Design & Style

How bassike staged Australia’s first carbon-neutral fashion show.

17 August 2021

The label hit ‘Pause’ and set a new standard for sustainable fashion by rethinking the runway at Australian fashion week.

Design & Style

How bassike staged Australia’s first carbon-neutral fashion show.

17 August 2021

The label hit ‘Pause’ and set a new standard for sustainable fashion by rethinking the runway at Australian fashion week.

Models walk the bassike runway at Australian Fashion Week.

bassike’s presentation of its resort 2022 collection at fashion week was Australia’s first carbon-neutral runway show. Image: Supplied.

The default pace of the Afterpay Australian Fashion Week circuit is frenetic. This year, which marked a return to live shows, was no different – packed daily schedules and multiple brand debuts set the scene for a busy, albeit inspiring, few days in Sydney.

Which is perhaps why bassike’s presentation of its resort 2022 collection, aptly titled ‘Pause’, felt different. Not only was the show staged away from the fashion week hub, at Sydney studio The Venue, but upon being seated guests were instructed to turn off their phones and store them away in the black cotton bags provided. Next, the room was plunged into darkness for two minutes of silence. The idea was to provide attendees a moment of respite, an alternative sensory experience amidst the noise of fashion week.

As house lights soon faded up on the industrial space, alongside a soundtrack of thumping bass, models took to the runway in bassike’s signature elevated leisurewear, earth-toned prints, Japanese denim separates and body-hugging panelled dresses.

But there was something else different about this production, undetectable to the eye yet ground-breaking for the industry: ‘Pause’ signalled Australia’s first ever carbon-neutral runway show.

Rethinking the runway

“Minimising our impact on the planet has always been central to the bassike ethos, and we look to extend this thinking across everything that we do,” explains the brand’s co-founder Mary Lou Ryan, who is also its director of supply chain and sustainability. “Once we made the decision to present on the official schedule at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, it was a logical next step that we would look to do this in a socially and environmentally conscious way.”

bassike co-founders Mary Lou Ryan and Deborah Sams.

Sustainability has been a priority for bassike co-founders Mary Lou Ryan and Deborah Sams since the brand’s inception in 2006. Image: Bart Celestino.

Achieving carbon neutrality for a fashion show is no simple feat. bassike sought out carbon and energy management specialists, Pangolin Associates, to measure the emissions generated from its resort 2022 runway and subsequent see-now-buy-now winter 2021 presentation. Considerations included the travel of guests to and from the venue, electricity usage, catering, and waste management. Pangolin Associates then advised the brand on a carbon reduction and offset strategy.

The offsite location, for example, was selected for its eco credentials, including access to the Sydney Corporate Park’s 600-panel solar installation and water recycling system.

Throughout the process, bassike also supported two carbon abatement schemes: Forests Alive Tasmania and Brazil Amazon Rainforest REDD+ Projects. “Both [projects] reduce emissions traditionally caused by deforestation and degradation by promoting forest protection, implementation of conservation activities, scientific research and social inclusion within these communities,” Mary Lou says.

Leading the charge

It’s one of many steps bassike is taking towards shaping a greener industry; leading the charge for Australian designers looking to transform conversations about sustainable fashion into actions that create lasting change. 

Mary Lou says that she and co-founder Deborah Sams have been “doing the right thing” since they launched the bassike in 2006. “For a long time we didn’t think we needed to speak about it,” she says. “[But] in recent years, we’ve been more proactive in talking about the decisions we’ve made.”

Backstage at the bassike show at Australian fashion week

To achieve carbon neutrality for its resort 2022 runway, bassike sought out carbon and energy management specialists measured the emissions generated from bassike’s resort 2022 runway, including the travel of guests to and from the venue, electricity usage, catering, and waste management. Image: Supplied.

And there’s plenty to talk about. The brand has championed local manufacturing and the use of organic cotton since its inception, but Mary Lou says they also need to be realistic about the evolving nature of their sustainability journey. “We are aware that we’re not perfect and being sustainable is only ever a work in progress,” she says. “We’ve recently made the decision to take the organisation carbon neutral, including our head office, distribution centre and retail stores across New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.” 

The brand’s freight and logistics process has also undergone recent change. “[It’s] one of the largest contributors to our environmental footprint as a business, which is why we have worked with Greenfleet for a little while now to offset the delivery of all our e-commerce parcels.” Other sustainability initiatives across the business include the use of sustainable linen, Forest Stewardship Council-certified packaging, embracing reclaimed materials in retail spaces, and partnering with solar-powered facilities to produce bassike garments.

Important conversations

While many of these components may have fallen into the ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ category for shoppers in the past, Mary Lou says today’s consumers are highly engaged and better informed. “It’s been wonderful to see a shift over the years, with our bassike community now asking more questions about where things are sourced and how they are made,” she says. 

Despite the detrimental impacts of COVID-19, which continue to reverberate throughout the industry today, Mary Lou attributes the pandemic to increasing consumer interest in local manufacturing and sustainable efforts. “As supply chains halted around the world with border closures and lockdowns, we were very lucky to be able to work back with our local makers and continue to produce bassike garments safely and ethically with minimal disruption,” she says. “We all watched on as large cities around the world shut down and the environment was given time to heal – I don’t think consumers will ever shop without considering this impact again.” 

It’s one thing for a brand to change course when the path is illuminated by others who have walked it before. It’s quite another to pave the way. “To remain a leader you have to be constantly evaluating how you do things and always looking for improvement,” says Mary Lou. She points to the brand’s recently announced 2025 operational goals as an example, which include becoming a certified carbon-neutral organisation under the climate active program, achieving a carbon-neutral certification for bassike’s jersey program, continuous improvement across all bassike products to use the most sustainable and responsible option available, and reducing the company’s excess raw materials by 50 per cent. “We are currently on track to achieve these milestones and more,” she says.

Mary Lou’s advice for emerging designers or creatives looking to embrace more sustainable practices? One foot in front of the other: “You just have to start,” she says.

“It can feel very overwhelming at times with all the information to digest, and new technologies always evolving, but it all comes down to making one goal and changing one thing that you do, and the rest will follow.”

By Victoria Pearson