In Touch With Well Made Clothes Founder Courtney Sanders - Par Femme

by Par Femme

Courtney Sanders is the co-founder of Well Made Clothes, the beloved Australian fashion marketplace responsible for making ethical fashion cool and inclusive since 2016. Their beautifully-curated store wants you to feel good about the clothes you buy, without any of the murkiness usually surrounding ethical fashion, sliced into eight core values to make things easy: handcrafted, vegan, transparent, local, minimal waste, gender equality, fair and sustainable.

To celebrate Par Femme's recent initiation into the Well Made Clothes fam, we chatted with Courtney about the increasing trend towards ethical production practices in the fashion industry, opting out of patriarchal expectations that are imposed on us at a young age, and how the story of Well Made Clothes and Par Femme came to be... 

Tell us about Made Clothes. What were you hoping to achieve when you started out?
We’re a fashion marketplace that sells clothes with ethical values. When we started out, four years ago, there was very little coverage of the environmental and human rights violations occurring in the fashion industry supply chain, and we wanted to change that, by creating a space that provided information about these violations, and also provided clothing options by brands who minimise their environmental and human impacts where possible.

Terms like sustainable and eco-friendly can be vague and confusing—how do you define them?


That’s totally true. Creating extremely tight definitions, and communicating them clearly, is really important to Well Made Clothes, as we believe greenwashing (labels using these terms when they really do not meet the definitions of them) is one of the biggest barriers to actual change in the industry.

We do not use the term ‘eco-friendly’ as we think this term is too broad and too vague. Sustainable is one of our eight Well Made Clothes values. For a label to meet our sustainable value, it must make 80% of more of its products from sustainable materials, specifically organic materials, closed loop-certified materials, or recycled materials, and/or make its products using low impact production processes.

While it is true that the term ‘sustainable’ can be vague, we actually believe that, over time, there has become a pretty clear industry definition for this term, generated by the ongoing use of it by leading brands like Patagonia and Nudie Jeans, and that brands should meet these industry definitions or not use the terms at all.

What are some easy-to-implement ways that individuals strive to be more sustainable?
With regards to fashion, I think the easiest-to-implement thing to do is to purchase mindfully. Reject that *need* to shop, only buy a new item of clothing when you need it, and only buy an item of clothing you love and know you’re going to get heaps of wear from. This helps to reduce waste, which is one of the biggest problems in the fashion industry.

How has the industry changed since you started out?
There has been a huge move towards more ethical production practices by brands, both big and small, in the last five years, which is really great to see.
 

The important thing now is to ensure that these changes are implemented by these brands long-term and not just as part of a short-term marketing exercise, and to ensure we continue to ask questions and demand answers from the labels we love to continue the progress that has been made so far.

In the past, it seemed that sustainability and stylish/beautiful designs were mutually exclusive in fashion. Why do you think that is? How is that changing?I think, at its best, design solves a problem. I think in other industries designers have been grappling with how to solve environmental impact problems through design, and revolutionary and beautiful products have emerged as a result. I think fashion was a little later getting started tackling this problem. But I think now we are starting to see that break-throughs in sustainability can be break-throughs in fashion design, too (new materials, new ways of constructing garments, for example), and I am really excited to see how the fashion industry will take scientific breakthroughs in sustainability and apply them to create groundbreaking designs. I think we’re at a really great moment for this.

Why did you choose to work with Par Femme?
Par Femme’s range of locally-made loungewear is the collection of fancy-ish, effortless pieces which we love, which make us feel good, which we wear everyday, but which are also pretty difficult to find, so we’re extremely excited to introduce them to our Well Made Clothes community, who we hope will love them too.

What is your favourite piece from the Par Femme range, and why?
The One-Shoulder Top, because it’s one of those pieces that you don’t have to think about at all, but that looks good and looks stylish with pretty much everything.

