batik final

the art of batik in indonesia

i love artisans. they produce treasure and everything about what they do is ethical- slow-made, hand-made and telling a positive story about the people who made them.

the word batik and most iconic batiks comes from Indonesia.  I have seen it done in other regions of South East Asia such as Cambodia and even by the Tiwi Islands in Northern Australia, and there are versions in parts of Africa and India but it is in Java Indonesia where you will find the most intricately slow-made and beautiful batiks.

Batik Indonesia lino print, ethical fashion

batik is a method of dying cloth using bees wax, natural dyes and old antique hand-carved patterns. the artisan apply the wax, sometimes using the patterns and sometimes by hand and brush, then they soak the cloth in one colour and remove the wax with boiling water, then soak it in another, revealing their stunning designs.

UNESCO has actually named Indonesian batik as masterpiece of the ‘oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. the art has been handed down through the generation and the work is still done in family homes, as a kind of cottage.

ethical fashion, indonesian artisans

although the designs are expertly laid out and done, none is ever exactly the same. they all absorb the moment that the artisan made them- whether they pushed hard or soft upon the frabric, how the vegetable dyes came out that day and even the weather. this the kind of thing I love, it makes them unique and collectable.

in java where artisans use cotton and beeswax and plants from which different vegetable dyes are made.  indonesian batik predates written records probably well before the 6th or 7th century when similar traditions arrived from India or Sri Lanka.

Batik handprinting, indonesian artisans

as still and controlled as the hand must be, batik also take physical energy to wash and rinse and bring out the final patterns and I think the designs absorb the dynamic energy of the workers.

certain patterns are reserved for royalty, while other are worn on specific occasions. At a Javanese wedding the bride wears specific patterns at each stage of the ceremony. while you might get a cheap sarong made in a fast factory on a beach holiday in bali or thailand, this is what they are imitating. Because they take weeks to make them are rarer and more expensive but they are a life investment in beauty.

i’ve carried a batik i bought in the tiwi islands more than a decade ago around the world- i’ve used as clothing, sheets, a pillow, a curtains and more as i backpacked the world. i’ve thrown out almost every sarong I’ve bought before and since, but my batik soldiers on. the wax seems to have reinforced the cotton, making it stronger.

this post is based around a photo essay that i found on indonesian batik on behance by lithuanian photographer Teo Gregas.

You can see more of photo essay click here.

conscious consumers are the key to ethical fashion

below is a link to a great op-ed for the business of fashion by belgium designer bruno pieters. he is the founder of the fashion label ‘Honestby‘ and is also credited with coining the term ‘fashion transparency’. it’s all about cutting through all the green wash of certification that is often more about marketing than ethics, and makes consumers lazy.

i have had a few problems with organic and ethical certification for a while. one thing is that certification are often too expensive for start-ups. start-ups are often the birth place of innovators who are often the most passionate companies working at ground level. secondly, they only cover convenient parts of the process such (such as h&ms organic cotton or made in australia which only covers the portion made in australia which may be less than 10%). sometimes certifications mislead the public into thinking the item is more ethical than it actually is. organic cotton does not mean the dyes and finishes were organic, nor that the workers were treated humanely.

pieters’ points out that relying on certification rather than making an effort to understand how, who and where fashion is made, makes the consumer lazy and accepting of misinformation that makes them feel good, when it does not good.

moreover, like me he loves objects made with love and that carry a story that may go back generations.

‘Very few luxury products still carry the traditions that built the reputation of the brand. Often, when told today, the story is no longer credible. There is a need for a new story.’

we need to know our fabrics and our clothing, the kind of skills required to make them and how all this makes not just stylish clothes and quality that lasts, but gives something rather than taking something from the world’s poor.

click here to go through to pieters’ article. but while you are on the site you might want to check out other articles on the business of fashion regarding the otherside of the story and why some fashion companies feel they must work off -shore and must trust their suppliers to survive.

5 Truths the Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

This article in the Huffington post, by Shannon Whitehead,  put in a nutshell a number of things I’ve come to know in the last 6 years I’ve been researching ethics in fashion:

1.) The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week.

2.) “Discounts” aren’t really discounts.

3.) There is lead and hazardous chemicals on your clothing.

4.) Clothing is designed to fall apart.

But this final point was new to me.

5.) Beading and sequins are an indication of child labor.

Of course, this article is entirely about fast fashion and by buying local or buying quality brands with transparent supply chains, you might actually be providing jobs and encouraging ethical business.

Click here to read the article.

Havana street fashion

fashion shoot in cuba by french revue

cuba is set to change in the next few years with the united states dropping economic embargos. so let’s celebrate the colour, the kitsch, the heat and the grit on the streets that set the Western imaginations in flight, before the country gets too cleaned up.

french revue magazine recently sent iconic photogrpaher theirry le goues to shoot on the streets of havana. the shots were retouched by cristina girotto, the results- vibrant and sultry.

Havana Street Fashion

Havana Street Fashion inspired fashion shoot

the feel of the shoot is that of a voyeuristic tourists from the west observing the streets of havana for the first time.

havana street fashion

Havana street fashion fashion shoot

the models clothes take inspiration from the retro sportsgear and mish-mash outfits of young cubans who make up for budget with creativity and confidence.

