Daily Organic chats with budding Melbourne-based eco-fashion entrepreneur Liz Disler. She shares her inspirations and aspirations for the fashion industry.
JOANNA What inspired you to become a designer and how long have you been doing it?
LIZ I've been in the design industry for about 10 years but my own range started in January 2010.
JOANNA So what inspired you to start out your own business then?
LIZ I went to China on a work trip and I saw a lot of the factories over there and realised what we're doing here in Australia is sitting pretty, it's really clean and there are pristine skies and you go over there and it's very polluted. We're basically getting all our labour done over there and it's being polluted. So we visited many factories and saw that they're just mass producing garments. About 40% of polyester goes into fashion, so your man-made materials that are being produced a lot of that just goes into landfill. It's plastic basically, you're just wearing plastic, because polyester is plastic.
Then I looked into cotton and it’s made with a lot of pesticides and chemicals, which are really harsh to your skin and also for the people that manufacture. Unfortunately a lot of farmers are also committing suicide, because it’s so tough, they basically aren't getting the yields that they want in their crops plus they're getting hand and arm sores and eczema and psoriasis and stuff like that because they're handling all this material and dying it.
I guess that's contributed to me doing something that's better for people and not only for the end consumer, but for all the people that are involved in it. Producing polyester contributes to a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
JOANNA All this stuff many just don't think of. We think something’s out of Target or wherever you might shop, and that's it.
LIZ Consumers are being led to want the latest fashion which of course you want and that's good, but I think that it's not long lasting, it doesn't wear. So even if you buy the latest fashion, people are now after 25 washes just throwing it out and that's normal.
JOANNA Very disposable. You spent two years researching clothing manufacturers and we've touched on some of the things that you've discovered. What surprised you the most out of doing all that research?
LIZ I'd say finding out what goes into the fabric production. How does it end up back in the soil, like cradle to cradle. When you have a birth of a product where did it come from? Where is it going to go back and how is it going to go back? I like to think that if my garment was thrown on the side of the road, not that it would be, but if it was then it would break down and it wouldn't harm the earth and how it was made didn't harm anyone and it's made locally and most of the fabric is made locally. So I guess that's the biggest part of the research, is finding out what's involved in making these fabrics and how much is costs the earth.
JOANNA Talk about the fabrics that you do use. How did you go about finding the right manufacturers who were doing ethical processes or sourcing it properly?
LIZ The cotton manufacturer or wholesaler that I use manufacture in Australia, which is good and they try and source most of their fibre from Australian farms. A lot of the time cotton isn't good because you use too much water in the production, but he's actually got a dry land crop, so it means that he's been farming for the last, I think it was 50 years and he's built up the microbes in his soil so the plants don't need as much water.
JOANNA You also investigated hemp I understand and that wasn't as suitable?
LIZ I use it with silk, so I have a silk hemp combination.
JOANNA And bamboo?
LIZ I did my whole first range in bamboo and I sampled it and I had a whole lot of production made. But as I was reading about it I realised that the bamboo isn't made very well, because they get the pulp of the bamboo and then it's basically the same process as making viscose. They use high levels of chemicals which are broken down so that is becomes a fine fabric.
So you think it's a sustainable product, because it grows really quickly and it doesn't take much water to grow, but in terms of Jersey fabric it's not really that sustainable because of the process that you have to go through to make it. So I made my whole range out of it and then I just couldn't sell it, because I felt like that was ethically wrong.
JOANNA I'm sure it was an expensive learning experience.
LIZ Yes, but it's good because I feel like I did the right thing because I didn't want to start my business off in terms of something that wasn't ethical....that's the whole point of doing this business is to do something for people and for it to be authentic and transparent.
JOANNA And trusted. Let’s talk about about the dying process. You don't dye any of your clothing, it's all natural.
LIZ Some of it is, so all of the stuff that's cream or natural hasn't been dyed. All of the black garments, they've been dyed using OptiTex dye, which means that they're tested for all harsh chemicals and they have to go through a regulation process so that they're not harmful to people's skin.
Take my cousin for example, she gets a lot of her fabrics made in America and they dye them using natural indigo or sulphur so it's actually real using a substance like a flower or a stone ground down. It's a lot more expensive, but that's the natural way to do things. If a garment's made well then you should be able to wear it for longer than what we're wearing things for and that's the way it used to be.
JOANNA Are there many designers that are doing this, here or internationally that you know of?
LIZ There places such as Marks and Spencer and even Zara, producing organic products within their range. There’s Stewart and Brown which is an American company and their whole range is organic and it's really fashion forward, it's really lovely stuff. It's not hippy.
JOANNA It’s great to hear that places like Zara and M&S. I suppose it's all about people becoming a lot more aware and taking the steps which is great. It surprises me though that there just aren't more well-known designers out there that are really advocating for this.
LIZ Akira Isogawa, he has real silk, they don't advertise it as such, maybe because they don't think that it's necessary because they've already got a high profile. But I think people are becoming slightly more socially aware than they were a couple of years ago.
JOANNA Tell us about your new range.
LIZ The new range is less lounge wear, it's more fashion and it's just exciting. Fleece skirts with a lot of silk and a lot of cut outs etc. Fitted jackets and we'll be looking into some organic woven fabric I’ve sourced and I'm thinking of going and getting it screen printed, so perhaps creams and patterns, but that probably won't go into this season, it will go into the following one because I have to develop that.
JOANNA Excellent. Selling purely online?
LIZ Yes I just like it that way. At the moment I can manage it all easier rather than dealing with suppliers and margins
JOANNA To wrap up, if you could say anything to the Australian public or anyone that's just starting their organic journey, what could they change about their buying patterns or behaviour? What do you wish that more people just knew about fashion?
LIZ I just wish that people knew where it came from. Like actually thought about where their product came from and that they cared about it enough and that we're contributing to the pollution of other countries.
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