INDUSTRY SNAPSHOT | MELINDA TUALLY
Responsible Retail Strategist | Sydney
This month we catch up with Melinda Tually, the driving force behind Fashion Revolution Au/NZ and Nndless - The New Normal.
Describe your role in the Fashion Industry:
I advise brands and retailers on responsible business and supply chain strategy, social and environmental risks and develop systems understanding and policies to guide best practice.
What is your Industry background? How did you come to this line of work?
I have worked in a variety of industries, from legal finance to film and television. I don’t have a background in fashion but found my way there through my retail business that had Fair Trade and sustainability at it’s core. Establishing Fashion Revolution here in Australia and in New Zealand was my first real connection to the fashion industry. Having a range of experience in the corporate and creative sectors and not being a fashion insider, so to speak, has meant I haven’t taken anything for granted, I question everything which helps inform an objective viewpoint.
What is your favourite part about what you do? What drives you?
I’m driven by a passion for business to do good. I strongly believe in the power of trade to transform people’s lives for the better. There are so many opportunities to add value through the course of doing business as usual and this is what really excites me. Balancing these opportunities with the practicalities of the current paradigm is where things get interesting. You can’t change how you operate overnight so it’s the pathway to transformation that I find the most interesting, creating that roadmap. You can see where you need to go but it’s the way you craft that journey that’s different for each business.
What advice would you give to those looking to follow your footsteps?
Stay curious. Develop a healthy sense of scepticism. Get involved, informed and engaged.
You have worked with some incredible people, are there any individuals or projects that have particularly stood out for you?
Working for Baz Luhrmann was a lesson in persistence and passion. I remember finishing the film Australia after months travelling around the country and thanking him for taking us to places that no other director in their right mind would think of taking a crew of 500+. I was camping in a remote part of WA at one stage and logistically it was fraught with lots of issues, but it was equally the most amazing experience to be filming where we were. He is someone that definitely thinks outside the box with a vision that is often larger than is practical, which is the whole point of creative’s really. I think we need more risk takers and big picture thinking in Australia. Pushing the envelope is what moves us forward.
‘Sustainability’ is a word that gets thrown about more and more when it comes to discussions around Fashion. From your perspective, what does is mean, and, what should best practice encompass?
Yes Sustainable, Ethical, Fair. These terms are applied to everything from fabric to factories but ultimately ‘sustainability’ really denotes longevity, so in that respect the only way we can have an industry that can maintain itself is to turn the current model on it’s head in many ways. We need to rethink materials, rethink labour, rethink systems and rethink pace. The good thing is, the fashion industry is incredibly innovative, so solutions thinking is not hard to come by. It’s the will and the conviction to bring those solutions to reality that will shape the industry for the long term.
There are many brands around the world re-evaluating the growth at all costs model and looking at their risk as well as their impact, not just reputational, but from an operational supply chain perspective. Necessity is the mother of invention so we will see different business models in fashion, those that were once niche will come to play a bigger part in the industry as they offer a model of growth that is decoupled from negative social and environmental consequences.
I think best practice will shift and develop as the industry innovates. At present, it’s largely transparency and traceability along with improved labour conditions and wages and an environmental platform of one form or another. Eventually the model will move, as it is already doing so, from linear to circular. The path to our purchases is becoming transparent and product stewardship is being acknowledged and implemented by some of the biggest retailers in the world. Taking responsibility from the farm to the factory will be the new normal and consumers are increasingly asking for this. They define this as best practice already, so the race to meet their expectations is on.
When it comes to best practice in the Fashion value chain, who are some brands/companies/individuals that you consider to be taking the lead?
There are many brands at differing scales that I would class as representing best practice, not least the many small scale Fair Trade and local makers who by the very nature of their business are resourceful in the way they operate.
I’m inspired by Freitag and their compostable jeans, Eileen Fisher for their 2020 vision, Patagonia for their commitment to addressing supply chain issues, Filippa K for encouraging behaviour change, Nudie for their product stewardship, Veja for their consideration of materials and labour, Mud Jeans for their supply chain and leasing model. The list goes on… I think Nike, The Kering Group and Levi’s are doing some really impressive work and pioneering change in very different areas of the market. From labour rights and wage initiatives to material re-design. The more these larger companies open source the solutions they are working on the quicker the rest of the industry can jump on board and adopt them too.
How do you see the Australian Fashion Industry sitting in this space, and how do we compare globally?
The Australian industry is playing catch ups with great speed. We are certainly behind Europe and North America but the gap is closing and we have seen more movement in this year alone than we have in the past five.
We are reaching a tipping point where it’s no longer optional to be taking a seat at the table, brands will be clamouring for one and doing so with a healthy sense of competition. There is a certain element of convincing still required in the Australian market that is long past overseas. Sector wide collaboration, sustainability performance metrics and investment in future proofing the designers of tomorrow are commonplace in many regions o/s. I have visited some impressive organisations and attended some really enlightening events in Europe and the States that involve discussions and systems thinking that is not much being talked about here at an industry or brand level but I’m hopeful that Australian retailers will become leaders in this space also. A sector wide approach is essential in achieving systemic change and there are local brands starting to work this way now so with committed leadership the future is bright.
What opportunities do you see for emerging designers who prioritise ethical & sustainable practice?
The opportunities are endless. There really is only one direction the industry is headed in so I can’t think of anything limiting emerging designers who create with these priorities as their focus. They will be in demand! I envisage it won’t be a point of difference in years to come so the playing field should be focused on design aesthetics and functionality as it should. Conventional design wisdom will incorporate ethical and sustainable practice and it’s the next wave of designers who will make this accessible and commonplace.
That will only happen if academia puts this issue front and centre of their curriculum. The future designers, planners, buyers, garment techs must emerge with a new skill set and a deep understanding of their role and responsibility in a cleaner and less resource intensive industry. Change needs to occur during the design phase and no later so I really believe education is critical to ensure the industry is fit for purpose.
This, coupled with retailers making commitments to ethical sourcing as more and more are doing, will provide the sweet spot.
What does ‘Australian Fashion’ mean to you?
I see Australian fashion as a mix of practical, sleek and fiercely independent. I don’t think we are homogenous in the way we approach fashion and there is a sense of resourcefulness that’s really inspiring. It’s not easy to create a label so I applaud anyone who can make it work.
Want to find out more and get involved? Make sure you take a peek at some of the projects Mel is involved in below:
THANKS FOR READING!