Environmentally sound designers Hannah Parris of the label Audrey Blue, Suzan Dlouhy of SZN and Kelli Donovan of Pure Pod wear their clothes inside out in a global day of action to commemorate the loss of more than 1000 Bangladesh garment workers last year.

Environmentally sound designers Hannah Parris of the label Audrey Blue, Suzan Dlouhy of SZN and Kelli Donovan of Pure Pod wear their clothes inside out in a global day of action to commemorate the loss of more than 1000 Bangladesh garment workers last year. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

It may seem on Thursday that a number of people rushed out their doors with their clothes on inside out. Instead, they are marking the anniversary of the Bangladesh garment factory disaster and making a statement that they know where their clothes have come from by wearing their labels on the outside.

On 24th April last year, more than 1100 people were killed and over 2500 more were injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The ethical wing of the fashion industry is using the anniversary to draw attention to the proliferation of sweatshops and inhumane conditions for workers in those garment factories as well as the industry's increasing contribution to global pollution.

The Fashion Revolution Day is a global event, calling on people to turn their clothes inside out in the name of informed consumption.

For three Canberra designers, it is also a chance to show there are other options for staying on a trend that bypasses the mass market, chain store approach to churning through new clothes each season.

Hannah Parris, whose label Audrey Blue will debut at Fashfest next fortnight, takes ethical fashion seriously. She has made several trips to India to source organic, fair trade and environmentally sustainable fabric for her creations. She has chosen to work with organisations that support local communities through fair wages and social contracts to provide health and education support for workers.

One such company – which is providing her material for the Fashfest collection - is Jacobswell in Bangalore, which supports disenfranchised women in particular, giving them access to a career and an ethical wage.

“For me it has always been as important to consider the ethical implications of my collections as the collections themselves,” Ms Parris said.

“What happened at Rana Plaza is inexcusable because a profitable industry doesn’t have to work with poor wages and poor working conditions – this is a choice of the major brands, which take advantage of the economic situation of Bangladesh.”

Ms Parris was the first Australian designer to receive certification in 2012 under both the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation and also under the Global Organic Textile Standard – although she is pleased to see others have followed since.

For Suzan Dlouhy from SZN, the chance to wear her labels on the outside is a welcome reprieve from the instant gratification and relentless churn of the mass fashion market.

Dlouhy, who is showing at Fashfest for the second year, creates her pieces using the offcuts of material from other designers, as well as upcycling used and vintage pieces.

“Mass market fashion is always pitching itself at us, encouraging us to buy more, by new, by whatever the next thing is, but it can be a short-lived thrill and I don’t think it is ever as satisfying as buying a handmade piece or a vintage piece,” she said.

She also questioned the workmanship of the chain stores: “well, it’s $20 for a reason”.

Pure Pod’s Kelly Donovan had an epiphany while living in Melbourne and designing for global chain. She read an article on the chemicals regularly used in clothing manufacturing and said she felt sick to the stomach.

She and partner Sean Watson had since returned to Canberra to operate their label, which uses organic and sustainable Australian and New Zealand produced textiles.

“My main concern is maintaining a healthy planet, so when you mass produce anything, be it a car or a pair of jeans, you are putting a strain on the planet,” she said.

“It’s probably weird I ended up in fashion, but I was born to design clothes and I cannot change that. At least through my own label I can make a stance, and this Fashion Revolution is a great way to bring attention to a cause we should all think more about.”