What’s in your clothes? Fashion designer Emma Bond brought her sustainably produced garments to the Liverpool Plains, for a lunch celebrating the women of the cotton industry.
Emma led discussions of her findings and experiences within the textile industry, explaining the often hidden costs of fashion; costs to environment and the communities working and living within proximity to manufacturing and garment waste. A fashion parade of Emma’s works showcasing Australian cotton then ushered down the pink Tama wrap catwalk, modeled by a committee who together also supplied the fabrics to the circular cotton project, on which Emma spoke at the Fibre to Fashion lunch and is a project she is clearly passionate about.
–The Circular Cotton Project–
The first trial of the Circular Cotton Project took place on a Goondiwindi property. The trial looks at re-carbonating the soil by spreading shredded end of line cotton garments over cotton crops. It was expected to improve soil health and increase carbon sequestration, saving 2,250kgs of carbon and closing the loop in textiles waste. The project only uses pure cotton garments in the creation of the spreadable materials. At this time all stitching and fastenings must be removed to reduce the risk of plastics pollution through the soil on farm. Early indicators show the trial product has had a positive impact on carbon levels in the soil, raising them by around 1%.
Following on from the Fibre to Fashion Lunch, Emma embarked on a tour of cotton businesses across the Liverpool Plains including Breeza Station, Kensall Green (Gunnedah) and Carroll Cotton Gin. A range of business experiences from across the cotton industry were shared with Emma throughout the tour which kicked off at Breeza Station, where cotton has successfully been grown since the 1980’s. Extensive irrigation infrastructure has supported a cotton and grains growing operation for years.
At Kensall Green, Emma had the opportunity to touch and feel, quite literally, the complete life cycle of cotton. The property is part of the circular cotton project and to this effect some of the paddocks are top dressed with the cotton garment scraps, producing a snapshot of the complete life cycle of cotton in one paddock.
Today we make a conscious decision in what we eat or often how we exercise. As farmers we take great care in what we plant, what chemicals we spray and what impacts these decisions have on our land. We consider the very best inputs for our livestock. But when was the last time we stopped to think, what’s in our clothes?
A 2022 Global Scan Report, conducted by the Australian Fashion Council and led by the Queensland University of Technology, found that Australians, on average, purchase an estimated 15kg of clothing1 or approximately 56 garments each year. Data collected for the same report found that Australia imports an estimated 373,000 tonnes of clothing each year, with an FOB (Free On Board) value of $9.27 billion.
Most of the clothing purchased in Australia is made from non-sustainable, non-durable materials. We have no systems in place for the collection of unwearable clothing other than landfill. Add to that, re-use and re-sale sectors which are overwhelmed with unwearable donations, all of this culminates in 200,000 tonnes of clothing making it’s way to landfill each year. This is compared to just 17,000 tonnes which are recycled or 41,000 tonnes of clothing which are reused. Clothing waste has become one of the largest contributors to Australia’s waste crisis, yet we continue to be bombarded by fast fashion at an unprecedented rate.
Of further concern, it is estimated by the same AFC report that less than 3% of Australia’s clothing retailers sell clothing produced within Australia . Despite Australia being one of the world’s largest producers of cotton, we retain just 10% of that product domestically, with the majority of the raw product making its way to overseas spinning mills.
Fashion designer Emma Bond is working hard to re-humanise the story of how our clothes are made. Hailing from a cotton farm in the Central West, Emma is acutely aware of the trials and tribulations faced by cotton producers. Her brand name, Madi & Pip is inspired by her grandmother; Philomena Simmons, and mother, Madi Simmons. Emma recounts her mother’s ability to create any wild costume she could summon through her young imagination, in awe of her ability to create these pieces on the regional property with limited resources. Emma’s dressmaking talent stems from her great grandmother, Madeleine Jondeau; a Parisian couture seamstress. In her adult years Emma could not ignore the rapid increase in consumption of fashion and lack of great design. She was excited to use her experience and the stories of others across the supply chain to rewrite the fashion trajectory. And so, Madi & Pip the label was born.
