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Australian Fashion Laureate awards 2023: Kit X’s Kit Willow warns against ‘crazy’ overconsumption

Kit Willow of luxury brand Kit X cautioned against Australian fashion’s “crazy linear model of overconsumption” after receiving the sustainable designer award at the 2023 Australian Fashion Laureate.

“We’re consuming and we’re discarding, yet the price of raw materials are going up and the demand on virgin resources is far outweighing the supply, the Earth’s supply,” Willow said.

The annual laureate, held in Sydney on Thursday, is the only prize in Australia that awards both established and emerging brands. Judged by a panel of 30 industry experts, this year’s fashion designer award was given to Christopher Esber, who made his on-schedule debut at Paris fashion week last month.

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Willow has experimented with an alternative model in a pilot program in Melbourne called the Future from Waste Lab. At the lab, discarded clothing is washed and then repurposed into new garments. This creates “a circular link between the end of life and new material”. She said treating discarded fashion items as their own form of virgin material was “really the most sustainable way to be producing and sourcing” in fashion now.

Melanie Levis was concerned with a different kind of circularity, after accepting a lifetime achievement award on behalf of her father, Rod Levis. Seeing her father receive the same award once granted to Carla Zampatti was “just the most beautiful circle in the industry”, she said.

Rod Levis is the chairman of Cue Clothing, and Carla Zampatti was one of its earliest designers. The 81-year-old businessman, who began the high street brand in the youthquake of 1968, was not well enough to attend. But noting that Zampatti’s children, Alex Schuman and Bianca Spender, were also present, Melanie Levis said she felt proud to attend, “on behalf of the beginnings and of the pioneers in the industry”.

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On being raised in the fashion industry, Levis said: “I think at the time you take it for granted and then when you grow up as a teenager, you realise how cool your parents are.”

In addition to its high street retail presence, Cue is one of the largest remaining onshore manufacturers in Australia, although their ability to produce domestically has been waning in recent years. The group also encompasses Veronika Maine and luxury label Dion Lee.

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Alix Higgins, known for his second-skin silhouettes and bold, text-based prints, received the emerging designer award, while Deni Franscico of Ngali was awarded Indigenous designer of the year.

Lisa Havilah, CEO of the Powerhouse, was presented with the Carla Zampatti award for excellence in leadership by Zampatti’s son and daughter.