The Report: A Good Evening

The Report is a series created to showcase our Fashion Writing finalists. We send our writers to Arts, Ideas and Offsite Runway events to take a closer look at fashion that challenges our preconceived notions of the runway and explore design that takes us to galleries, stage and screen.

Picture this: you have been asked to host a dinner party. A dinner party where the guest list is completely up to you, but all attendees must be thought leaders in the fashion industry. Not only this, but they should all be passionate about how the industry can be used as a tool to empower women.

Hypothetically speaking, I know who I would invite.

First would be Clare Press: the intimidatingly successful journalistic powerhouse that has actually hung out with Beyoncé. Her byline has been everywhere from Harper’s Bazaar to The New York Times Magazine and she is considered one of the countries most forward thinking minds when discussing slow and responsible fashion. Her book How We Went From Sunday Best To Fast Fashion is an in-depth look at the fashion ecosystem, exploring the history and ethics behind what we wear.

Then you would have Sigrid McCarthy, the Media and Communications brain behind Ethical Clothing Australia. Her role is to essentially spread the ECA’s message: to ensure that Australian textile, clothing and footwear supply chains are fully transparent and legally compliant. The ECA provides a voluntary accreditation program that offers practical and affordable assistance to Australian businesses that are manufacturing locally.

And who next? A designer perhaps? For a behind the scenes perspective, the third invitation would extend to Kristy Barber: designer, owner and founder of Kuwaii. If you live in Melbourne (or anywhere in Australia for that matter) you would be hard pressed to find a woman that isn’t obsessed with this brand.  Refined, detailed and romantic; Kuwaii is an alternative to mass-produced fashion. Each article is designed meticulously and made to transcend seasons.

And while the idea of an all-female dinner party is a dream, particularly when the aforementioned women are involved, I think we need a man’s perspective. Too often feminist issues are discussed strictly by females – I personally think the empowerment of women in fashion is something that can be equally enjoyed by someone of the opposite sex.

For the fourth invitation, how about Jeff Ward, co-founder of Freeset? If you are like me a few weeks ago, and unaware to the outstandingly amazing work that Freeset does, prepare to have your mind blown. Freeset is a fair trade business that offers employment to women trapped in Kolkata’s sex trade. They exist specifically to provide freedom for women who were forced into prostitution by trafficking or poverty. They make quality bags and t-shirts, with all profits benefiting victim’s salaries, health insurance and retirement plans. Yep, Jeff Ward is definitely welcome.

Now, with all these creative/brilliant minds at one table, you need someone special to keep the ideas flowing. To MC the discussion (and to keep me from drooling all over the table), I would enlist the help of Courtney Sanders: the outspoken, unapologetic co-founder Well Made Clothes. Her online marketplace makes it easier to shop with a clean conscience, celebrating the ethical practices that brands are already engaged in, and showing which areas they can improve on. Oh, and in case you didn’t already feel inadequate enough, Sanders is also the editor in chief of the sites sister publication, Catalogue Magazine.

I know what you’re thinking: this panel of humans sound too good to be true. No one perfect day could exist whereby all of these forward thinkers are under the same roof at the same time- not even for a dinner party with an undisclosed menu that would no-doubt be delicious.

Well, VAMFF is all about making dreams come true. This fictional dream dinner party guest list was actually the lineup for one of the most coveted events of the 2017 fashion week calendar: A GOOD EVENING: HOW FASHION CAN EMPOWER WOMEN.

The theme of the panel: to participate in conversation about how fashion can empower women from the developing world, to the developed world.

Each panellist took us down a path; critically questioning the industry we are so tangibly involved in every day of our lives. The initial discussion stemmed from standards and accreditation within fashion and the idea that perhaps we are so exposed to messaging, that we can’t actually see the problem right in front of us.

Clare Press expressed the importance of how the fashion media represents women today, and how it could improve. This idea rang especially important when discussing the modelling industry and the western world’s obsession with portraying one type of model. She enlightened audiences as to the feeling that the media is obsessed with the flawlessness that comes with youth and perfection. Typically, we don’t find an older person as beautiful, which has become the unfortunate median within the fashion industry.

 This idea was met with a nod from Kristy Barber, who gave audiences the perspective of a designer, who’s job in fact it is to cast models. She explained that smaller, independently produced labels, like Kuwaii, aren’t working with massive budgets. The choices they are provided by the agencies are quite slim, resulting in what can be a modelling lineup that can sometimes be considered marginalising. She does however, credit her brand for catering to women from 18 to 80 and selecting models that have unique and identifying features that might be considered a little left of centre. “There have been amazing leaps and bounds in how women are portrayed” she states. “I think we are at a real tipping point. The customer has the power to drive change by their choices, so it will be interesting to see what happens as time goes on.”

 Moving from the developed world to the developing world, there was an unrivalled passion in the room that came from ECA worker, Sigrid McCarthy. While her contribution initially stemmed from stressing the importance of fair working conditions in empowering women, she delved onto the ultimately shallow conversation that exists about feminism in the fashion industry. She asserted that the conversation often revolves around the relationship between models and photographers, rather than the feminist issue that exists at the bottom of the supply chain. The women making your clothes for you offshore are often mistreated, underpaid and undervalued. This is a feminist issue.  

 “I’d like to see an attitude shift amongst business, where the respect of garment workers and ethical business practices are the expectation, not the selling point.” This was the message that her and Jeff Ward shared. Both panel members discussed the peace of mind that comes with knowing that the manufactures of your garments are being treated fairly. Freeset thrives off this idea, as Jeff guided audiences through what ethical production actually means, and how women can be empowered by fashion in the developing world.

The audience was fascinated with his work, particularly those who received a Freeset tote bag in hand. Dubbed the Gender Equal Tote Bag, which came complimentary with the ticket, it designed by artist Caroline Walls and made by Freeset and sold on Well Made Clothes. All profits from the sale of these bags will be donated to help build Freeset’s gateway program, a building at the entrance to the red-light district, which provides accommodation, healthcare, and support to women who are trapped in the sex slavery industry.

Clothing reflects something for women in society in a way that it just doesn’t for men. That’s why conversations like these are so important. Conversations where both genders are present, lively and open to discussing ideas that affect everyone who consumes the manufacturing and textile industry. From the developed world to the developing world, I cannot think of a way that this panel could have gone better. I was happy to share my dream dinner party guest list with a room full of receptive individuals – especially since I didn’t have to cook.

Images by Well Made Clothes.


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