how fashion became a weapon for the next generation of tasmanian activists

46 years after the world’s first Green political party was formed in the state, young creatives are still fighting to keep Tassie wild.

by Rob Inglis
16 November 2016, 1:15am

Photo of Gordon Dam, via Born Inbred.

"We're all going to be stolen from, for the profit of the few," Jamie Kirkpatrick, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at UTAS, tells the 400-strong crowd gathered in Hobart's Town Hall. It's November 8, and a public meeting has been adjourned to address the Hodgman government's proposed Tasmanian Planning Scheme, which will allow infrastructure to be developed in the state's national parks.

As Jamie delivers his searing address from the podium, the spirit of 1972 resonates through the neo-Renaissance auditorium. It was 46 years ago that concerned citizens gathered in this same room to discuss the Hydro-Electric Commission's plans to inundate Lake Pedder. On that day, the world's first Green political party was formed: the United Tasmania Group (UTG).

It's hardly surprising then that the Tasmanian capital remains fertile ground for environmentally progressive points-of-view. In 2016, that heritage of activism is especially alive in the young creatives who are employing fashion as a means of celebrating sustainability and biodiversity. No generation has ever been as conscious of the ethical ramifications of clothing consumption.

Among those gathered at the November 8 Town Hall meeting is illustrator/gardener Josh Pringle, who recently designed a poster to promote the event. Josh is the brains behind the Keep Tassie Wild patches, which can be seen embroidered on people's bags and jackets throughout Hobart. Along with the titular slogan, the patches depict a vivid red Tasmanian waratah flower against a turquoise backdrop. They're less a fashion statement, and more a call-to-arms.

"Getting people to interact and engage with the environment is the aim," Josh says. He donates 50 percent of the profits from the patches to The Wilderness Society and The Bob Brown Foundation. He only wishes he could afford to give more. "It's a labour of love," Josh tells i-D. "I don't want to commodify it."

Meanwhile, Ani Lee is also wary of commodifying her own personal passion project. Armed with a degree in environmental science from UC Berkeley, Ani moved to Sydney in 2013, and settled in West Hobart in January of this year. She was raised in an eco-conscious household in picturesque Carmel Valley, about two hours south of San Francisco.

Josh Pringle's 'Keep Tassie Wild' patches.

For Ani, Hobart is no less beautiful than her hometown. "There's water right there, with nice mountains behind it, and the proximity to both of those things feels very grounding to me," she says. "My parents kind of instilled in me the idea that, 'If you want to be able to enjoy those things, we're going to have to figure out a way to conserve the planet.'"

For her, that is Close Knit — the popular multimedia platform is a catchall for everything she does as a craftsperson and a consumer. It includes her blog, knitting workshops, Instagram account and podcast. She balances Close Knit with a part-time job at Made in Tasmania, a shop dealing in superfine merino wool. Holding onto her day job is a choice she made to ensure she isn't pressured to monetise Close Knit: "I didn't want my income, and my ability to be alive and be myself to be reliant on Close Knit doing well," she explains. Through our conversation she is careful to not present herself as some faultless eco-warrior, she's realistic about the complexities that are embedded with beliefs and lifestyle. "I'm human and I buy from fast fashion chains sometimes," Ani admits. "I hope there's value in me sharing with people the pitfalls and the things I find out along the way."

The complexities of balancing a living, doing right by the environment, and still having a good time are topics that weighs on many minds in the Town Hall. Many of those fighting for change are after all barely out of their teens. Maybe that's why UTAS zoology/geography student Nick Jarman, who runs streetwear brand Born Inbred, is so remarkable. Like Josh and Ani, he's less concerned with making money than he is with spreading eco-friendly positivity. "The point was never to be making waves," he tells i-D. "I'm more ambitious about seeing people rock the shit, and being stoked about it."

Nick's designs pay tribute to the state's diverse flora and fauna. His pro-Tassie sentiment can be seen as a reaction to the Hodgman government's tendency to view the island's national parks as money-spinners and nothing else. "The state of Tasmania just doesn't see the potential," Nick says. "It's all about capital, and growth and having more."

It's not hard to draw parallels between the Tasmanian Planning Scheme and the mainstream fashion industry at large, where money, not sustainability, is the priority. Lychandra Gieseman, proprietor of Hobart label SAAKA personally responds to the environmental impact of fast fashion culture by offering sustainable alternatives made from natural fibres like bamboo and hemp. Moving beyond fabric, she also holds audience-inclusive showings where she makes garments on the spot to help attendees better understand supply chains and the production behind their garments.

SAAKA designs, photo Amy Brown.

"Even before it becomes a garment with me, before I've got the fabric, it's already been shipped to several places around the world for production," Lychandra explains to i-D. "And then I have to decide if I'm going to ship it off somewhere else to be made, or if I'm just going to make it here."

She wants her customers to recognise fast fashion's carbon footprint. "I'd rather people come along and take that message away than buy something," she says. "I figured that I couldn't go into making a label purely for money. I couldn't do it if I didn't have a worthwhile moral."

Ethics over profits is the linking worldview shared by everyone at the November Town Hall meeting, and one which many Tasmanians wish their elected officials would adopt. Sitting in the crown, looking at the individuals committed to actioning change and education in their own lives, in the face of massive government opposition, the 70s don't feel that far away. Once more, the state government is preparing to sell its soul to the development industry, while young people are making sacrifices to prevent such a thing from happening again.

In 1972, mere months after the formation of the UTG, the Serpentine and Huon Rivers were dammed, flooding the original Lake Pedder. Today, things are eerily similar, as the government looks to eliminate so-called red tape in the hope that the line between industry and wilderness might be blurred further. They're not organised like the UTG were, but Josh, Ani, Nick and Lychandra know that the wardrobe is often a gateway to engaging young people in the conservationist cause. It's their hope that customers will assume the activist's mantle once the prices tag's been torn away.


Text Rob Inglis