Sustainability and Blackspot in Fashion and Textiles at RMIT

Across the School, finishing touches are have been put on graduate collections and our students are getting ready for a well-earned rest. In the garden, blackspot and aphids have plagued the roses, but the leafy greens in the VegePods are thriving.

RMIT is committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Recently, this commitment was rewarded at the 2018 Australian Green Gown Awards, where the university won the ‘Continuous Improvement – Institutional Change’ prize. The RMIT Sustainability Committee was also highly commended in the category of ‘Outstanding Leadership Team.’ These are remarkable achievements that recognise the work of the university to embed sustainability throughout its operations in order to create impact through practice and meaningful change. Congratulations!

In light of this dedication and these awards, we wanted to find out more about the School of Fashion and Textiles programs supporting these Goals and contributing to the university’s sustainability objectives.


Textile Design

The Bachelor of Arts (Textile Design) program includes multiple approaches to sustainability. First-year Textile Practice & Theory includes a group project called Re.Constructed, which aims to introduce students to working collectively to generate a communal understanding of sustainable textile design. Second-year Digital Textile Design and the Marketplace asks students to design corporate gift items for the School of Fashion and Textiles. Part of the brief includes having each student propose an element of sustainability – whether in production, service or afterlife. Third-year students are working across a number of sustainability areas, working with natural dyes and producing handmade, emotionally-durable designs.

Third year student Lauren Stringini is producing beautiful work with botanical prints and natural dyes. She was kind enough to share some of her work with us.


Lauren Stringini – Dress and Tote Bag

Lauren has a passion for sustainable textile practices and began exploring botanical colours as a second year student working on a speculative materials project in which she collaborated with Deakin University to experiment with recycled pigments. In her third year, she has continued experimentation, working with avocado dye and developing ways to transform waste into product. In September, she presented her work at the Natural Dye Conference at RMIT.

For her final folio, Lauren has continued her exploration of floral imagery and design, producing purpose-driven work to challenge the fast fashion industry. Of her designs, she notes: “Each type of flower was chosen as a dedication to a special woman within my life. There is a focus on creating ’emotionally durable’ textiles that people will want to care for and pass on.”

Fellow third-year student Jemma Lobwein has also been exploring sustainable and slow design in wearable textiles for her final collection, Poetic Processes.

Jemma writes: “Combining traditional elements with contemporary aesthetics, Poetic Processes aims to foster relationships with textiles while addressing the need for conscious efforts in designing for fashion. Prints depict botanical impressions with large and real-sized flowers appearing on silk, linen and cotton fabrics coloured with natural dyes from madder root, avocado seed and marigold. Poetic Processes explores the crossover between crafted processes and inspiration taken from nature; the collection aims to add emotional value to each garment by cherishing the handmade.”


“In the theatre of everyday life, wardrobes seem to afford a moment of introspection- bringing out self doubt, worries about ageing, stage fright, the surfacing of repressed feelings, reviewing of secrets, reminiscence, or anticipations. … wardrobes are the space for a series of mundane repetitive activities that are not only under the sociological radar, but also under that of popular culture….”  (Skov, 2011)

Third year Bachelor of Fashion (Design)(Honours) studio YOURDROBE18 takes as its central premise the repetitive activities that take place in and around our wardrobes… choosing an outfit, getting dressed, accessorising… The studio, led by Kate Sala and Jo Cramer, asks students to consider their methods for fashion practice, particularly why, how and what they chose to create. The studio work results in the creation of an efficient, customised collection of garments enhancing student knowledge of clothing and consumption habits, whilst also providing a more diverse and holistic appreciation of the actions, relationships and social processes associated with clothing. Ultimately, YOURDROBE18 provides students with the means to create more sustainable futures for clothes.

In addition to Kate and Jo, the students were lucky enough to have guest speakers Sigrid McCarthy (ECA, Intent Journal) presenting a two-hour in-class workshop discussing “Social Processes”, “Relationships” with clothing/wardrobe, and Sandya Lang (Nudie Jeans) presenting a one-hour Skype discussing “Actions, Relationships” with clothing. They also attended a curated talk/walk through the Super 70’s Exhibition at Ripponlea Estate with Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna, Curator of the National Trust of Australia.

We asked student Georgia Zulian (who won the Fashion Futures: Sustainability award at the So, Sow, Sew event on Monday 12 November) about her experiences of the studio.

“I have always been interested in sustainable fashion, particularly through recycled materiality, so I was instantly drawn to the key concepts of this studio: physical clothing, sustainability and the ‘wardrobe’.  I was curious to embark on an investigative journey into my relationship with clothing and sustainability as well as learning more about emotionally durable design. The studio gave me the opportunity to step back from regular fashion design and production so as to better understand emotional design and my own clothing habits.

My collection came together through the process of collaging, recycling and repurposing. This process is a natural response to working with found items and existing garments, as I can preserve those pieces, whilst creating new ideas. The collection is inspired by my own wardrobe, clothing and dressing habits, so the colours, patterns and silhouettes are derived from pieces that already exist in my wardrobe. I tend to wear black, browns and navy’s – mostly dark colours – and this collection reflects that.

I am amazed at all the possibilities and opportunities there are for designers and makers to create in a sustainable way. For me, this studio taught me how important materiality is in design. I feel like I am making a difference when I am considerate of the materials I use in my work. After using emotionally durable design as a key design foundation during this studio, I have learnt that the meaning people attach to clothes is as equally important as the function of the clothes.”

