Lessons from Melbourne Fashion Week

Sustainability, Creativity, and Technology at M/FW

 

October hosted the long-awaited Melbourne Fashion Week, an occasion for designers, creatives, and other professionals to showcase their talent as well as discuss the future of fashion. The programme, featuring runways and workshops, ran for multiple days. As museums, stores, and the whole city came together to celebrate fashion, I decided to join by attending a panel on the role of sustainability and technology in the industry. Guided by editor Janice Breen Burns, the panellists discussed topics that are gaining increasing relevance in the world of fashion, including the implications of AI in the world of creative industries and how to address clothing waste in Australia.
It is worth mentioning, however, that these complex conversations were handled and approached gracefully by the panellists. Hearing about street-style photographer Liz Sunshine’s use of artificial intelligence in her work and Danielle Kent’s contribution through the Australian Fashion Council was a great learning opportunity. The panel allowed for an open and transparent conversation, which condemned the severity of the lack of sustainability in fashion. Most importantly, the multitude of perspectives added value to the discussion, providing different tactics for specific fashion departments to reduce emissions and mitigate their impact on the environment.

1.

AI is not a threat, but an opportunity.

When it comes to AI, creative industries have shown concern and/or fear that these new tools will completely replace artists’ visions. Some believe it should not be used, arguing that it completely removes the artist from the art while making the creator’s role ambiguous. But Liz Sunshine disagrees. As a street-style photographer and advocate for sustainability in the fashion industry, Liz has proven that new technological advancements should be embraced rather than dreaded. Her new book is evidence that artificial intelligence can be incorporated into photography without compromising the art itself. The title of her work, “Future Fashion“, perfectly summarises what it is about: using the technology of the future to depict what fashion will look like. The book features photos of older women, each of which has a particular style and story. During my quick chat with her, I was able to fully understand the message she wants to send through her work. According to Liz, the main goal of the book is to prove that style does not have a deadline and that fashion is, after all, a form of expression that does not have an age. During the panel, the Australian photographer mentioned that, throughout her career as a street-style photographer, often older women did not want to have their picture taken. When asked why, they simply answered by claiming that they were “too old”. And this is why, in an effort to prove them wrong, Liz Sunshine created what is an open invitation to embrace fashion at any age, teaching us to allow ourselves to have fun with it and not take it too seriously. The collection of 100 AI-generated images is evidence that ageing is, after all, a natural process that should not stop us from expressing ourselves through clothes.

2.

No matter how small or big your business is, you can always make a change.

One of the best aspects of the panel was the diversity of roles the speakers had. While they all somehow worked within fashion sustainability, they provided unique insights due to the specificity of their expertise. For example, Danielle Kent outlined her responsibilities at the Australian Fashion Council, and Lauren Hart McKinnon talked about her experience working with smaller Melbourne-based projects at the Future from Waste LAB. In other words, they all contribute towards making circular fashion more viable in their own ways. But if they all have one thing in common, it is their interest in creating something meaningful that other people can rely on, which was a key lesson from the panel. Making fashion more sustainable can be daunting at times. It is very easy to make a pessimistic prediction of the future of fashion, as fast fashion continues to be the go-to option for the majority of people. The truth is that picturing a world in which people actually make more conscious choices and where brands do not view profit as their only goal is more difficult than we think. So when it comes to actually making a change, it might feel like our efforts are somewhat useless and that, in the end, the actions of a single individual are not enough to change the world. While this is a solid argument, the panellists at M/FW have proven that, whether big or small, your effort can make a significant impact if the perspective is shifted to the larger picture.

3.

Clothing waste does not need to become actual waste.

As studio manager at Future from Waste LAB, Lauren Hart McKinnon knows all about how to repurpose clothing waste in smart ways. Issues surrounding what to do with clothes that have been thrown away have always been the elephant in the room, which no one really has a solution for. No one but Lauren. As she explained in the panel, her responsibility at the Future from Waste LAB involves collaborating with local artists to create exhibitions and designs that give the wasted fabrics a new life. Although Lauren works on a more local scale than other panellists, her contribution is outstanding. Over a short period of time, designers collaborating with Future from Waste LAB are asked to create a brand-new collection. The challenge? Using only up-cycled fabrics. This initiative allows customers to witness the whole procedure from beginning to end, from the sketch to the final piece, in an effort to promote full transparency in the manufacturing process. Not only does Future from Waste LAB give a new life to previously-used fabrics, but it also contributes to the new wave of fashion designers seeking to make positive change in the industry.

4.

Take advantage of how easily accessible AI is.

As previously mentioned, any technological change might appear intimidating to anyone seeking self-expression through the arts. According to installation artist Darren Vukasinovic, however, technology has a major advantage: accessibility. Most people already own a laptop, and many different tools to create videos and images are free to download and adopt. As he mentioned during the panel, platforms such as Photoshop offer innovative solutions to improve images and a great source of inspiration to experiment with visuals. As a matter of fact, most of his own work started as trial and error from the comfort of his own home. So should we say technology will be replacing the artist’s work in the future? Darren does not believe so, as he values technology as a tool rather than the final product.

5.

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate.

When it comes to giving advice to young artists who are trying to find their voice, the panellists did not disappoint. Fashion designer Estelle Michaelides said something which I found particularly interesting, as it proves how important relationships in the creative industries truly are. According to her experience, what makes her love her job is the ability to work with different artists with expertise, which, if used together with Estelle’s talent, can create new and exciting art. In her latest project, she worked with Darren Vukasinovic to create a multidimensional and interactive video which exhibited her designs in a virtual world created by the installation artist. By doing so, each contributor was able to apply their expertise and vision to the other’s, generating a piece of work which they couldn’t have fabricated on their own. So what can we learn from this? As Estelle recommends, ensure to value other artists’ talent and do not be afraid to collaborate with a shared vision and goal.

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