An exhibition showing an alternative to fashion's wasteful ways opens at Willow Gallery this week as part of Sustainable Backyards month.

Artist Debra Laraman says her work around eco-fashion over the past eight years was the inspiration.

"What I'm trying to do through it is raise awareness so that people start to think twice about their fashion purchases and how they consume," she says.

The head of creative art and design at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua says eco-fashion doesn't just mean a hippie vibe and hemp fabrics.

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"It can still be a high fashion garment and it doesn't have to cost a fortune," she says.

"What I try and do is to show people that actually even if you've got no sewing skills whatsoever, you can still engage in this and create your own garments at a fraction of the cost and you can probably make some changes to the environmental and social impact that clothing has."

Debra says the fashion industry is not only the second-largest trade in the world after food, it's also the second-most polluting.

"If we can start to sort that out, we'll sort out a lot of other problems," she says.

"I've done research with [local] op-shops and the op-shops are telling me that between 50 and 90 per cent of what is donated to op-shops is unsaleable."

She says the Salvation Army op-shop in Dunedin is the only one that's admitted its landfill costs -- a whopping $8000 in one six-month period.

"Other shops are shipping it offshore and giving it to Tonga or Papua New Guinea, and they might not even be needing the product, [it] might not fit, might not be suitable. So it's a huge problem."

She says her exhibition is about alternatives to landfill and gives examples of what to do with that worn-out garment an op-shop wouldn't take.

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"I've taken a lot of the product that they can't sell, that they biff, and I've turned that into new product. And really the methods I've used are so easy that I can teach anyone to do it," she says.

Her exhibition includes a range of garments.

"The collections are sort of like themes. So I have one area where I've looked at eco-dyeing, so the garments that are in there are wool, so natural fibres, and they've only been dyed using the leaves that I've collected off my property," Debra says. "And then I've got another section there where I've transformed T-shirts, so you can transform T-shirts into a couple of garments. I'm not putting a lot of my menswear stuff in there, but there are some items that are menswear to womenswear."

The third section is craft, or "slow fashion" as Debra describes it.

She hopes her exhibition will inspire people to reconsider their wardrobe choices.

"I'm hoping that they'll go through and at least maybe come away with some other ideas too, and think that they could do things," she says. "You know, rethink that purchase, and also if you're throwing it away, think about that. Or think about whether or not you'd like to go and learn to make stuff."

Debra says neither she, nor the exhibition, are perfect examples of sustainability.

"I'm not an activist on sustainability, you know I try to raise awareness, but I would never say that I am that ideal person. That's not what I'm saying at all, I'm saying 'hey, there's some issues here and there's some alternatives here', and if we can start thinking about that, that's a really good thing," she says.

"But I'm not putting myself out there as the perfect model. And that's why I've not called it eco-fashion, I've called it 'An alternative approach'.

"I'm just saying this is another option, another way."

- RD4: An Alternative Approach joins a pop art and contemporary Maori art exhibition by BSW Warbrick at Creative Tauranga, on Willow St, until March 26.