When Stars Embrace Green Luxury

Green dreams by well-meaning celebrities or movie stars making a difference?

What is actually certain is that the public image of eco-fashion and ethical clothing has moved from penny-pinching hippies in hessian to the world`s most glamorous. Ethics and luxury, eco and attractiveness are no longer exclusive.

green fashion, celebrities embracing ethical fashion, ethical fashion australia

Vivienne Westwood,                      George Clooney                                 Paloma Faith

It’s also interesting how Hollywood’s leading men are participating in the conversation.

What do DiCaprio, Pitt, Clooney and Timberlake all have in common? They’re committed to eco-friendly ventures designed to reduce the size of our environmental footprint. 

 ‘Fashioning a Greener Future’ by Muriel Reddy in the Melbourne Age Executive Style section. Click here to read this entire (extensive) article on numerous celebrity ethical fashion ventures.

From my perspective, what is more important than their individual endeavours might be their ability to influence mass consumers to purchase quality, slower made items rather than fast, disposable one. What do you think?

Meanwhile enjoy a moment from New York Fashion Week (Fall/Summer 2015) and celebrity backed brand built EDUN (founded by Bono from US and his wife Ali Hewson).

Andean Alpacas vs the Rest of the World

andean alpaca wool

andean alpaca wool

Living in the Andes last year I did some research on Alpacas and discovered many unique characteristics to this ancient creature and its wool. It really belongs in the Andes at high atlitude where it thrives in a herd on dry steep mountainsides with intellectual and physical stimulation, and the right nutrients.

When they are bought by farmers to North America, Europe or Australia, they survive but they aren’t at all organic and their wool is not high quality. To avoid lack of nutrients and exotic disease they are feed pellots and medicines.

Alpaca wool that doesn’t come from the Andes isn’t ethical but simply replacing sheep’s wool for fashion. It’s complete greenwash and it also hurts the brand of high quality Alpaca that countries like Peru worked hard to build. It takes business away from the countries of origin that badly want the buisness.

Here are four reason why it’s better source alpaca from its original source.

Andean Sunlight

High in the Andes the weather is cool but it is also blanketed in rich sunlight each day given its proximity to the equator and a long dry season. In places like Britain or even Tasmania the temperature may be appropriate but the lack of sunlight and Vitamin D compromises the alpaca health.  According to research in the UK in the worst case scenario the animals suffer rickets and many baby alpacas between the ages of 4 to 7 months are lame. Farmers aware of the problem feed the animals pellets rather than grass which contain Vitamin D. All this will effect quality of the wool just like a poor diet and lack of sunlight effects our hair and skin.

Pesticides & Chemicals

In the Andes alpacas are raised at very high levels, mixing only with llamas and require no pesticides or chemicals to thrive. In the UK, USA and Australia they are often farmed with other animals carrying disease or bugs that they have not evolved immunity to. They commonly contract skin diseases which do not exist in the Andes such as ‘chorioptes` that causes itchiness, scaly thickened skin and hair loss. They can be treated- with chemicals and hence the wool no longer organic.

Diet & Lifestyle

While the alpaca can survive on the green grasses of England or warm climate of Florida on fenced in farms they have evolved to roam mountainsides and keep very fit.  They are used to walking long distances as they forage for food which is often dry grass. Alpacas are also intelligent and social, and while they are friendly to people, they suffer emotionally when they don`t have herd life, which may mean shorter life spans and poorer overall health. It might not be obvious to the farmer who has never seen the majesty of the alpaca roaming the Andes, but the alpaca is not in optimum conditions and neither is its wool.

The Breed

Outside of the Andes almost all alpacas on farms are the more easy-going Huacaya alpaca breed. But the finest wool comes from the Suri which is temperamental and almost impossible to farm outside its native Andes.

alpaca wool ethical fashion

wool sorter Arequipa, Peru

While after processing you will probably never notice the difference in the woven wools unless you’re an expert, my main hesitation with alpaca from Australia, the USA and Europe is that it is a fad that will damage the timeless textile as produced in the Andes. In Australia it’s almost a joke textile worn by hippies but in ancient Inca times it was the textile of the gods worn by royality and woven by the elitist of weavers.

It’s also taking an industry away from the farmers of Peru and Bolivia. Instead of farming their animals in other countries, I believe we should be buying their higher quality wool and helping them work their way out of poverty through a tradition that belongs to them.

Fast Fashion Explained in 90 Seconds

Here is a great video that succinctly explains what exactly fast fashion is, how and why it has occurred and what we can do about it. The video was produced by MBA Minute so doesn’t have any ethical fashion sympathies but states an outline of the facts.

The stand out quote ironically comes from the CEO of British fast fashion chain TopShop, Sir Philip Green ‘Designers and consumers should pause for a breath now and then so that fashion can become more timeless again.’

Fast fashion hurts style and creativity as well as the environment.


So if every trip to the mall feels like deja-vu, it’s not just you, it’s fast fashion coming around again. Buy better, buy too last and buy only what you love.