After developing breast cancer, Stephanie Devine found herself on the hunt for a non-wire bra made from natural fibre. When she couldn’t find one, she decided to make her own.
Launching The Very Good Bra from her Bondi home earlier this year, Ms Devine became one of the many businesspeople jumping on the ethical clothing trend.
But many shoppers are still unwilling to pay extra to buy ethically, which means startups like hers are facing an uphill battle.
Made from sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees, The Very Good Bra’s pricey materials saw Ms Devine draw on personal funds and turn to crowdfunding.
“I haven’t made any money on this project because it’s been so very expensive to make,” she said.
Ahead of the first round of bras being delivered, support for the zero-waste product has been positive. However, there are concerns consumers only want to give up fast fashion in theory.
“Are they going to feel comfortable with the fact that the elastic is not as soft as the elastic that we normally have on a bra?”, she said. “Are they comfortable with the fact there’s no spandex in the fabric, so it’s not going to stretch and recover as much?”
Consumers identify the higher price as a major barrier to purchasing sustainable fashion, according to Mamoq’s Sustainable Fashion Blueprint.
Retail Oasis Senior Strategist Jace Loh, agrees price point is more of an issue than ever before.
"Economic factors are causing people to look for more bargains,” she said. "The challenge for these emerging brands is going to be that willingness to pay."
What people say they do, and then what they actually do, tends to be entirely different.
However, a report by YouGov found three-quarters of Australians threw away clothing in 2017, and Ms Loh said this behaviour is the reason many overseas retailers have closed up shop.
“Topshop and Forever 21 are the most recent examples that come to mind,” Ms Loh said. “They both overestimated the volume of fast fashion Australia’s demanding.”
Fast fashion brands produce apparel inspired by the latest catwalk trends - as quick turnarounds.
Although Australian fashionistas still want to get "the look" cheaply, Ms Loh said consumers are becoming more aware of how their clothing is made.
"There's a lot to be done, but there are signs that the broader fashion industry is starting to take notice."
Ahimsa Collective is a Sydney-made brand which sells luxury handbags and accessories created with pinatex – a leather alternative made from pineapple leaves.
Co-founder and Managing Director, Susie Hemsted, said her investment will be worth it because more buyers are looking for retailers that align with their own values.
“It’s definitely not a trend,” Ms Hemsted said. “I think we are moving towards what we like to call ‘the new normal’.”
Surprised by how many leather-look products are made from plastic, she and her co-founders started their small business after deciding what was out there wasn’t good enough.
“Our long-term hope and dream is that there is no ethical fashion and [just] fashion – all fashion is ethical.”
Some established companies are looking to cash in on this dream, with what industry leaders warn is ‘greenwashing’.
H&M’s ‘Conscious Exclusive’ collection has been criticised as a public relations stunt for attempting to make the brand appear more sustainable than it is.
There's been a 30 per cent increase over the past five years in the number of Australian brands investigating where their materials come from - according to Baptist World Aid's Ethical Fashion Guide. Additionally, eight Australian retailers now can prove that they pay their final-stage workers a living wage. Only three could do this in 2013.
Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) National Manager Angela Bell, said there has been an awakening in the fashion industry in the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory tragedy. The building collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1000 people.
“A lot of people who were part of the mainstream industry reflected – what am I doing here?” Ms Bell said.
How can I still be involved in fashion and manufacturing, but make sure I’m doing it the right way?
ECA audits the supply chains of textile, clothing and footwear companies to ensure every step meets Australian employment laws. It is common for brands to breach their standards.
Ms Bell is encouraged by ethical startups but said consumers should be cautious, and do their research.
Operational for four-and-a-half years, Newtown fashion label The Social Outfit is a registered charity which offers onsite employment to new migrants and refugees, through garment production.
CEO, Jackie Ruddock, said new ethical retailers need to be transparent because consumers want to see where their money is going.
"We do have the support of a variety of people who can see the benefit and social purpose of what we do - and they want to be a part of it,” she said.
“It takes a collective effort."
This year’s Sustainable Fashion Blueprint reports 85 per cent of consumers are shopping for apparel at least once every three months.
With prominent Australian designers donating offcuts to The Social Outfit, Ms Ruddock hopes both consumers and the fashion industry continue to show their support for ethical brands.