When did environmental action ever look so good?



The much loved catwalk presentation of Sustainable Couture collections went ahead this year in yesterday’s winter sunshine – a Covid-related decision whose good sense was appreciated as a possible outbreak in the Territory hung over our collective heads.

Cathy Tobin.

The reach of the event theme, One World – Many Threads, also had resonance for the immediate moment we are in, for never has the sense of our global connectedness been so acute as in these pandemic times.

This experience should help us see the bigger picture of the many other challenges facing the world, one of which – waste – is the particular focus of Sustainable Couture creators.

With their up-cycling of pre-worn garments and other used textiles, they want to tackle the waste and pollution impacts of the fashion industry.

That industry, Sunday’s audience was told, is “the second biggest polluter of our oceans, depleting non-renewable resources as well as using massive quantities of energy and chemicals”.

Change can come, in part, with individual choices to buy better quality and long-lasting clothing – a side benefit being that such garments lend themselves to later up-cycling – but also to “buy less, to wear preloved, and to wear it longer, to swap and share clothing, to repair and restore.

“There’s enough clothing already out there. Let’s use it and keep what already exists out of landfill!”, exhorted the event’s MC, Nicola Pitt.

Marg Johnson’s work.

Fourteen designers took part, with locals joined by visitors from Darwin, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, coming from “all walks of life with varying skills in dressmaking, textile design, pattern making, printing and hand stitching”. 

One thing though that they all had in common was the transformation of used clothing and textiles into unique handcrafted garments of  “circular fashion”.  

Collaborators from South Australia, Liz Wauchope and Naini Devi, repurposed saris into a dress (inspired by one Kate Middleton wore to a Royal Gala) with matching wrap; a triple-layered skirt; and a shirt.

Cathy Tobin, from Victoria, showed garments woven from recycled yarns of different plies, fibres and colours. She even weaves using strips made from cutting up discarded clothing. Her creations were a “Flame” dress with bag, a green dress with a detachable over-smock, and a scarf.

Franca Frederiksen, a co-founder of Sustainable Couture, focussed on clothing for children (at top), “merging a little of Nepal with a taste of Peru”. She worked with young creators themselves, who designed or chose the embellishments for the garments and applied them, stitch by stitch.

The foundations for their creations included a fine wool dressing gown that had belonged to Frederiksen’s mother, a genuine hand-woven Peruvian poncho, which inspired more ponchos fashioned from blankets, and a crocheted baby’s blanket from the ‘70s.

Another long-time local participant, Marg Johnson, this year enjoyed working with dyes, including some derived from central Australian plants. She recycled bed and table linen to create a pinafore, and a skirt and top, and upcycled garments by dying them with indigo and embellishing with stitching. All garments were matched by headpieces, Johnson’s specialty.

Queenslander Harriet Valckx Jakins (at left) took a sculptural approach to her wearable pieces, augmented by collage and used recycled tyre tube for accessories and embellishments.

A colourful bedspread and black bed sheet went a long way in the hands of Tahlia Rutherford, from Alice, making from them two lots of tops and bottoms, and embellishing a man’s shirt, itself recreated from two of his own pre-loved shirts.

Darwin visitor Peta Smith (below) recycled existing silk dresses with eco-dying, printing and hand painting.

A silver lining to the pandemic, at least for some, was more time to create, which is what Janie Andrews, also from Darwin, did during “isolation” last year, naming her collection, Lockdown Skirts. She worked with handprints, as well as other collaged features from pre-loved garments.

Ex-Alice and one of the Sustainable Couture originals, now living in Darwin, Carmel Ryan this year worked with Aboriginal-designed fabrics, all by Ikuntji Artists, for her glamorous dresses, lining them with recycled silks, and each matched with hand-crafted headpieces.

In all, there were more than enough ideas to take away from this year’s event, to help us think about how to double the number of times we wear our clothes: doing this would “almost halve the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions”, the organisers say. A step in the right direction within everyone’s reach.

Many of the treasures shown are available from the Pop-up shop in the Residency (see advertising).

ABOVE: Talia Rutherford. BELOW: Collective Women’s Group.











  1. A brilliant creative event with highly competitive carbon footprint.
    A testimony to the generosity of Alice organisers and volunteers and the spirit of our designers and makers.
    It doesn’t get any better than this and I’m surprised that a national sponsor hasn’t jumped on board.


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