Ones to Watch
As pressure mounts on the fashion industry to clean up its act when it comes to pollution and working conditions, a fashion degree with sustainability woven into its core is more valuable than ever.
With climate change protests interrupting international fashion events, top brands making loud promises to become more sustainable, and consumers becoming more aware of fashion’s impact, graduates are entering the industry with new goals. Rather than just looking to start a label for the sake of it, they’re increasingly ready to make an impact wherever they can.
Whitecliffe Fashion and Sustainability students Bianca Lim-Yip and Thomas Munday were chosen to be part of this year’s New Zealand Fashion Week Sustainability Show, thanks to their thoughtful approach to these ethical issues. The show featured designers focused on environmental and social sustainability, through practices such as upcycling, natural dyes, and waste minimisation.
Bianca Lim-Yip and Tom Munday in the Whitecliffe fashion studio. Photo: India Essuah
No room for ploys
“Every choice we make now has the ethics of its meaning to the environment that goes along with it,” says Tom. “It’s not something I thought about before coming to Whitecliffe, but it’s really been ingrained into us.”
Bianca says the politics and marketing of sustainability have also been interesting to explore.
“The companies that are known to be sustainable, as soon as they make a wrong move they’re scrutinised for it,” she says.
“If you’re doing something good people are going to shout out everything you’re doing wrong,” adds Tom. “In our marketing course, we learned that brands are veering away from sustainability because of that. They were talking about how it can’t be a marketing ploy anymore, it just has to be standard.”
Bianca recently interned in Sydney, and both work at multiple jobs within the industry here, partly to make up the hours they need to graduate, and partly because they know it’s a crucial part of learning the ropes of how a business runs.
“When I’m doing internships I’m always questioning the ethics behind the choices,” says Tom.
“Even somewhere that doesn’t have it, that’s somewhere you can probably make a difference - especially once you’re ingrained in there.”
The real deal
The NZFW Sustainability Show also gave them a taste of how chaotic working in fashion can be. Bianca describes it as a valuable - albeit “very hectic” - experience.
Bianca Lim-Yip's work for her end-of-year collection. Photo: India Essuah
“It’s such a long waiting time and then once the show started there’s no control over anything, and you just have to let the models go even if it’s not how you wanted them to be dressed,” she says. “It was also scary to know that people from the industry were watching.”
Tom adds that it’s strange to go from “spending hours and hours and hours” crafting the five looks for a show that’s over in a few minutes.
“It was amazing and a huge adrenaline rush,” says Tom. “This was more of what it would be like in an industry show where you’re dressing different models all the time - the process behind-the-scenes of the show was really intense.”
Tom’s work explores themes of consumerism in his work, which defies conventional sewing and pattern making, by using materials such as foam. He says his work is “based in irony” - the story it’s built upon could be fit for a novel:
“It’s about a little cult of dystopian aristocrats that can’t give up their power after the apocalypse,” he says. “It’s a play on consumerism and how capitalism is bad for the environment - it’s sort of mocking the system.”
While Tom has always looked up to New Zealand designers such as Zambesi and NOM*D, Bianca says she’s interested in design that’s inspired by art and architecture, citing Comme Des Garçons and Maison Margiela.
She uses her work to express what she has trouble saying aloud “through little details” and colours that “reflect back to what I want to express.”
“My collection is a reflection of my upbringing and preparation for my future. Each look is a narrative of seeing myself move from a structured lifestyle and trying to prepare myself for becoming independent,” she says, adding she has her eyes on an OE in New York. “I’ve been through school, uni and now I can do whatever I want and that overwhelms me. I’ve used symbolism to tie it all in.”
Her work incorporates deadstock fabrics, natural fibres, eco-friendly dyes, discarded plastic and she hopes it can stir “productive discussions surrounding the industry's ethics and issues concerning the treatment of our ecosystem”.
It’s tight knit
Tom describes his time at Whitecliffe as a “luxury”, as he’s had a chance to explore multiple creative disciplines, and dedicate himself to what he loves.
“I know in the real world it’s not like that,” he laughs. “It’s nice to have time to reflect and do things that you feel like doing.”
The group studying fashion is tight-knit, but there are plenty of chances for collaborating on projects with students from other majors. Bianca says her friends studying photography and graphic design are helping her shoot and lay out her end-of-year lookbook.
Once their final projects are handed in, both students have ideas about where in the industry they’d like to land, but are keen to travel and gain experience wherever they can first.
“So much of our degree has been coincidental - falling into things,” says Tom. “People tell you that all the time - that you have to be in the right place at the right time, but it’s so true.”
“I would love to take everything I’ve learnt here and share it - all the ideas and ways of changing the fashion industry for the better, because it really needs it.”
You can now find Whitecliffe at 67 Symonds Street in the heart of Auckland. Now offering certificate, diploma and degree courses Fashion Design, Fashion Technology and Pattern Making. Applications are now open for 2020.
For more information, visit www.whitecliffe.ac.nz or call 09 309 5970.