As a former magazine journalist, Emily Lush loves storytelling in all its forms—words, photography, design, material culture. Storyteller and writer, Emily Lush has her hand in a number of projects. From a partner in The Textile Atlas, writer and communications consultant, to freelance work in craft and maker-oriented platforms.
Tell us a little more about yourself.
I’m a writer and communications consultant from Brisbane, Australia. I’m involved in a range of projects—but the common thread throughout my work is storytelling.
I started my career writing for Australia’s first sustainable fashion magazine, Peppermint. That’s where I was introduced to the world of ethical fashion and social enterprise. Not long after, I travelled to Southeast Asia for the first time and fell in love with textiles and handicrafts. I realised how much I wanted to live and work in the region, so I went back to university to study Communication for Social Change in the hope of finding a job in international development.
After I graduated, I spent six months living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Since then, I’ve worked with social enterprises and NGOs in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam—mainly in communications and fundraising. Whenever possible, I try to work with organisations that have a focus on women.
I love travelling and I’m always visiting workshops and studios in my spare time. As a result of that, I’ve also been able to work on some really cool side projects. I started up the Cambodia chapter of Fashion Revolution, I’m a partner in The Textile Atlas, and I freelance for a number of craft and maker-oriented organisations, including the World Fair Trade Organization – Asia. I also do travel and lifestyle writing for magazines and websites.
Recently I’ve been focusing on copywriting and communications strategy for brands and organisations, mainly in the Fair Trade space. I also run my own travel blog, which has a focus on responsible tourism and cultural immersion.
You highlight a variety of issues such as fair trade, heritage craft, women’s entrepreneurship what do you think is the commonality between these topics?
The way I see it, these are cross-cutting issues. The artisan sector is the second-largest employer of women in developing countries after agriculture. It holds huge potential for job creation and women-led development. Fair trade is one of many toolsets available to try and ensure the sector evolves in a way that benefits everyone involved.
More than that, textiles and handicrafts and the processes and skills involved in their production have immense cultural value, but often aren’t valued as such. In many instances, there is scope to reinstall value in heritage crafts to foster more opportunities for entrepreneurship.
There are many aspects to this, and my work touches on some of them. It starts with understanding and appreciating heritage, which is why I think it’s important to collect and document and analyse material culture. Cultures and traditions are constantly evolving, so this is an ongoing process. Storytelling is one way to try and grasp change and also understand heritage from an artisan or community perspective. On another level, it’s about connecting producers with makers to create new opportunities for artisans. There are lots of promising opportunities for this in the fashion sector. Building consumer awareness around the clothes we buy and increasing demand for these kinds of products is also important. Again, storytelling can be an excellent way to apply positive pressure to brands and consumers alike.
How do you think fashion can play a part in leading change in these topics?
The sheer size of the global fashion industry makes it a hugely influential force. Big brands especially have the ability to set standards that can eventually spread across the sector.
I’ve never been one to encourage boycotting ‘fast fashion’—I’m much more of an advocate for systematic change. Having lived in Cambodia and Vietnam, two countries with huge garment-producing sectors, I’ve seen firsthand the kind of opportunities the fashion industry offers, especially to young women from rural areas. There is so much potential to maximise that positive impact while also protecting workers’ rights and valuing their skills and workmanship.
What is your hope for the “fashion industry” in the future?
I’ve been writing about ethical fashion for almost a decade. I’m so encouraged by the changes I’ve seen in that time, and especially by the public groundswell around ethical and slow fashion—particularly here in Australia. There’s still a long way to go, so I certainly hope the momentum keeps up.
But more than that, I hope the fashion industry takes on a leadership role in bringing other sectors, for example home décor, up to standard. The psychology of ‘fast fashion’ goes far beyond clothes, as do the ill-effects of over-consumption and over-production.
Do you identify as a modern nomad?
I always wanted to work overseas, but I never imagined I could be a ‘digital nomad’! I’m lucky that my job allows me to work remotely; but I’m not sure that I fully identify with the nomadic lifestyle. I love the freedom that comes with travelling long-term and being able to set my own daily schedule. But at the same time, I like routine and I’m a total homebody! That’s one of the reasons why I prefer slow travel and spending as long as possible in one place rather than moving around a lot. I don’t really feel the need to be constantly on the move; but I’m certainly very grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in different environments and cultures.
How do you think this movement around the globe has shaped your perspective?
For the most part it’s been positive. I’ve learned so much and met so many amazing people in both the expat and traveller communities. It is easy to get carried away, however—especially nowadays with social media. There is pressure to keep up with your peers and keep moving towards ‘bigger and better things’.
There is a bit of overlap there with my work as well. As different places and cultures become more accessible to people, it’s important to build awareness around sustainable and responsible travel. I’ve seen some really exciting developments around this lately—especially in the blogging community—and I’m really excited to see where that leads. I think textiles and crafts and social enterprise more broadly certainly have a role to play.
What does Change Beyond Textiles mean to you?
For me, ‘textiles’ is a place where so many different issues and possibilities dovetail. As objects—beautiful, tactile, fascinating objects—textiles are the perfect departure point for conversations and ultimately actions around a whole range of pressing issues.
We are inspired by Emily’s passion for sustainability in craft and the artisan sector are proud to have her as Fieldtesters, a group of inspiring individuals that test MATTER products in their everyday journeys of passion, to help us improve durability and design. Emily is wearing the Easy Dhoti + Falcon Dusk in Size 1.