29 Oct 2017

Defusing fashion's ticking time bomb

From My Heels Are Killing Me, 5:00 pm on 29 October 2017

Sitting on a queen sized bed tucked in the back of her Auckland workroom, Miss Crabb founder Kristine Crabb says she often thinks about the future of making clothes and what it means to be involved in an ethical part of the industry.

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Designer Kristine Crabb

Designer Kristine Crabb Photo: Sonia Sly


Crabb opened her first retail business, Rip Shit and Bust, almost 16 years ago. As time moved on her work morphed into Miss Crabb, a label synonymous today with easy-to-wear silk pieces that provide alternative options for the wearer. Her dresses can be worn backwards or tied in a multitude of ways to create different silhouettes, giving them timeless, yet individual appeal. A mother of three, she came up with the idea to create versatile one-size fits all garments when  she became pregnant.


“I still wanted to wear the clothes I was making, but I had to accommodate my changing body,” she says.  


That shift in thinking was key for the Miss Crabb label, but also led to an ethos of sustainability.

Miss Crabb 2017 campaign

Miss Crabb 2017 campaign Photo: Lula Cucchiara


Crabb grew up on a farm. The idea of ‘making do’ was part of her upbringing and has directly informed Crabb’s design process. She crafts her patterns from geometric shapes that use the entire piece of fabric without leaving any surplus behind - a problem for many garment manufacturers whose excess cut-away textiles contribute to mounting environmental waste that doesn’t break down.


“We keep producing for the demand, but we get to a point where we say to ourselves ‘there’s enough of that in the world.”


While cheap clothing and mass consumption keeps the wheels of the garment industry in motion, the fashion industry has created a ticking time bomb.


Hazardous chemicals and dyes used in production not only impact the environment but also those who work with those chemicals. In many cases, chemicals end up in waterways and infiltrate farmland. And of course there’s the aforementioned excess of textile waste ending up in landfill.

Rachel Mills collection shows that ethical clothing doesn't have to be boring

Rachel Mills collection shows that ethical clothing doesn't have to be boring Photo: Sonia Sly


Globally, a move towards sustainable and ethical fashion has gone beyond a cool catch-phrase or trend. There is now a genuine shift against bad practice in the garment industry.

In New Zealand, brands like Kowtow have set the tone for ethical clothing. Ovna Ovich is another womenswear label with a sustainable focus that is steadily growing its market internationally. This year the label sent models down a paint splattered runway at New Zealand Fashion Week, reminding the audience about the visible footprint we all leave behind in our environment. But there are others doing it their own way.


Designer Rachel Mills is another young designer who says producing sustainably is the only way she wants to run her business. She first came to the fashion industry as a pattern maker, before launching her eponymous label.


Mills was one of the rising stars at New Zealand Fashion Week this year. She showcased a womenswear collection comprising of ready-to-wear suiting and separates made from vintage wools, silk, organic cotton and even organic denim sourced from India. Mills says the way the cotton is grown doesn’t use harsh pesticides like regular cotton.

Designer Rachel Mills believes in working sustainably.

Designer Rachel Mills believes in working sustainably. Photo: Sonia Sly


“The dyes are made from natural, plant-based dyes and [are] much more friendly on the environment [and] the people involved [aren’t] getting sick in the process,” she says.


The designer is adamant about sticking to natural fibres and growing a label with a focus on ethical and sustainable processes. But starting a business comes with challenges, and Mills says it’s impossible to be 100 percent sustainable from the get go.


“In Auckland it’s quite a difficult thing [to do and] you’re really limited with what you can source, so for me it’s a starting point.”


Mills is happy to keep her rate of production slow, rather than becoming victim to the tide of fast fashion where there is immense pressure on designers to produce up to eight collections a year. Mills doesn’t want to produce clothing just for the sake of it.


“Being sustainable or caring about where your products are made and who is making them...that is what’s going to become truly important [moving forward] and the shift is to get consumers to understand that and want to buy into that.”


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