarah Rose

I met Sarah somewhat fortuitously through the maze of twitter. A qualified social worker and survivor of an unexpected severe illness, we connected instantly and I found conversations with her insightful and inspiring. So much so that I needed weekly catch ups with her! Having prototyped her services as a lifecoach on me she is amazing for holistic physical/mental health and has a great understanding of the need for mindfulness, a good work/life balance, and the importance of quality relationships in life. Plus she writes a great blog on these subjects and more. Check out http://innerbeam.blogspot.com/

Sarah Dingwall

Mornington Peninsula local Sarah is a photographer, glass artist and lover of beautiful things. I've regularly been lost on her blog for hours, entranced by all the stunning things she makes and comes across. So much so that she (along with Genna Campton) was at the top of my list of people to engage when I became engaged last month. Can't wait to have her beautiful handiwork surrounding us on our special day! Who has been the most inspiring person you've met this year? Who have I missed? What makes someone an inspiration to you?