Emma’s label of luxury, made to order womenswear, is designed with usability and sustainability at the forefront; considering the garments’ complete lifecycle. Crafted from Australian cotton, with some of the cottons never even leaving Australian shores for processing, as well as recycled cotton and deadstock fabrics which would otherwise be discarded by other fashion brands.
Emma’s background in education, fine art and experience from life on the land inspired her to push forward with an advocacy to bring awareness to the people who make our clothes, which starts at the fibre. Her work in conjunction with the Australian Cotton Industry saw her awarded the Australian Future Cotton Leaders Award and her garments showcased alongside major brands Country Road, Sussan and Bonds at the 2022 Cotton Conference runway.
And it was this advocacy coupled with her social media presence that captured the attention of a group of women on the Liverpool Plains planning their own event to celebrate and bring awareness to the cotton industry that is major a part of their lives.
–The Fibre to Fashion Ladies Lunch–
On Saturday 18th March, 100 women from across the Liverpool Plains gathered at the Spring Ridge Country Club for the Fibre to Fashion Women’s Lunch. Greeted by a cotton picker at the entrance to the event, a fitting welcome for the women who more than likely see the crop from planting to picking each year. What they may be less aware of is the documented life cycle of their cotton, that they have lovingly tended to, is largely lost to the textile industry once it leaves the cotton gin. In many cases the cotton is untraceable once it leaves Australian soil for a spinning mill overseas. So even though fashion designers may wish to use locally produced cotton, this is oftentimes hard to track down when the textile returns to Australia.
The event was the brainchild of Liverpool Plains resident and small business owner Carmen Ronald. With help from friends and fellow committee members and the Spring Ridge Country Club the event welcomed key speaker Emma Bond and a fashion parade of her works alongside a lunch by Relish, Narrabri. The runway was aptly made of pink Tama wrap more commonly seen in the paddocks securely holding cotton bales together. MC and writer for Graziher Magazine, Emily Herbert, ensured the day went without a hitch and even managed to command a room of 100 chattering women, eagerly catching up with friends from far and wide more than embraced this additional role. A raffle of 470 tickets and auction of a fashion illustration by Emma raised a grand total of $2830 for the charity Thread Together, another motivator of the event.
Thread Together collects end-of-line stock from fashion retailers across the country and is operated with the support of volunteers to deliver clothing to people in need. It is a little known fact that one in eight adults and one in six children do not have access to essential clothing in Australia. Thread Together works with over 1000 retailers and 700 partner charities in Australia. To date it has saved 5,503,497 items from landfill and helps an average of 2,500 people in need each week. Thread Finally, the day wrapped up at the Carroll Cotton Gin, filling in the gap between farms and textile industry. It is here that the cotton is bailed into a product acceptable for textile production. Carroll Cotton has recently undergone extensive development, replacing their original gin, built in 1995, with a brand new purpose-built complex. Undertaken in the midst of the pandemic, the project was not without it’s difficulties. But now completed and operational, the new gin has helped the family business increase their processing capacities to 198,000 bales last year, proving to be their biggest year to date.
Business owners, Trudy and Scott Davies, are acutely aware of their business and their relationship with the growers which they support. The responsibility of processing locally grown cotton, and the payment which comes at that point for growers permeates our conversation with Trudy in light of tricky operational conditions due to flooding, fires and pandemic lock downs. The old gin is not to be stood empty for long. In a forward thinking business move, the Davies family have put the old gin to good use, bailing hemp from a local Tamworth producer, a first for the Liverpool Plains.
What is evident from a weekend spent immersed in events focused on the cotton industry, the Fibre to Fashion lunch, Emma’s educational discussions and the events that surrounded the weekend, is the responsibility of the cotton and textile industry to be aware of and invest in sustainability practices. But that responsibility does not lie with ‘the industry’, it starts with you and me. It starts with a responsible and a sustainable approach to fashion. This is of the utmost importance to our region, to agriculture and to cotton production. So the next time you’re shopping stop and think, what is in my clothes?
Article and photography by Jessica Rea