Women Who Inspire : Liz Sunshine on her relationship with clothes, circular fashion and her inspiration

She’s a woman with an innate style radar. She has a truly mesmerising way of capturing interesting people and beautiful places and has a personality that’s as warm as her quirky surname. Her name is Liz Sunshine. 

Perhaps Liz is best known for her blog Street Smith where she exhibits a portfolio of work synonymous with the genre of street-style photography. As a fashion photographer, she has worked with some of today’s most influential brands, both locally and internationally, and truly has her finger on the pulse. 

But for us, what we find the most inspiring about Liz is her ability to engage her audience and open up a meaningful dialogue around the complexities of consuming consciously. 

It was an honour to sit down with Liz and have a wide-ranging conversation about her creative process, what keeps her inspired, our relationship with clothes, and circular fashion. 

Liz Sunshine

We’re long-time fans of your digital style portfolio ‘Street Smith’. What subjects are you typically drawn to when capturing street style photography? 

Thank you - most of my subjects are captured on instinct. 

For many years I was thought to be a critic. If I didn’t choose an outfit to photograph, maybe it wasn’t ‘good enough’ - but I’m an observer…. I think all people have interesting personal style and should be celebrated. Until now, most of my subjects have been or wanted to be connected to fashion; they use clothes to express who they are and potentially relate to the ideals of fashion and trends. 

Moving forward, I’m looking to explore other tribes of personal style, as my main interest lies in the documenting of clothes - not fashion. 

I hope that one day I’ll look back on my images from a historical perspective and remember this time through the clothes we were wearing. 

What can our clothes say about what we value? Who we are? And also the world we live in? What will our children see when they look at pictures from now and see how we dress? A different outfit for every day - closets brimming with new clothes that we have little or no connection to? 

I want to help people have a more positive relationship to clothes and believe that celebrating inspirational everyday style can help us dress more confidently, value and connect to our clothes more, and to the planet.

We’ve been drawn to your aesthetic for quite some time now. Do you think living in Melbourne influences the way you dress? 

More than anything, my profession and connection to fashion have influenced my style. It’s usual for a photographer to adopt an all-black uniform - it’s unrecognisable, professional and consistent. When I am out on the streets, I want to connect with people who have different personal styles, so my outfits take on a quieter approach. I also have a client list that understands and values luxury, as have I for most of my life, so it’s been a key approach to invest in quality pieces with quiet branding that I wear all the time. 

Liz Sunshine 3

On weekends I wear colour. I want my children to see a more relaxed and open version of me. I want them to have a healthy relationship with clothes, and colour is an important part of growth and exploration. 

You’re currently undergoing some research about how people consume fashion. Can you tell us a little more about that? 

At the beginning of this year, I realised I didn’t have a great relationship with clothes. 

Figuring out what to wear occupied my thoughts continuously, and many of my feelings about getting dressed were negative. This led to my current research project, which explores our relationship with clothes, trying to understand how clothes make us feel - observing my behaviour and the people around me while creating an online conversation. 

Through these recent conversations, I’ve discovered that I was never taught how to shop, that I often dress for other people, and one of my strong childhood narratives was that ‘beauty is unimportant’. 

I’ve also had fascinating social conversations and believe that we (Australians) collectively look to other countries to inspire our philosophy of dressing and question if we should develop our own. That many of us have little confidence in choosing what to wear. That standing out is often frowned upon and is not always safe. And that people of influence in traditional and social media (including myself) have for the most part been telling us that having new clothes for every occasion is important. 

Australia is the second largest consumer and producer of textile waste in the world. I believe we can all be part of the solution.

I believe in the power, beauty and opportunity in clothes, but not at the cost of other people or the planet. 

What are your tips for those wanting to embark on a more sustainable lifestyle? 

For myself, I keep trying to remember it’s not a race. I’ve learnt recently through personal tracking and observation that I am about an average consumer - that means I bring about 56 new items into my wardrobe a year. For some people, that is a considerable amount; for others, it doesn’t feel like a lot. 

This year I’ve been trying all sorts of things to curve my consumption. I’ve taken regular time off shopping, I’ve done daily surveys for extended periods, I’ve cleansed my wardrobe and thought about what I need and what I wear, as well as the fabric, the origin, the process of how things are made - and possibly the most important one to me - how long I’ll own the clothes I’m purchasing and what the benchmarks of a good purchase are… but it’s really hard. 

For me, I want to have a clear goal before the end of the year about reducing that number to about half, and I’m really happy with that timeline and intention - I want it to be a sustainable goal. A lifestyle change. A new way of being. 

Are there any books or films that you can share with our readers that you found informative on the topic of fashion sustainability? 

If you read one book this year, make it Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas. 

*Pro-conscious consumer tip - try borrowing it from the local library or a friend. 

Liz Sunshine on Circular Fashion

How would you define fast fashion? 

The definition I agree with the most resulted from a submission from one of my Q&As. 

“All clothing, whether purchased from the Op shop, High St, or luxury, can be labelled fast fashion because of how we buy and use it. Choosing carefully and caring for our clothes should always be considered.”

The beauty in this definition is that you are in complete control. How many clothes I buy and how long I keep them is my measure of being a conscious consumer. 

*I also look at fabric composition (for end of life), origin, and pre-loved. 

How are you trying to create a more considered wardrobe? 

By spending more time thinking in the purchasing phase and less time getting dressed in the morning… I also believe this is what the most stylish women in the world do. They think about the fit, fabric and intention of their clothes - then they always look good. 

What does circular fashion mean to you?

While we wait for the fashion economy to become circular (where products can be recycled and reused continuously), I think using progressive thinking is the most important way to support change - buy less, repair, resell or buy within a store like The Harmonic and then recycle. 

Is there a special item in your wardrobe that you could never part with?

The most sentimental dress I own is the one I wore the night I met Dean - I was 21, at the Saint in St Kilda, talking to strangers like any country kid does - and we stumbled across each other. That meeting changed my life and has allowed me to grow into the person I am today.

That dress will always remind me that the people we choose to have in our lives are the most important decisions we can make. 

**For visual reference, it is a vintage mid-length halter dress. Buttery yellow with bright, sparsely places hibiscus flowers and worn with pink metallic heels - a very far cry from the woman he wakes up to now. 

Where would you love to see the Australian fashion industry in 10 years?

A confident leader within our shores - we are often so concerned with what the rest of the world thinks we forget to honour our intentions and values.

I hope we become leaders in the environmental cleanup of textile waste. I want us to look to ourselves and our personal history for ideas for influence when getting dressed and value our clothes more - if we can’t be proud of where we come from, then maybe we can be proud of our acknowledgment and growth. 

I want us to celebrate our differences and diversity; we do this so well in food - why can’t we do this in fashion? 

And I’d like to see a focus on community. There are people in Australia who don’t have essential clothes and people who have too many clothes. How can we rebalance this? 

Liz Sunshine 5

What advice would you give young females who have watched your career trajectory and would love to follow in your footsteps?

Be curious and never stop learning.

You can follow Liz's journey and research on Instagram and also connect with her agency Street Smith.