‘If you are not addressing climate change, you will be irrelevant’

Action on climate … Designer Kit Willow, of KitX, with her children Misia and Rocco.Credit:Steven Siewert

It's not often that a chat with a fashion designer begins with a dissertation about the plight of the world's bee population. But Kit Willow, of KitX, sees herself as more of a "creative activist".

And she's put her heart on her sleeve, selling out of her "Save the bees" and "Endangered" T-shirts numerous times, the latter featuring the face of a tiger. They have been so popular, she's about to release them in children's sizes. For Willow, activism can begin at any age.

"It’s been great to see the pick-up in consumer engagement with [the T-shirts]," she says. "There’s obviously a lot of people ready to wear it and spread the message."

But back to the bees. "One-third of the bee population has died globally in the past five years," she said. "Without bees, we can’t pollinate flowers and have food. We forget how interdependent we are on each other as species."

Although she's in London this week for Fashion Week, Willow will down tools on Friday to march in the Global Climate Strike, and she's encouraging people to let their children miss school to do the same. Willow is also allowing her staff to go, even if it means closing her flagship store in Sydney's Paddington for a couple of hours.

She says fashion, as one of the world's highest polluting industries, has an "enormous responsibility" to lead efforts to combat climate change through more responsible sourcing and consumption.

"The industry is fuelled on creativity as much as business and commerce; we have a huge role to play," she says.

Five years ago, when she founded her sustainable and ethical brand, "there wasn’t really anyone talking about it, except Stella McCartney … in such a short period of time … it’s become a huge discussion point. I’m confident it’s hitting at every level of fashion now."

Sustainability has become so central to fashion that "in five or 10 years – if you [brands] are not addressing it and have a strategy to source consciously and tread lightly on the planet’s resources, you will be irrelevant, you will feel irrelevant."

So why design and manufacture new goods at all, if the ideal way to help the planet is to radically slow consumption?

"I question that, too, but there is a desire for newness and to enhance your day-to-day … there’s an emotional connection with fashion," she says. "To be able to do it in a way that’s consciously sourced and to support the farmers and producers not using chemicals … and workers and trades through fair living wages … and down to consumer education … that satisfies me."

Last year, Willow was part of a trip to Heron Island with the Climate Council and scientist Tim Flannery that she says changed her life. She said the most shocking thing was being presented with a "health check" on the planet.

"I was like, 'Oh my god', it’s like, 'Ring the siren!' This is an emergency."

On Friday, the biggest crowds in the country are expected to march from Melbourne's Treasury Gardens from 2pm, while in Sydney, the march will leave the Domain at 12 noon.

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