One of my favourite places in the world is Sydney, Australia’s largest city, where I spent just under 48 hours this week. From the Bondi Beach ‘boho’ vibe to the city-sleek Central Business District, Sydneysiders are a stylish lot, who manage to nail that chic yet laid-back look.
This week Sydney played host to the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, while its rival fashion capital Melbourne saw the opening of the first H&M store Downunder. This was really one of those high-fashion-meets-high-street occasions, and both events got significant attention from Australian media, industry pundits and fashion lovers.
At the top of the industry spectrum, last year has been one of survival for many local fashion designers as both luxury and high-street brands continue to move into Australia’s relatively recession-proof market.
And, for some, the way to survive was to embrace a more ethical fashion by producing locally in Australia and paying fair wages to workers. Industry body Ethical Clothing Australia lists over 80 accredited labels on its website, including leading brands such as Cue, Carla Zampatti and Collette Dinnigan.
This year’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia featured, for the first time, eight ethical brands in a Clean Cut Designer showcase.
Meanwhile, some observers have bemoaned the Australian landing of the apparel giant H&M as symbolizing the crossing of the final frontier of a rapidly globalizing fast fashion universe. I, however, welcome this latest addition to Australia’s high street. As a major global fashion player that takes sustainability to heart, I believe that H&M can raise the bar for affordable but, at the same time, responsible fashion in Australia.
So what does the future hold for Australian fashion? To me, it is really about reinforcing its identity — beyond the ubiquitous Ugg boots. This is where Australia’s 40,000-year-old indigenous culture, which is coming into its own on the country’s emerging fashion scene, may prove a point of difference. And there is a resurgence of interest in indigenous style both in Australia and overseas, propelled by the ever-growing ethnic trend in mainstream fashion.
With a motto “It’s not just the dots” that makes a reference to traditional indigenous patterns, Australia’s inaugural Australian Indigenous Fashion Week took place this week, also in Sydney, in parallel with the Mercedes-Benz-sponsored one. Among the indigenous designers participating in the AIFW is Shelley Monkland who works with hemp, bamboo, organic cotton, silk, soy and wool to produce her bold and eco-friendly creations that capture the spirit of the land.
In the end, if Australian fashion can make the most from the country’s indigenous heritage, its modern and diverse design scene and highly skilled workforce, all the while learning from major global players, then its fashion capitals — Melbourne and Sydney — as well as fashionistas across the land will certainly be the winners.