Artisan in the Anthropocene

This third year Bachelor of Fashion (Design)(Honours) studio, co-led by Dr Georgia McCorkill and Shazia Bano, reflects on how artisans are influenced by and responding to issues raised by the anthropogenic age – the era of significant human impact on the earth’s ecosystems. Georgia’s creative research practice explores sustainable design strategies applicable to bespoke contexts, focusing on upcyling as well as alternative models of fashion consumption such as sharing. With Shazia, she has developed the studio to focus on the artisanal method of embellishment. Students have engaged a group of artisans in Pakistan to contemporise traditional embellishment techniques in the expression of their own design ideas.

The use of embellishment has strongly influenced the approach to dealing with the topic of the anthropocene, with most students choosing to depict environmental issues through embellishment motif. For example, student Calvin Wong drew on the approach of guest practitioner, jeweller and artist Pennie Jagiello to observe and collect both plastic and natural items from the marine environment to incorporate into embroideries. He sent items as disparate as plastic bubble wrap and shells to Pakistan to bead into his designs.

Calvin writes: “As nature conjoins to waste, it becomes a fusion of both natural and artificial object. This has led me to ask the question: ‘Will future generations be able to tell the difference between what is artificial and what is natural when they visit the beach?’ The scattering of artificial objects along the beach may become normalized in the future. I felt this was something very important to address in my embellishment design. When my first samples came back I felt confident to push the design complexity further by challenging myself and the artisans by using some uncommon materials and objects to embellish. Using found objects and materials that the artisans would be unfamiliar working with this pushed their mastery of techniques in embellishment further but also introduced the artisans to the process of upcycling.”

Other students in the class included Rayah Shapiro, an exchange student from Parsons, and Katherine Nolan.

Rayah brought together research into oceans and marine debris from another environmental science course she has been studying and expressed this through handmade swimwear. She noted: “By limiting the use of machinery and maximising the use of hand skills within this project, I am slowing down the process of a garment that is generally very plain and simple. Utilizing the artisanal methods of weaving and crochet, I am using these techniques as starting point for my future within slow fashion designs.”

Katherine has been grappling with upcycling methods of garment construction using odd-shaped remnant pieces. She sent these remnants to Pakistan to be embellished onto, incorporating handmade resin beads she created that contain small pieces of natural and artificial waste. She writes: “Moving forward, I hope to continue growing my artisanal work in re-purposing waste fabrics in the context of evening wear. I am also interesting in continuing experimentation with resin as a method of preserving plant life amongst the plastic that kills our ecosystems.”  

Master of Fashion Entrepreneurship

Throughout the two-year Master of Fashion Entrepreneurship program there is a focus on sustainable design and production. In the first semester ‘Sustainable Product Design and Development for Fashion’ studio, the project brief focussed on the RMIT Campus Store, exploring opportunities to make their product range more sustainable.

Students from this course presented to the Sustainability Committee in August, illustrating elements of the garment lifecycle with a focus on the RMIT hoodie. Key suggestions for increased sustainability included: manufacture in Australia; training of retail staff to educate customers on sustainable garment options; development of care labels to improve sustainable use of garment; promotion of end-of-life solutions. The presentation was very positively received.

In the second semester iteration of this program, students were briefed to work with RMIT Sports to develop sustainable alternatives to the current uniforms and merchandise. Student Kelly Zhu, got in touch from China to tell us a bit more about the project and its outcomes.

“The recommendations we made were based on the Product Life Cycle of RMIT Sports apparel, from conceptualisation, to final usage. I worked specifically with the “Wet Processing” and “Retail” stages. It is often difficult to incorporate sustainability into wet processing of textiles (e.g. dying and printing) because conventional wet processing tends to be the dirtiest part of the industry, generating a lot of harmful discharge and consuming abundant energy. Digital printing is much more energy efficient and does not include the same sort of toxic discharge. For this reason, one of my main recommendations was to use digital print processing instead of conventional dying and printing. However, the high cost of digital printing might be a barrier to this, even if the volume of RMIT Sport garments is small.

My main recommendation for the “Retail” stage is for the development of an apparel leasing service called “RMIT Sports Library.” Customers can rent garments from a RMIT self-service machine and directly return the used garments without cleaning. RMIT Sports can outsource the commercial laundry company and utilise the library transport resource to carry apparel. This retail service incorporates sustainability into the whole process, from transport, warehouse, labour and energy cost to student wellbeing.

This course has changed the way I think about fashion sustainability. By learning about the lifecycle of garments I now think more deeply about the sustainability of shopping and buying new clothes.”

‘Brunswick Plant’ Garden News – Arrival of the hose!

November is Buath Gurru Grass Flowering Season. The weather is warm, and it is often raining. Kangaroo Grass and is flowering. Buliyong (bats) are catching insects in flight. The Orion constellation is setting in the western sky around sunrise.

With the Chair of the Gardening Committee Dr Pia Interlandi at the helm, the Brunswick Plant is off to the an excellent start. A watering roster has been developed to see the plants through the hot months to come. The leafy green plants in the VegePods are doing particularly well, with the beetroot, rainbow chard and peppermint thriving.

The most exciting new addition is a garden hose! This has made watering much easier and the garden committee members much happier. Next up on the garden agenda is harvesting, dye experimentation – in the capable hands of Dani Andree and Verity Prideaux – and an afternoon tea event to welcome you into the space. Come to the garden for a scone and a cup of peppermint tea at 4pm on Monday 19th November to help us with the very first harvest. See you there!


Garden Committee Chair Pia Interlandi watering the VegePods in the RMIT Natural Dye Garden.


The next instalment of the Houndstooth will feature some of the final year events from across the School. Stay tuned!

– Compiled by Harriette Richards, Research Assistant for the School of Fashion and Textiles