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In conversation with | Clare Press

20 April 2018

Passionate advocator of sustainable fashion, Clare Press divides her time between acting as sustainability editor-at-large for Vogue Australia and hosting her podcast Wardrobe Crisis. Her book of the same name just came out in America.

With an industry in overdrive, Wardrobe Crisis touches upon a whole spectrum of important issues from slow fashion, overconsumption and waste, to formulaic ideas of beauty as well as what it’s really like to be a garment worker. And that’s only series 1!

And because I love the way in which this podcast interrogates the fashion industry, taking a closer look at ethics, consumerism, activism, sustainability, identity and creativity, I wanted to know Clare’s own views on the issues addressed in each of her episodes.  Plus any tips she might have to help us all Be the Change during Fashion Revolution week…

So, after a campaign of social media hounding (sorry Clare) I’m delighted to share with you a conversation I recently had with this inspiring change-maker…

In February of this year you became sustainability editor-at-large for Vogue Australia. Firstly, huge congratulations and secondly, from your unique standpoint, is it possible for high fashion to combine the pursuit of beauty with serious messages about diversity and equality?

Aw thank you, it’s exciting. I used to work at Vogue Australia a long time ago as features director and it’s lovely to return in this role.

Absolutely, fashion can engage with those things. I think it always has done; that’s not to say fashion has a perfect record, but I do think it has a leading role to play in the dialogue around them. Creativity is a powerful tool in the change-maker’s arsenal, and fashion has enormous communicative powers, so when we get our messages right we can do great work together.

Following on from that, do you think it’s truly possible to align a love of fashion – whether that be pouring over fashion editorial; loosing oneself in the physical activity of shopping; the creative process of putting a new outfit together ­– with being more mindful in our fashion habits?

Yes, I do. I’m a case in point, I guess. I work inside the fashion industry and have long been fashion obsessed, but I am passionate about protecting the environment too. There is no reason why you can’t love style and design and be interested in reducing the fashion industry’s negative impacts at the same time. Maybe being deeply interested in fashion is its own form of mindfulness? I’m not being funny. I mean, how do you balance buying clothes as if they’re disposable with truly appreciating them? I like Fashion Revolution’s slogan, “Loved clothes last.”

How can we conquer the cynical view that the fashion industry is grotesque and wasteful, and instead turn this story around and use it as a vehicle for cultural conversation?

Certainly, waste is a major issue. We all need to look at this carefully and do much more to tackle it – not just in fashion but in all aspects of our consumption. Don’t get me started on plastic food packaging…

"Maybe being deeply interested in fashion is its own form of mindfulness?"

Which designers should we look to who are re-thinking traditional ways of approaching design and considering the entire lifecycle of a garment?

In terms of traditional sustainable production, Kowtow, which I know you stock, is a favourite. Check out the Wardrobe Crisis podcast episode with founder Gosia Piatek, a New Zealander now based in London. I love how she looks at the entire production process holistically from seed to garment, and takes great care to be transparent at every stage.

On a different note, I wish we were seeing more brands totally recasting waste as a resource. Surely, that’s next?

In general, I think technology will provide the biggest leap here with new innovations that rethink waste, 3D printing for example, and ‘growing’ fabrics in the lab. We’re only at the very start of seeing how all this will unfold.

"there is a push for change, and the coolest brands and content creators are increasingly embracing diversity"

In an oversaturated media culture that seems to sell conformity and increasingly formulaic ideas of beauty, are there any specific activists you’ve encountered that we should look to who are reclaiming power from magazines, advertising and the money-driven fashion business?

Can I disagree with you there on where the media is at? Because I think we are currently experiencing a moment where the old-fashioned formulaic ideas of homogenised beauty are being given a good shakeup! About time, right?

Again, of course, I am not saying the industry is perfect on this – if you look, for example a The Fashion Spot Diversity Report skinny, young white girls still dominate on the runways. We talk about this in terms of age in my podcast with Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style. However, there is a push for change, and the coolest brands and content creators are increasingly embracing diversity, and we all need to do the same.

I am loving British Vogue right now. How awesome is their April cover?

Here in Australia, one of my favourite fashion disruptors Well Made Clothes makes a point of celebrating diverse beauty in all their shoots, and also have awesome sustainable cred.

In terms of cool ethical fashion voices, I find Samata inspiring. I love Cameron Russell and her Model Mafia and all the work she does. Adwoa is completely amazing. My friend Laura Wells inspires me every day with the environmental activism she does.

In what ways do you think millennial values will shape the future of fashion?

There was an interesting report on Business of Fashion last year about luxury brands swearing off fur, and it flagged that millennials “consistently identify sustainability as a key factor in purchasing patterns.” I reckon that’s probably right.

If what we wear is our way of communicating with the world about who we are and how we want to be perceived what does your wardrobe say about you? 

Ha! It says I am only a semi-reformed fashion hoarder. I still have an alarming number of dresses and coats. Then again, I’ve been collecting for years, especially vintage, and I never throw anything away – so that’s my excuse. My clothes certainly say that I care about quality and craftsmanship. They also say that I’m an aesthetic maximalist. I like colour. I’m ruffles/sequins/ florals woman, sometimes all at once. I appreciate simple clean lines on other people, but I’m more granny’s attic myself.

"I think we are currently experiencing a moment where the old-fashioned formulaic ideas of homogenised beauty are being given a good shakeup"

On a personal note, your podcast addresses an array of complex global issues; ranging from environmental degradation, worker’s rights, identity, perceptions of beauty, and our unhealthy addiction to consuming fashion. This must be mentally exhausting!  What tips do you have to avoiding a sense of overwhelming powerlessness/burnout?

That’s interesting you say that, because I haven’t felt that much when producing the podcast, I think because I’m talking to all these people who really are ‘being the change’ as we say, and working on solutions, so I find that very uplifting and motivating. I meet people every day who are doing phenomenal things to reshape our world for the better.

But… I do relate on another level. I’ve just finished writing a new book on activism and part of it necessitated some pretty intense research on climate change science, which I found tough. I am very sensitive to the plight of animals and nature, probably more so than of people if I’m going to be brutally honest, and I feel very deeply that we humans are letting the rest of Nature down, even though we are part of it. Why do we forget we are part of nature, not somehow ‘above’ it? I also get super frustrated when governments and big business fail to act to protect our natural world, particularly around things like fossil fuel extraction. But again, I’ve been able to balance these feelings out with optimistic ones by interviewing so many fantastic humans who are fighting to address these things in both big and small ways. We really do have the capacity to change the world – we do it every day!

Tip: If you are feeling overwhelmed by bad news, stop reading about Trump! Go read about Jane Goodall instead! It’s important to immerse yourself regularly in good news stories – they are out there, it’s just that the evening news skews towards the shocking stuff. My other tips are: surround yourself with positive people who feed your soul, and follow positive people on social media.

And finally, for any Aussie readers out there… what events can they be getting involved in for Fashion Revolution over on your side of the hemisphere?

For Sydney-siders, I will be part of a panel at the University of New South Wales about sustainable textiles on April 25, but there are so many community events. Fashion Revolution is all about this, so check the Facebook page to find out what’s happening in your area.

Many thanks for your time Clare.

The pleasure is all mine!

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