Changing the fabric: one leader's crusade for 'slow fashion'
This piece is about ARLP Course 16 Fellow, Jane Milburn, and the passion she has put into both research and practice around natural fibres, and the benefits of making something old, new again.
Only a risk-taker steps away from an established career path and into uncharted waters with no certain destination in mind.
Yet when values, knowledge and skills align with the new direction, there is less risk and more deliberation – as in the case of Jane Milburn’s purposeful journey since completing the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) in 2010 on the Fairfax Agricultural Media scholarship.
Using observation and instinct, Jane joined a series of dots to create a fresh narrative about clothing by making the connection that clothes do for us on the outside what food does on the inside.
She believes that just as conscious eaters are sourcing fresh whole food and returning to the kitchen – conscious dressers are seeking to know more about the provenance and ethics of their clothing.
Fast, processed food has had a dramatic impact on the population in recent years and similarly there has been a transformational shift in the way we source clothing, the fabrics these garments are made from and potential for exploitation, burgeoning consumption and waste.
At a time when the Food and Agriculture Organisation identified that one-third of food produced is never eaten, creative solutions are emerging. Similarly, there is growing evidence that nearly a third of clothing is wasted and Jane’s purposeful work is bringing awareness to this and other material issues.
As a natural-fibre champion, Jane is troubled that synthetic fibres derived from petroleum now dominate the clothing market at a time when research finds these plastic clothes are shedding millions of microplastic particles into the ecosystem.
The trend towards cheaper synthetic materials accelerated in the past decade, when the proportion of global fibre apparel consumption that is biodegradable natural fibres slipping from half in 2003 to one-third by 2013.
Research by ecologist Dr Mark Browne in 2011 found that the majority of accumulated plastic pollution in the ocean was microplastic fibres, with experiments sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines demonstrating that a single garment can produce more than 1900 micro-fibres per wash.
“People don’t seem to know that if we are not wearing natural-fibres we are likely to be dressing in plastic. To borrow from Michael Pollan’s guide to eating, we can say ‘dressing is an agricultural act – unless you like wearing synthetics derived from petroleum’,” Jane said.
This builds on Jane’s work in 2014 with the Sew it Again project when she actively engaged in upcycling for 365-days to demonstrate creative and resourceful reuse of existing natural-fibre clothing. It was a journey into creativity, empowerment, thrift, sustainability, ecological health and wellbeing – woven with threads of childhood, education, professional expertise, networks and nature.
The project won the social media category of the Queensland 2015 Excellence in Rural Journalism Awards, with the judges commenting it engaged the community, had a call to action, was transformative, and actually ‘made a difference in the world’.
Jane attributes her recent career moves to insights gained through the Australian Rural Leadership Graduate Certificate run by the ARLF and accredited by James Cook University, that sparked the bringing together of career and life experiences in a meaningful way.
“Making time for thoughtful self-reflection is a really valuable lesson gained from ARLP, and the perspectives of others immersed in the same experiential learning process has been a pivotal influence of which I am forever grateful," Jane said.
"Some I particularly remember are:
· Kimberley – Anthony Shelley (C16) said leadership is an action, not a position
· Canberra RIRDC lunch – Catherine Marriott (C17) mentioned values-based leadership
· Mt Tabor Station, Augathella – Keelen Mailman (C16) said just follow your heart, mate
· Mudgeeraba study – Ele Cook (C15) said stop hitching your wagon to other people’s trains
· Adelaide seminar – Caroline Rhodes (C16) said go with the textiles, they make you happy
· Brisbane, studio – Georgie Somerset (C16) said you are leading a textile reuse project
· Barb Grey (C15) said you are talking about slow fashion and the story of clothes.”
Jane now presents workshops and talks on slow fashion ways to dress with conscience – including at the ARLF’s Deakin office (3/24 Napier Close) at noon on Wednesday 9 September 2015.
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