Fashion and sustainability, according to Clara Vuletich, are two fundamentally different things. “Fashion is sexy, addictive, exclusive, and very fast-moving,” began the Australia-based textile designer and sustainability strategist in her talk at TEDxSydney, an event that took place in March. “Sustainability, on the other hand, is about slowness, care, flourishing, and responsibility.” The “fast fashion” business model of high volumes and cheap quality, in particular, has turned the “make-do-and-menders” of generations past into passive consumers who associate material possessions with happiness. It’s a fantasy, of course, as Vuletich pointed out. Although most of us have four times the number of clothes in our closets than our parents did, we’re not necessarily any happier. Even less elated? The poorly treated workers who make many of those same clothes.


When disasters such as the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh occur, a flurry of finger-pointing often results, Vuletich said.

“Consumers blame the brands for paying such low wages to often-outsourced workers,” she said. “Brands say that the price of their clothing is so cheap because that’s actually all that people want to pay. Activist organizations blame the brands for following business models that prioritize profit at all costs. And governments often just watch cautiously from the sidelines.”

Despite all this, Vuletich said she thinks that the fashion industry is on the brink of changing for the better.

We’re currently in a transition to a “new type of fashion industry,” one based on “ecological and holistic” principles such as “closing the loop” on materials, community values, and respect for everyone involved in the global supply chain.

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But what it boils down to, in the end, Vuletich said, is our personal moral compass. We can’t force people to care about things that don’t matter to them, but we can hold ourselves accountable for our own actions.

“It is easy to point a finger at a brand for not having a transparent supply chain, or the government for not having a landfill tax, for example,” she said. “But we have to really take responsibility for our choices.”

There are a several things we can do to help us become more mindful consumers. Vuletich suggested learning how to sew with needle and thread, “like how they used to do it.”

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“It’s a really good way to tune into your own inherent value system and your own creativity,” she said. “We all have it in us. We’ve just lost that touch with our clothing and fabric.”

And, once you’re in sync with “your inner knowing,” as Vuletich described it, you might realize that what makes you happy isn’t an afternoon at the mall but connecting with other people or communing with nature.

Most of all, we need to buy less. “It’s very simple but very radical. We’ve become such consumers that we’re not used to that idea, and because we’ve got such cheap clothing at our fingertips,” she said.

We all wear clothes, even if we’re not beholden to the latest trends, Vuletich said, before adding, “We all wear clothes and we’re all connected and responsible for the transition of this flourishing fashion industry.”