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This year’s VAMFF National Designer Award celebrates sustainability and gender fluidity

Image via VAMFF
Words by Bianca O’Neill

Changing for the better.

The fashion industry learnt this morning that Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival is changing – and it’s taking the consumer along for the ride.

If 2018’s prize winner in the coveted VAMFF National Designer Award said something about the state of formal dressing (won by activewear brand P.E Nation), then this year’s winners speak to something more important: the maturing of the fashion industry into one that can look at worldwide social trends and turn them into legitimate fashion movements.

In an announcement this morning at David Jones’ Bourke Street Melbourne store, menswear designer Christian Kimber took out the big prize – while locally manufactured brand Arnsdorf was awarded the brand new ‘Honourable Mention’ for showing extensive initiative in the area of sustainability.

However, it wasn’t just the winners that displayed a new, more sustainable focus for the fashion festival which, let’s be honest, is all about shopping; it was the nominees too. In a show of rich transparency, VAMFF CEO Graeme Lewsey walked the walk by asking each designer nominated about their commitment to sustainability.

“Sustainability is such an important issue now, for us we literally make one garment to order,” said MNDATORY’s Brian Huynh. “[It means] zero stock surplus, minimising fabric wastage – [we are] just trying to cut back.”

Blair Archibald, a menswear designer nominated this year, used repurposed materials in his construction.

Similarly, Sydney surf brand Double Rainbouu has started constructing boardshorts and swimwear from recycled materials – but as they explain, it’s not as easy as it looks.

“The sustainability journey of our brand has been a little bit slow… we’ve been trying to bring that into our swim program almost since the beginning, but we were having a lot of setbacks with the suppliers. In the end, we just up and changed to a whole new factory, and a whole new supplier, and a whole new country as well. Which is a big move, but we’re happy.”

In a field that was dominated by menswear designers, it was also interesting to note that the award embraced designers like Chris Ran Lin, who champions gender fluidity. In fact, although he is technically a menswear designer, he counts up to 80 per cent of his customers as women.

“My clients are all females… For ladies who feel comfortable to wear my garments, I guess it’s [representative of] the whole of society changing. Male power [is shifting]. There’s no point saying ‘I just have to wear a pretty dress.’”

These inspirational and talented young designers speak to a changing industry that is, at its very best, experiencing teething problems while adapting to new ways of manufacturing, marketing and connecting with the consumer.

“It’s not easy,” said Lewsey, in his chat to Double Rainbouu. “But having the mindset, hopefully we can make change.”

Here, here.

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