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How far would you go for fair trade fashion?

Date: 28-Sep-17
Author: Billy Pringle

Megan O'Malley and Gab Murphy are the co-founders of walk. sew. good. © Megan O'Malley and Gab Murphy

Megan O'Malley and Gab Murphy are the co-founders of walk. sew. good.

Two Australian women have just finished a 3500km trek across Southeast Asia to find people who are creating fashion in positive and sustainable ways. On their 10-month journey, Megan O’Malley and Gab Murphy met with over 50 different brands and producers in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos who work with locals to create ethically and sustainably made clothing, jewellery and textiles.

The self-described “dorks from Melbourne” started the Walk Sew Good project in order to empower people to make more informed decisions about their fashion purchases, and to try and change the narrative surrounding clothing manufacturing in an area that is often only associated with sweatshop labour in the minds of many Australians.

The fashion industry is the second largest industrial polluter in the world, after the oil industry, and accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Not only are the synthetic fibres favoured by fast fashion brands extremely energy intensive to produce (nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make polyester fibre) the majority of our clothing ends up in landfill. In Australia, 85% of the textiles we buy go to landfill each year.

When the production and manufacturing of our clothing is invisible to us, so too is the impact, so Megan and Gab sought to change the conversation.

“There are so many negative stories coming out about the fashion industry from this region, and it can leave people disempowered. They hear the story, think it’s sad but don’t know what to do about it and keep shopping as usual” Megan said.

“We decided to interview people along the way and share positive stories. We wanted to empower people with other options and show them just how great these alternatives can be.”

Megan and Gab have used their platform to promote the many producers that they met in order to help them reach a wider audience and to raise awareness of the alternatives to fast fashion.

Not only are these producers helping to provide opportunities and employment for their local communities, they are also promoting sustainable practices. Koky Saly came to Australia as a refugee from the Cambodian civil war when he was a child. As an adult he returned to Cambodia and, with the help of his sister, founded Beekeeper Parade to help fund education initiatives in his home town. Beekeeper uses donated and discarded textiles to make their products, and have upcycled three tonnes of clothing and fashion waste so far.

For those of us who shy away from 3500km hikes, there are, thankfully, some sustainable options closer to home. The Trading Circle is a Sydney-based registered charity organisation and retailer that seeks to empower women in developing countries by providing opportunities for them to earn a just and reliable income under safe working conditions.

Founded in 1995, The Trading Circle works with communities in Thailand and the Philippines to provide a marketplace for their unique artisan products.

“Around 85% of sweatshop workers are women and girls, so by working with women in developing countries we’re not only helping them raise themselves out of poverty with dignity and respect, we’re also working to interrupt an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage” said Communications Manager Katie Buddle.

“Giving girls and women access to an education and a sustainable income, and fostering the power to ‘trade’ their way out of poverty is one of our main goals at The Trading Circle.”

The Trading Circle shop is in Summer Hill in Sydney’s Inner West, and sells a variety of homewares, children’s toys, bags and accessories.

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Billy                                             Pringle
Author: Billy Pringle

Billy has completed a Masters in Discourse and Social Theory and is a frequent volunteer and supporter of Planet Ark.

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