"I think people subconsciously know it’s a lie but it helps them sleep at night ... and I’m like NO! Think critically! Dig deeper!"
Lisa wears the NOTHING TEE from AW18
Tell me about what you do? You lecture in both fashion and sustainability, how did you end up there?

I’ve been working in academia as a fashion lecturer for about 10 years now and prior to that I was working in the fashion industry for around 25 years as a designer and patternmaker. Obviously I was employed to teach fashion design –and those are the core skills I have– but over the years I have become interested in and increasingly aware of sustainability issues. Luckily being in academia meant that I could essentially “reinvent” myself. So I've been able to switch half of my teaching into the area of design for sustainability; not just for fashion students, the course is open to any art and design student.

How do those two teaching areas overlap? And is there one you prefer to teach more?

I sort of have an equal love for both, you know, I still enjoy beautiful fashion; I see things and think ‘oh that’s amazing’ or 'wow that's really creative' and I enjoy it on that level but I'm really not a fan of the fast-fashion industry at all, in fact I’m really cynical about it.

Why’s that?

I'm very cynical about the greenwashing that happens, you know, the whole fast-fashion industry and the big super-brands that are saying that they're doing this, that and the other, and it’s like yeah but what are you really doing? You dig a bit deeper, and you think no, no, no they're not really doing much at all and it’s just marketing spin. Of course they still want you to buy, buy, buy. It’s a token thing, because they see that sustainable or ethical fashion is “trendy” or could be used to make their brands look better.

Do you think the public falls for it?

Yeah, definitely. I think people subconsciously know it’s a lie but it helps them sleep at night. I even have lots of students writing about the supposedly good things these companies are doing, and I’m like NO! Think critically! Dig deeper!

Yeah, I noticed “Child Free Labour” banners all over a fast-fashion store the other day and I think because of my education too I was critical and cynical. I couldn’t help but think “Yeah but that’s the absolute bare-minimum you can do! Like hooray for you, you don’t employee 10-year-olds”

Yup, that’s exactly it. They pull-out something token and let their marketing teams work their magic.

So your passion for sustainability, where did that come from? Has that always been part of your values?

Yeah, I think so. I was thinking about it recently and I can remember as far back as high school a teacher telling us how plastics don’t biodegrade and they’ll be around for hundreds of years. That really got me thinking about the environment and pollution. Fast-forward about 10 years or something like that, and I’m a young adult hearing about the nuclear threat and New Zealand’s stance on nuclear-free. But really nothing much happened, we didn’t have a nuclear war. And I as a naive young person thought “that whole pollution thing, that never really happened! We seem to be alright! I think it’s only been recently with the internet, when you can really actually see what's happening. You can see the birds cut open with their stomachs full of plastic and that kind of thing.

Lisa wears the LYCAN COAT from AW19
Do you find that social media is helping accelerate awareness?

I think mostly it does. It’s slowly dripping down to the general population. But I guess I’m cynical about that too… the downside is that algorithms will feed you what you already believe in anyway, and you follow like-minded people who share the same views. So if you are ignorant you can easily get stuck in that wind tunnel! But yeah I guess the whole plastic awareness thing has been helped by social media.

Is plastic a big concern for you?

Haha, everything is! But seriously my biggest concern is probably climate change because that is going effect everything for everybody. When I teach sustainability I don’t just teach “over-consumption and pollution is bad”; it’s also about economics and other factors. I teach the 4 E’s: Environment, Energy, Equity and Economics. They’re all really interlinked and what we’re doing wrong as a species is just focussing on economics; it comes down to the bottom line and that bottom line is money. Businesses want more money and they think everyday people want more money and more stuff and businesses have decided to exploit that and then we have unsustainable industries like fast-fashion or palm oil or whatever.

I did a small business course recently and they talked about “multiple bottom lines”; ethics and environment coming into play, is that what you mean?

Yeah! Sustainability is often talked about in terms of three things: people, planet and profit; then we’ve added a fourth one which is energy because the reason that we as a society have been able to consume and make as much stuff as we have is because of cheap energy, right? So we discovered oil, found out how to get it out of the ground, used it and boom. We could make so many machines. We make stuff and buy stuff and have a better standard of living and this is the economic cycle that is the basis of the capitalist consumption model... and that’s great and all... if you have endless resources! But we don’t.

Are there days you feel positive about the way things are going? There is a renewed interest in the environment and sustainability.

Yes! It’s usually when I read too much stuff –which you do as an academic!– that my positivity tends to fade. I’m trying to convince my adult son that he needs to be aware of this because he’s kind of like “We’ll all be facing it together so I’ll start dealing with it when governments do, what can I do”. But the ‘What can I really do?’ attitude doesn’t really cut it because everyone has to do their little bit. If everyone has that attitude we have a groundswell. Reducing plastic bags and plastic straws just won’t cut it, we need to do a lot more.

What is the solution?

Well some people think technology is going to save us, like some sci-fi movie. I think we all just need to adjust our lifestyles, live more simply and more considered. I think things will change, but it won’t be an overnight thing. It’ll take time. To me that’s the positive. A lot of people are starting to ask “What right do us humans have that we’re allowed to do this damage to the World and to all of the other species. It’s really wrong, the way we are living and eating and consuming. I think we will have to start living in a different way. At the end of the day I think art and music will be really vital when this societal shift does happen, because the focus won’t be on fast cars or fancy things, it’ll be about enjoying the simpler things. As a species we are inherently driven to find beauty and joy in life. I just want us to find it in more wholesome ways.

Photos: Sacha Stejko

Styling: Enisa Kartal