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Sunday mood via @jillburro_w

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What does the future of sustainable fashion look like?
I think the next thing we need to consider – and many already are – is the lifecycle of our clothes. We need to ensure that the garment’s impact is minimised when it’s being made, during its lifetime, and after its first life has finished, too. So I hope the future of sustainable fashion is brands considering how they can make products that can either be disposed of responsibly or that can have multiple lives through recycling and the like.

 

The world has been in lockdown for a few months now, forcing a slower, more mindful existence for many people. How have you been spending your time? And do you see any potential for positive change because of the changes we’ve had to adapt to?
Obviously what has been happening through 2020 has been devastating, and my thoughts are with everyone who has been impacted by COVID-19.

If there were to be any positives, though, I think it’s that, as we see local businesses struggle, we are viscerally realising how important where we spend our money is, and we are adapting our spending habits to support the local businesses within our communities. I’ve also noticed – and from conversations with friends, they’re saying the same thing – that as I stay home more and go out less, I’ve realised I need fewer, higher quality, ‘built for purpose’ clothes, and I’ve adjusted my buying habits accordingly. For example, I just need one, high quality black Merino turtleneck that keeps me warm and that looks good for all my Zoom meetings, rather than a bunch of different tops for going into the office and to the pub after work. It’s the practical implementation of Vivienne Westwood’s “buy less, choose well, make it last” and I’m all about it.

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​What Fair Certifications Actually Mean ​. ​Fairtrade is a term that’s used a lot in fashion, but also one that's often misunderstood. So what do Fair certifications actually mean? ​. ​According to the Fairtrade organisation, it means supporting farmers and garment workers to take control of their futures. “Fairtrade advocates for better working conditions and improved terms of trade for farmers and workers in developing countries,” the company says. Which requires rigorous auditing. ​. ​Those better conditions mean that crop farmers and garment workers receive fair compensation and have access to a safe and healthy work environment. Something that's often not so easy to come by. ​. ​Fair certifications play into environmental and intersectional issues as well. According to the PAN's report, Is Cotton Conquering Its Chemical Addiction, the health of conventional cotton farmers is greatly compromised by the use of harmful chemicals. ​. ​Often marginalised groups like women and People of Colour are particularly vulnerable throughout fashion supply chains, too. The Ethical Trading Initiative points to significant power imbalances between male supervisors and a predominantly female workforce. ​. ​Meanwhile, the PAN report shows that Africa accounts for 8-9% of the world’s cotton market. And in Burkina Faso 90% of pesticides are used in cotton. Here, economically disadvantaged workers sometimes have little choice but to work with unsafe chemicals. ​. ​This is where Fair certifications can provide assurance that workers have had their rights respected in everything from wages, to work hours, and the safety of their work environments. Which is why Fair is one of our eight core values. To meet our Fair value, the brand’s major Cut Make Trim manufacturers must be accredited with a globally recognised, independent certifier like Fairtrade. ​. ​Because, as Fair brand Arc & Bow says, “partnership with each manufacturer means that together, we can ensure that business is conducted with respect for one another's cultures, with no room for discrimination of any kind within our, and their, supply chain networks.” ​. ​Ph: Sr Manoel, a cotton producer in Brazil, via Veja.

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Par Femme is all about pleasure, sensuality and empowerment. How has your relationship with these things changed over time? Why do you think these things have been taboo subjects, for women especially?

As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more comfortable with myself, and for me, that has a lot to do with unlearning the patriarchal standards that are imposed on us from such a young age.

How do you keep your mind stimulated?

Trying to read and listen to podcasts more, scroll through social media less.

And your body?
During lockdown I’ve been trying to get physically fitter, which means going for runs and doing online classes, which I’ve found wonderful for both physical and mental resilience during this time. As for other forms of bodily stimulation... ah... can you ask me about sustainability again?

When do you feel most ‘you’?
When I’m in bed on Saturday mornings drinking coffee and reading a book.

You can follow Well Made Clothes on Instagram here or shop the site here.



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