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Memorable runway shows are a piece of theatre. Like Zambesi’s 2017 New Zealand Fashion Week (NZFW) opening, there’s a set that transports attendees somewhere else, and sashaying models delivering the dopamine hit of seeing something new.
On that occasion ‘the new’ was a bespoke, Mercedes Benz-commissioned set of silver foil-coated cotton jumpsuits.
Then there’s the legendary goodie bags. “For several years around 2015 goodie bags were at peak hype, fuelled I believe, by other media ranking them,” says Rebecca Wadey, brand manager and Ensemble co-founder. Designers desperate to look like they had the best bags had dedicated bag-stuffers filling them to the point of being too big to carry, leading to scenes of “extravagant, wasteful chaos”.
With its Pamela Anderson celebrity moments, confetti cannons, buckets of body paint and sequin-encrusted models, NZFW has been adding glitz to the local fashion scene since 2001. Launched at Auckland Town Hall, it’s moved from trade fair to more of a celebration of local design talent.
NZFW hype has helped local designers better profile their brands and generally sell more product both nationally and overseas. Unfortunately the focus on novelty and trend-based collections is now also recognised as encouraging the same wasteful, over-consuming impulses that drive fast fashion.
Fashion events are being called out world-over for their single-use sets, lanyards, garments and shoes; food and plastic waste from catering; printed vouchers, run sheets, invitations and gift bags; and the carbon emissions of international travel and VIP hosting.
There are too many clothes in the world. Every year in New Zealand we send an estimated 175,000 tonnes of textile waste to landfill, where it generates methane.
“Huge volumes of low-quality clothing are coming into New Zealand and around the world, going into markets, and then being dumped in places like Africa, Chile and Papua New Guinea,” says Jacinta FitzGerald, CE of the industry body Mindful Fashion NZ.
The time is right for a rethink, and this year’s NZFW is taking a new tack.
Already disrupted by digital marketing and other social media trends, NZFW was forced to cancel the last two shows due to the pandemic.
Now with a refreshed name, NZFW Kahuria is acknowledging the fashion industry’s excessive environmental footprint and is expanding its focus to include environmental stewardship.
There’s a sustainability plan to cut unnecessary landfill waste and ultimately get the event to carbon-positive status by 2027. In collaboration with Mindful Fashion NZ, NZFW Karuia is also looking to develop comprehensive sustainability guidelines for all participating designers for future years.
Meanwhile, at the 2023 event, panel discussions, workshops, and events have been incorporated to get conversations started and inform audiences about sustainability, circularity, and making the most of every purchase.
“It’s about raising standards within the industry of the way garments are produced and brought to market, then also promoting responsible consumption,” says FitzGerald.
The new lineup of Sustainable Fashion Friday events, including a Makers Market and a clothing repair workshop, marks a step towards more circular ways of using clothing.
In another first, NZFW opened on Monday with a pōwhiri in a new partnership with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. The opening show is by designer Kiri Nathan, the first Māori designer to open Fashion Week.
Emily Miller-Sharma, GM for the sustainable fashion label Ruby, says the bigger cohort of Māori designers and stronger platform than previous years is a shift that needed to happen.
“It’s a message that all voices in New Zealand are important,” she says.
Fashion Week promotes an industry and promotes purchasing. Miller-Sharma says the event can play a crucial role in moving the industry forwards by promoting a designer like Kiri Nathan or Juliette Hogan, both deeply invested in sustainability.
The Ruby label has its own range of zero-waste initiatives, including recycling and repurposing offcuts, re-selling garments online and even selling its own brand patterns.
Goodie bags are also going digital, a change that’s welcomed by Wadey.
Designers with pull can get beautiful things, says Wadey. But at peak goodie bag hype some of the more mass brands or some designers with their first or second show, would take anything.
“I remember one year working at Kate Sylvester, we got beautiful handcrafted chocolates from Schoc, in Greytown. Another year, Kate was inspired by the Mitford sisters, and Penguin gave us the biography to present on the seats.
“Elsewhere, there were full bags at each show, each one ‘weighing, like, 400kgs’. It was too much for people to carry around all day long. People would be rifling through, taking out a block of Whittakers chocolate and Mac mascara and ditching the rest. There would be paper, vouchers and samples abandoned everywhere.”
Future Fashion – Unlocking a Circular Fashion Economy in Aotearoa is a NZFW and Auckland Climate Festival event, featuring a panel discussion with Emily Miller-Sharma, Jacinta FitzGerald and more. Thursday 31, 5-6pm.