This year marks the 20th anniversary of New Zealand Fashion Week, the event planned to run 23-29 August to Aucklands Aotea Square and Town Hall. Unfortunately, the country’s recent nationwide lockdown has forced NZFW to postpone to a yet to be released date.

As part of The Last Fashion Bibles event coverage, our editor Melissa Reid spoke to Dame Pieter Stewart about her journey and experiences with NZFW through the years. Here, Stewart talks about the events promotion of responsible fashion practices, and why shes wary of overusing the term sustainability”.

The coronavirus pandemic turned the world on its head in 2020 and disrupted the fashion industry as we knew it. The silver lining it presented, however, was an opportunity for designers to break away from the endless cycle of shows and seasons, reducing their collections or skipping seasons altogether. Traditional runway shows were replaced by digital shows with reducing attendance and increasing accessibility.

Dame Pieter Stewart at NZFW | Image courtesy Stuff

In 2019, long-life and ethical fashion took centre stage at NZFW as part of the events drive toward promoting sustainable fashion. For the events founder, Dame Pieter Stewart, 2021 is an opportunity to continue the events conversation about sustainability and the need for responsible fashion.

Sustainable business models and responsible operations are key challenges faced within the fashion industry, with consumers becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact and damage caused over recent years.

Social issues have also come to the forefront, especially around child labour or exploitative conditions for low-wage workers at the bottom of the value chain, especially in developing countries. And it is the most vulnerable, lowest paid people in the fashion supply chain that are the worst affected.

Weve started on a journey of sustainability and talking to designers about responsibility and being more conscious about what they are doing,” says Stewart. And all of them, in some way, are doing what they can.”

The 2021 NZFW schedule features a number of designers are using ethical practices and sustainable materials to produce their pieces. Wellington-based Kowtow is hosting a seminar, entitled ‘Single Use Planet’ that will focus on themes around sustainable material and packaging innovation, waste minimisation and the hottest future fashion and beauty trends. Panellists include Kowtow founder Gosia Piatek, Deadly Ponies founder Liam Bowden and skincare entrepreneur Emma Lewisham with Noelle McCarthy emceeing the event.

With a focus on truth, sustainability and luxury, Benjamin Alexander will also feature at NZFW for the second time.

Benjamin Alexander
Benjamin Alexander in his Auckland home | Image: The Last Fashion Bible

Stewart believes New Zealand designers can lead the way in increasing responsible fashion operations, by sourcing more sustainable fabrics and partnering with socially responsible manufacturers.

I dont think theres anybody out there that I know of that isnt being more sustainable in some way, to some extent or to the best extent that they possibly can.

Designers are very aware that they need to be socially accountable, and they are doing it. They arent just willy-nilly going and hiring a factory in China without checking that it doesnt use child labour, or that people are being paid well. Theyre finding out where their fabrics come from. They think about all of those things far more, and its really important to them now.”

Additionally, the pandemic forced a supply and demand rethink. Collections were reduced as most designers were forced into streamlining their operations by editing their collections and avoiding overproduction. Now, designers and customers alike are addressing their respective responsibilities around conscious consumerism.

The worlds been on a treadmill of consumerism for some years and the coronavirus highlighted the problem,” says Stewart. We had to stop and think about it.”

NZFW has been promoting a seasonless model for fashion week for a few years, allowing designers the freedom to show whichever season they like.

A lot of designers are not doing seasons now, instead theyre numbering their collections rather than calling them Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter, and building on whats already there. So instead of a whole new collection that sits on its own, theyre adding new pieces that work with what they did last year — and thats where it should be.”

Local designer Olli used sustainably sourced fabric for the brand’s 2019 NZFW show | Image: Courtesy NZFW

However, Stewart is wary of the overuse of the phrase ‘sustainable fashion‘ as she feels overuse can dilute the meaning.

If you say ‘sustainability‘ you can see peoples eyes roll and think, ‘Ok, this again’. But its about taking responsibility — responsibility to the environment, to yourself, and thats what were talking about. And we will continue to use those words through Fashion Week and through everything that we say.”

Stewart believes the pandemic accelerated a new consciousness in the fashion industry, encouraging an end to overconsumption that she hopes will last.

I dont think many designers are making huge ranges anymore. Theyve pulled back to whats necessary and what they know they can sell — and only making what they sell, so its not huge stock runs. I dont think were going to be seeing the big seasonal discounting that weve seen in the past, which I think is great.

How you can reduce, reuse, recycle are now part of the vernacular of the fashion industry. And so it should be! Were pushing that as much as we can through Fashion Week.

All of these things will help build a stronger industry. And to be perfectly honest, were getting there fast, and I think its great.”

Stay tuned to The Last Fashion Bible for all the latest NZFW updates.

Main Image photo: Pegah

TLFB Team

TLFB Team

The Last Fashion Bible is the largest interactive hub of fashion and lifestyle-related video content in New Zealand, featuring a mix of both international and local runway shows, editorials, interviews, how-tos and much more.

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