Image credit: A.BCH
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Australian fashion may be synonymous with swimwear brands—and with some of the best beaches in the world, that stereotype is true—but there’s so much more to the antipodean fashion industry than what’s seen by the rest of the world.
For starters, Australia produces some of the highest-quality natural fabrics, which are exported around the world. We produce around 25% of the global supply of Merino wool, at an estimated value of almost US$5 billion, and we’re also one of the top four cotton producers in the world. In an average year, it’s estimated that the amount produced in Australia could clothe 500 million people.
Due to the climate crisis, the country is increasingly facing the threat of extreme weather conditions like flooding and droughts. When it comes to the textile trade, this has led to heavy investment in biotechnology and precision irrigation, so much so that Australia now has one of the most water-efficient cotton industries in the world.
Aesthetically, Australian fashion brands often take inspiration from the country’s dramatic natural landscape—you’ll find many a campaign shot against rocky coastal outcrops or deep in Australia’s outback. Being based in the global South, it’s also common to see Australian fashion brands tap artisan expertise and work closely with neighbouring countries like India and Indonesia, influences which are often reflected aesthetically too.
Internationally-based, Australian-owned brands like Zimmermann, Dion Lee and Maticevski have put the country on the style map, and the global attention has led many businesses to expand their international shipping. That means it’s easier than ever to invest in a piece of Australian fashion, no matter where in the world you are.
What to look for in sustainable slow fashion from Australia
Many Australian fashion brands produce their clothing as locally as possible. Several brands below boast that their manufacturing facilities are within only a few kilometers radius of their headquarters. This focus on local production allows brands to have a short supply chain and ensure that the people making their clothes are doing so in safe and fair conditions. Several brands admitted that the limitations of the manufacturing industry forced them to look overseas to neighboring Asia, where more advanced sewing and knitting technology is commercially available, but wherever this is the case they’ve happily listed the names of their suppliers, and sometimes even created video collateral to introduce their makers by name.
Most brands prioritise natural materials, and not just for environmental reasons. Australian summers can get incredibly hot, so breathable and sweat-wicking fabrics like cotton, linen, wool and hemp are generally preferred over synthetic fibres. When it comes to swimwear, however, you’ll find a lot of Australian fashion brands looking to regenerated nylon from companies like Econyl.
A good indicator that fashion brands mean business when it comes to their sustainability claims is third party certifications. Whether it’s globally recognised certifications like B-Corp, GOTS and OEKO-TEX, or national organisations Ethical Clothing Australia, brands have to jump through a lot of hoops to gain these certifications, so they’re worth looking out for. Not so much a certification as a tick of approval, the brand directory Good On You rates fashion brands based on their publicly available sustainability information. Good On You was founded in Australia, so when in doubt, you can find most Aussie fashion brands rated here.
Australia has the nickname ‘The Lucky Country’ – a phrase that originated in the 1964 book of the same name by author Donald Horne. Although it was originally meant to be ironic, the moniker stuck, and we’ve considered ourselves a lucky country ever since. This could explain why most of the brands below give back by supporting at least a handful of charities. Whether that be environmental groups like 1% for the Planet, tree planting initiatives like TreeProject, food rescue projects like OzHarvest or bushfire relief groups, it’s common for brands of all sizes to give back to their communities.
Here are some of our favorite sustainable and ethical Australian fashion brands:
B-Corp brand Outland Denim was founded in 2008 as a source of employment and training for girls and women who had been victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia. With an emphasis on garment worker rights and transparency, Outland Denim employees receive training and development, living wages and education opportunities. From a sustainability perspective, the brand says its supply chain is 94% traceable. Using organic cotton, Outland Denim’s facilities claim to use industry-leading water and energy reducing technology to lower water, chemical and energy waste in the production process.
KitX was founded by Australian designer Kit Willow in 2015. Working with artisans in India through the social enterprise Artisans of Fashion, empowering women through employment, and preserving cultural craftsmanship is central to Kit’s sourcing. The brand also works with Econyl to source recycled polyester, and all virgin materials used are organic, non-toxic and compostable. The brand also shares its Code of Conduct agreement online, ensuring brand partners and suppliers adhere to measures that protect workers and the environment.
A.BCH is a Melbourne-based label founded in 2017 by Courtney Holm. The brand is working towards a circular economy standard, designing and making everything locally (80% of which is done in-house) from renewable, organic or recycled materials that are biodegradable and recyclable. They’ve just released their first wool product following years of research to find the most traceable, ethically sound farm to work with. A.BCH’s emphasis on transparency is impressive, not only sharing every supplier in their chain but encouraging consumers to use their Care, Repair, Wear programme that provides a guide to looking after their pieces, as well as offering free repairs for their pieces. Instead of working withing traditional fashion seasons, the brand has created A.BCH Seasons, which is split evenly across the calendar year and takes an educational approach by teaching their customer about the Birth, Life and Afterlife of a garment.
