Little Collins St, Melbourne, Victoria © ELK
Sustainable Australian designer labels (and where to find them)
From the chic boutiques of inner-city Melbourne to beachside stores in bohemian Byron Bay, here’s where to shop for Australia’s best sustainable fashion.
By Joanne Gambale
Joanne Gambale is a Sydney-based fashion and design writer. When she’s not reporting on slow fashion for Vogue Australia magazine and interior design for Vogue Living, she offers a vintage styling and personal shopping service. She’s seen eco-fashion come a long way since the humble hemp harem pant. Today, it covers everything from using organic fabrics to minimising packaging and ensuring the ethical treatment of workers. Australia is home to many new and established sustainable brands, and there are plenty of stores across the country, so it’s easy to do the right thing for your wardrobe and the planet.
Founders Marnie Goding and Adam Koniaras opened the first Elk store in 2004, keen to create clothing and accessories that transcended traditional fashion seasons. Elk’s clientele is able to wear the timeless creations for years on end, breaking the unsustainable cycle of purchasing and discarding short-lived fashion items.
Their business has since grown to four stores – with an international fan base – and so grows their need to be transparent in all areas of their supply chain, which they fulfil on their website and by educating their stores’ staff on the brand’s ongoing journey to reduce its environmental impact.
Check out Elk’s flagship store on Melbourne’s Little Collins Street laneway and you’ll find clothes and leather goods that are “undeniably Australian – easy to wear, comfortable, affordable and instantly recognisable”.
Where: Byron Bay
Spell has become synonymous with the relaxed, earthy style of Byron Bay, so if you want to feel at home in this laidback coastal town in northern New South Wales (a two-hour drive south of Brisbane), start with a little retail therapy in the flagship store of a local success story.
It began with the market stall of two sisters, Elizabeth Abegg and Isabella (whose childhood nickname was Spell) Pennefather, and now it’s about as luxurious as boho can get.
Better yet, the label’s sustainability credentials are as vital to the brand as its turquoise jewellery and floaty tasselled dresses. Spell employs an in-house sustainability manager who measures and annually reports on seven areas of sustainability, including supply chain transparency, fabric, footprint, circularity and social advocacy.
The Social Outfit
The Social Outfit is more than just a store, it’s a registered charity and social enterprise that employs and trains people from refugee and new migrant communities.
Located on King Street, the bustling thoroughfare of the eclectic Sydney neighbourhood of Newtown, The Social Outfit manufactures on-site and runs a sewing school. This means that not only is the clothing sustainably made, using recycled or waste fabric and low-impact dyes, but ethically made too. For visitors, it’s a great way to discover and celebrate some of the talents of this multicultural city.
For a range of earthy-hued organic basics, swimwear and yoga wear, you can’t get much more sustainable than Vege Threads, highly rated by the internationally recognised Australian eco fashion guide, Good on You.
This independent Melbourne label’s clothes are made entirely in Australia, using organic and eco-friendly materials and dyes. Each year Vege Threads donates a percentage of its profits to charities that look after Australian wildlife and beaches. You’ll find its flagship store at 246 High Street, Northcote in Melbourne.
KitX is the brainchild of Australian fashion designer Kit Willow, who’s on a mission to be transparent about all aspects of her manufacturing, and continuously seek improvements.
She sources organic materials and upcycled marine waste, supports artisans and avoids unethical suppliers. The spacious KitX boutique in Sydney’s upmarket Paddington neighbourhood is worth a visit just for its interior architecture, and the eco-glam-rock vibe is a far cry from hippy hemp looks.
Hit the streets of Sydney with made-to-measure organic T-shirts and sweatshirts from Citizen Wolf.
The brand, whose Sydney store is located on Saint Peters' Mary Street, addresses the unsustainable mass production and wastage of everyone’s favourite wardrobe essential. (It can take 2,700 litres – more than 700 gallons – of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single T-shirt.) Each T-shirt is custom-made in your choice of 23 colours and five fabrics at Citizen Wolf’s Sydney factory. Book a fitting in-store to try one on for yourself.
Open by appointment, Good Studios has a minimalist style inspired by Japan and Scandinavia, but in colours that nod to the Australian landscape.
In natural fabrics such as linen, twill and wool, each piece is designed and made ethically in Adelaide. Based at the workshop and shared space Ensemble Studios, Good Studios is in good company, with a fine curation of local makers’ and ethically sourced wares, including ethical alpaca knits, ceramics, jewellery, homewares and even a neat edit of vintage clothes, the most sustainable fashion of all.
Not what you’d imagine a sustainable fashion brand to look like, Empire Rose has been producing limited-run, locally made party wear (with more than a few sequins) since 1998.
Owner, and Perth’s so-called “queen of sustainable style”, Kathryn Cizeika, uses her small-scale business model to minimise waste, and supports local makers by providing training and mentoring in her workshop. Even the loungewear here is glam, so whether you’re planning a night out or putting your feet up for the evening you’ve come to the right place.
The Travelling Kimono
In Noosa Heads, a stylish coastal destination 90 minutes’ drive north of Brisbane, The Travelling Kimono makes the kind of clothes you’d hope to be wearing while lounging in this part of the Sunshine Coast.
Choose a limited-edition handmade kimono in recycled linen or a headscarf made of fabric remnants to avoid wastage. Janelle Rawlins and Nicki Edmiston, the “soul sisters” behind the label, also host creative workshops in the store.
Where: Yackandandah, a three-hour drive north-east of Melbourne.
Set in a former billiards room in Yackandandah, a historic gold-mining village, Seventh Pocket aims to “shine a light on slow fashion” with its range of locally designed and ethically made clothing and accessories labels, including Lois Hazel, Keegan and Wolf & Mishka.