Byron Bay isn’t just a surfing nirvana and a place to chill out – it’s also a thriving hub of entrepreneurs striving to build sustainable, ethical businesses and motivating each other in the process. Among them are more than a dozen fashion designers committed to doing their bit to making the fashion industry more sustainable via a range of innovative methods.
The fashion industry is arguably one of the world’s most wasteful; the industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. Having become increasingly uncomfortable with this reality during her 15 years working in fashion, Byron-based designer Laura-May Gibbs wanted to ensure that her own high-end activewear label Nagnata would not be a part of the problem.
“It was important for me to do things differently from the existing model, especially being a lifestyle brand that was founded around the principles of yoga and movement practices,” says Laura-May, who launched the label in 2017 with a collection of organic cotton technical knitwear styles designed with zero yarn waste. “I wanted the ethos of the brand to reflect these same ideals,” she adds.
Each Nagnata collection takes a different approach, often experimenting with artisan textiles with a high content of organic and renewable materials that have never been used by the activewear market before.
“The movement knits were to challenge the idea that workout wear had to be made of high contents of synthetics, which is common practice for activewear,” says Laura-May. “For the collaboration with The Woolmark Company, we developed a new fabric using Australian Superfine Wool and Tencel with minimal synthetics on seamless machines.”
Just two blocks east of the Nagnata boutique in Byron Bay’s Arts & Industry Estate, streetwear label Afends isn’t only on a mission to become a more environmentally sustainable brand, but also to inspire other fashion brands to embrace the virtues of its core fabric, hemp, via its ongoing Hemp Revolution campaign.
“Even if we lose sales because everyone else starts using it, we’d still see that as a win,” says Jono Salfield, the band’s co-founder and marketing director. “We’d just be happy to play a role in the planet becoming a healthier, happier place.”
Sustainable fashion isn’t just about environmentally-friendly textiles, of course, but also the people who make them. For local lingerie designer Madonna Bain, owner of Eco Intimates, human rights are at the core of her brand ethos.
“It’s important to me that the people making my designs are paid well, looked after, work in safe and clean spaces, can choose hours that fit in with their family life, and have holiday and sick pay,” says Madonna, who works with a small, family-owned production house in Bali to produce her designs, with most made from GOTS organic cotton. “Thanks to a new law passed in Indonesia in 2019, our Bali suppliers are also now required to use dyes that comply with new laws on the use of harmful and organic dyes,” she adds.
As part of her goal to become a plastic-free business, Madonna only ships online orders in compostable bags. This initiative has been embraced by many other Byron labels including Nagnata, Afends, Spell & the Gypsy Collective, Rowie, Auguste, St. Agni, and more. St. Agni even goes a step further by planting a tree in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor in Western Australia for every online purchase made.
Along with Afends, which built a skate ramp in the middle of Australia’s largest hemp field as part of a documentary introducing its Hemp Revolution campaign, Auguste is known for its environmental campaigns – including a 2017 collaboration with the Australian Marine Conservation Society which saw 100% of profits of its ’70s-inspired “protect the reef” tee donated to the AMCS. Another local brand, Spell – arguably Byron’s most successful conscious fashion export – took home the 2019 Banksia Sustainability Award in the small business category for its strong commitment to becoming more sustainable.
While all local fashion brands will admit they’ve still got work to do in the sustainability space, their collective achievements are certainly nothing to be sniffed at.
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