Velvety is an Australian online marketplace that is committed to slow fashion. It only hosts vegan and Fair Trade brands, and it curates its selection to ensure each sustainably-made piece is cruelty-free. It prioritizes products made of organic materials and natural fabrics and checks for certifications such as GOTS and The Fair Wear Foundation. Velvety uses biodegradable materials in its packaging that break down in 90 days in compostable environments. It donates a percentage of its annual profits to organizations such as the Big Sky Sanctuary. Its vast selection of ethical, sustainable, and vegan pieces includes apparel, cosmetics, accessories, and gifts.
Founded in 2020, Madre Natura (‘mother nature’ in Italian) is a brand designed and made in Sydney. Transparency and traceability are at the heart of the company, which has even created an interview series featuring its production teams called mn_makers. Everything is made in limited supply that can only be pre-ordered to avoid over-production, with a focus on using certified natural materials as well as deadstock fabrics. Madre Natura is working towards circularity, offering free lifetime repairs on every garment sold, as well as taking in unwanted textiles to reuse in future collections.
Ginger & Smart are an established contemporary Australian that was founded in Sydney in 2002. They’re known for their use of bold colourful prints, which are made using only sustainably sourced and recyclable materials. Ginger & Smart use botanical dyes and digital printing over its more water and energy-intensive screen printing counterpart. They also support social justice and environmental groups like Greenfleet, GroundSwell Giving and the Sydney Women’s Fund.
Founded in 2012, NICO is a basics brand that uses only chemical-free, plant-dyed GOTS certified organic cotton, Tencel and recycled cotton to make their underwear and loungewear pieces. Everything is ethically made in India and Bangladesh, where NICO has partnered with responsible garment factories that employ small groups of artisans and experts. All orders are delivered in compostable satchels.
Jasmine Alexa is a women’s activewear and loungewear brand that is designed and made in Melbourne. The majority of their performance wear pieces are made from ECONYL regenerated nylon, and the majority of their t-shirts and sweatshirts are organic cotton – their aim is to use these two materials in their entire range this year. Compostable packaging is standard with their online deliveries.
Bondi Born is a B-Corp womenswear and swimwear brand based and made in Sydney. Their swimwear is made from a fabric called Sculpteur™, a PA/lycra blend fabric that has five different eco-certifications, is said to last 10 times longer than average swimwear fabrics and has a lower carbon footprint than materials made from recycled polyester. Their ready to wear line is made using entirely OEKO-TEX Certified fabrics like linen, cotton and lyocell, sourced in Italy and Japan. Last year, Bondi Born became a member of 1% For the Planet.
Nobody Denim is a denim brand that has its head office, store, factory and laundry within a 6km radius in Melbourne, which increases transparency, supports the local economy and shortens the brand’s supply chain. They’re accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia and work with Sustainability Victoria to reduce water and energy consumption company-wide. Since 2017, they’ve reduced their water consumption by 50% in their production processes. Last year, they collaborated with tech company FibreTrace to launch a fully traceable, carbon-positive capsule collection using Australian-grown cotton.
Drawing aesthetic inspiration from Australia’s natural landscape, Adelaide-based brand Good Studios is a brand that champions hemp textiles through simple, refined womenswear. Predominantly working with hemp linens and hemp/organic cotton blends, the collections are designed and made in Australia. Why hemp? It grows extremely fast, can produce up to 250% more fiber than cotton and has antibacterial properties so pesticides and chemicals aren’t needed in production. Since 2014, Good Studios has been working with Carbon Neutral to plant a tree native to Australia with every purchase.
Spell Byron Bay is a contemporary-bohemian brand based in, you guessed it, Byron Bay. The brand has signed up to the Circular Fashion Commitment and has been taking steps to address its use of materials, supply chain transparency, social advocacy and carbon footprint since starting its sustainability journey in 2016. You can ‘Meet the Makers’ of their collections to learn more about their artisan and garment factory partners. Spell has partnered with Canopy, the UN Global Compact, and the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation, and last year, they raised almost AUD $1 million for various bush fire relief charities.
Founded in Sydney in 2011, Boody is a basics brand that is all about celebrating organic bamboo textiles, which are found throughout the range of underwear, activewear and loungewear. The bamboo is grown and turned into yarn under Oeko-Tex 100 certified conditions in the Sichuan Province of China. There are plenty of benefits to choosing bamboo over other natural materials—like hemp, it grows incredibly fast, can be continually re-harvested, and doesn’t need irrigation, pesticides or fertilizers. Online, Boody product descriptions come with positive impact measurements to help customers visualize the environmental savings of their choice.
