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As one of the world’s most sought-after voices on sustainability, Clare Press is the presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast, former Australian Vogue's Sustainability Editor and author of three books, not to mention being on Copenhagen Fashion Week’s Sustainability Advisory Board and one of Global Fashion Agenda’s Content Experts. We caught up with her to find out her thoughts on sustainability in the fashion world and how she believes fashion done right can be a transformative force for good.

Sustainability is a useful umbrella term to describe mindfully made fashion...

“It’s the cool thing to say now that you don’t think sustainability really means anything, or that there’s no such thing as truly ‘sustainable fashion’. Maybe we will prefer ‘responsible fashion’ or even ‘regenerative fashion’ moving forward. But I still think sustainability is a useful umbrella term to describe fashion that’s been mindfully made with consideration for people and planet. Then you can get into the complexity of exactly how…”

We need to know about the negative impacts of fashion in order to make a difference...

“I adore fashion but don’t believe clothes can be beautiful if they are made in an ugly way. After the Rana Plaza factory disaster, I started to look at supply chains. Until then, I’d never really thought about them. When I realised how little people (including myself) knew about the negative social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, I wanted to make a difference. To expose the issues, present more sustainable alternatives, and be part of the positive change.”

I love how my podcast Wardrobe Crisis brings me to the frontline of fashion and sustainability...

“The podcast is now in its fourth series with over 120 guests. Until COVID, I only recorded face-to-face. I might chat with Sinead Burke at London Fashion Week. Or Amber Valetta in Milan. I once recorded on the Great Barrier Reef during the annual coral spawning. When I interviewed Baroness Lola Young about modern slavery in fashion’s supply chains, she said to come over to her office - it was in the House of Lords. But the standout has to be a more recent one, Episode 121, made Laos with Article 22 and the Mines Advisory Group. Article 22 is a social enterprise, artisan-made jewellery brand that upcycles scrap metal left over from The Secret War in Laos. The designers took me to meet some of the artisans they work with - survivors of the terrible legacy of unexploded bombs that still litter Laos. I was lucky enough to go out into the field with the Mines Advisory Group to see how they clear the land, and I actually detonate a bomb on air.”

Fashion done right can be a tool for transformative change...

“Ethically produced fashion means economic empowerment, keeping heritage craft traditions alive and story-telling on an epic scale. Fashion done right can be a tool for transformative change.”

It’s all about finding fashion that reflects what you care about...

“It can seem intimidating to be talking about things like modern slavery or biodiversity loss in the same breath as fashion, but once you find your way in, it very quickly becomes fascinating. I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, but can’t think what I wrote about before I became obsessed with sustainability. What colours were in for winter, maybe? Sorry, but I want more! I’m interested in how fashion intersects with politics, social justice, science, nature. I remember when Stella McCartney said, I think it was on stage at Business of Fashion Voices, that the sustainability conversation is the only one she’s really interested in having. That really resonated with me.

In terms of practical advice, I would say: start with your values. If you are passionate about the environment, for example, you might look into fabrics - choose organic or recycled materials. Or maybe you’re more into supporting BIPOC-owned businesses, or regenerative agriculture or veganism. It’s all about finding fashion that reflects what you care about.”

We have lost our connection, once so deep, with how our clothes are made...

“It’s only fairly recently that fashion has sped up so. Perhaps the last 20 years. Fast fashion’s rise coincided with production moving offshore and, in the process, we lost that connection, once so deep, with how our clothes are made. Your grandparents will remember the phrase ‘Sunday best’ - it meant your good set of clothes, the ones you wore on special occasions. Ordinary people simply did not have wardrobes bulging with insane amounts of clothes they never wore. Which brings us to our collective ‘wardrobe crisis’ - we’re buying clothes to throw away. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, every second the equivalent of 1 garbage truck’s worth of clothing and textiles enters landfill or is incinerated. That’s mad. My work is about finding balance again, reconnecting us to the people and processes behind our clothes.”

You know what I watch the most to understand the context for sustainable fashion? The news...

“Also on my must read list is - Elizabeth Paton’s coverage in the New York Times. I think Safia Minney is fab and always recommend her book Slave to Fashion. Also, Elizabeth L. Cline’s Overdressed. For a different angle, try Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh. I cannot wait for my dear friend Orsola de Castro (co-founder of Fashion Revolution)’s book about upcycling, Loved Clothes Last. I think it’s due out next year.

You know what I watch the most to understand the context for sustainable fashion? The news. Sustainable fashion doesn’t exist in isolation. That’s what I try to do with the podcast - pull all the threads together and make sense where fashion fits in. Excitingly, I can reveal that I’ve just started work on my own sustainable fashion documentary - watch this space!”

Being Australian Vogue's sustainability editor was a fun ride for two years

“I love Vogue and used to work at the Aussie edition as a features director. They asked me to write something for a sustainability themed issue in 2018 so I pitched the idea having a dedicated sustainability editor. They agreed and it was a fun ride for two years. I left in March to focus on my own platform.”

I love the Irish countryside and how green it is.

“I grew up in the UK, and only moved to Australia as an adult. My first visit to Dublin, and to Brown Thomas actually, was in my last year of high school. I had an Irish boyfriend with family in Dublin and we came over on holiday. What I mostly remember about that trip was trying to keep up with his cousins in the pub. I love the city, but I also love the Irish countryside and how green it is. I’m from Yorkshire; we understand rain.I know more about Irish fashion designers than I do writers or artists. Richard Malone is one of my favourites - his approach to sustainability is super inspiring.

You can hear more from Clare Press on her amazing podcast The Wardrobe Crisis.

Image credit: Photograph of Clare Press by Dvora.


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