Also headquartered in Byron Bay, boho-inspired brand Auguste the Label is known for its relaxed silhouettes and vibrant prints. The brand manufactures predominantly in Indonesia, where they’ve worked with a production team since their inception, as well as SEDEX accredited factories in China. When it comes to materials, Auguste chooses to use mainly natural fabrics like hemp, cotton, ramie and linen, as well as Econyl’s regeneration nylon. A member of 1% for the Planet, Auguste the Label supports a host of charities, including One Tree Planted, the UN Women National Committee Australia, and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Launched in 2015, Melbourne-based womenswear brand Lois Hazel offers 100% transparency of the sourcing and production of all their pieces, which are all made in-house or by local seamstresses. The brand uses only natural fabrics, and where possible these are recycled, organic and deadstock. Every supplier down to the threads and trims is listed on their website. Lois Hazel has partnered with textile recycling company UPPAREL to offer a textile collection initiative that encourages customers to send their unwanted shoes, linen and clothing in exchange for store credit. When it comes to working with the community, Lois Hazel has collaborated with Indigenous artists and creatives to showcase and recognize the wealth of knowledge and creativity within the Australian Indigenous community.
Founded by Liandra Gaykamangu, a Yolngu woman from North-East Arnhem Land, the brand fuses contemporary swimwear design with Indigenous culture through striking, vibrant prints. The swimwear is made from recycled plastic bottles and eco-friendly dyes, packaged in biodegradable and dissolvable cassava mailer bags. Liandra highlights the achievements of Indigenous women by naming every piece after a different ground-breaking Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman.
Since 2006, B Corp brand Arnsdorf has been creating ethical clothing in their own factory in Melbourne using only organic and biodegradable fibres. Each product description includes not only the material breakdown, but also a cost breakdown to help customers understand the real cost of ethically made clothing. You can also find out the machinist and wider team involved in making each Arnsdorf piece. Every collection is produced in limited runs that can be tailored in their Melbourne store to fit precise measurements. Arnsdorf also offers lifetime repairs on all its products.
Elk has been designing ethical clothing in Melbourne since 2004, with two collections a year that weave the brand’s sustainable design ethos into relaxed everyday clothing. All of ELK’s products have detailed information about the suppliers and material choices to ensure honest communication with their customers, which is supported by their annual transparency report. This details their impact, tier one and two suppliers, and material use, documenting their progress year on year. ELK also partners with charities like UNICEF and tree planting initiative TreeProject.
Permanent Vacation is a Melbourne designed and made brand that has the simple philosophy of creating high quality clothing that is timeless and easy to wear. Rather than conforming to fashion seasons, Permanent Vacation works on a project-basis, allowing them a less restrictive design experience with a global appeal. Everything is produced only to meet demand, and the brand’s makers are all located within a 15km radius of their Collingwood studio.
Founded in Sydney and now based and manufactured in Bali, Bird & Kite is an ethical brand producing small batch collections of neutral-toned oversized wrap and smock dresses that are made for the humid heat of the tiny Indonesian island. The brand works with Balinese artisans to support handcrafting traditions like hand dying, silk screen printing, embroidery and embellishments with an ethos of ‘culture over commerce.’ Bird & Kite also works closely with the BALIWISE Foundation, which supports and educates marginalised Balinese women. They’re plastic-free and avoid textile waste by including a complimentary scrunchie made from fabric off-cuts with everyone online order.
All That Remains is a small-batch brand that is based on the coast of New South Wales. Creating one-off and limited edition items, their style is recognisable in its relaxed silhouettes and organic materials. The brand uses primarily linen and cotton gauze and are ethically handmade in India and Indonesia. Continuing the focus on all things natural, the brand avoids plastic, toxic dyes and poly fibres throughout their production chain.
This Australian fitness brand runs every stage of the manufacturing process on one campus to ensure fair labor and transparency in its supply chain. It uses REACH-compliant and Oeko-Tex-certified materials including organic cotton, bamboo, and recycled polyester in its extensive collection of activewear. It selects its fabric manufacturers based on quality, longevity, ethical, and environmental standards, and uses compostable mailers and tags.
Elle Evans is an Australian swimwear brand that hand-crafts made to order pieces out of recycled ocean plastic. Each set is created in Melbourne in the brand’s small workshop by one of five seamstresses. The brand sends orders in deadstock carry bags and compostable mailers. You can send your worn out Elle Evans pieces back to be responsibly recycled or reused.