Conscious. Responsible. Zero waste. These are just some of the buzzwords related to the concept of sustainability. We speak to three women who are all about spreading the eco word, and they share how they are defining and pursuing their causes.
Jasmine models a dress from zero waste fashion label Starting Point, founded in 2019 by Lasalle student Sandy Ong. The collection, Square Conversation, ensures that no fabric goes to waste in the production process.
Jasmine’s first reaction to the term “zero waste” was like everyone else’s: “How is it even possible to create absolutely zero waste when everything around us is wrapped in plastic or packaging?”
But after learning about the 5Rs (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot) principle from Zero Waste Malaysia, a non-governmental organisation she volunteered with while based in Malaysia from 2015 to 2019, Jasmine realised that zero waste is not about producing absolutely no waste at all. Rather, it is about “challenging the way we enjoy our daily lives without the need to consume more and create unnecessary waste as an end result”.
Since embarking on a zero waste lifestyle from 2018, Jasmine has found the first R in the sequence to be most effective. “I’ve eliminated a lot of waste coming into my life simply by refusing them in the first place,” she says. “By the time you reach the third R (Reuse), you will have nothing left to recycle.” She even added three more Rs to the philosophy: repair, repurpose and regift.
Once a former fashion It girl (she was co-founder of now-defunct label Fru Fru & Tigerlily), Jasmine got creative with finding alternatives to suit her lifestyle. “I stopped buying new fashion items completely and started wearing only what I already owned,” she said. She even gave up disposable pads for a reusable menstrual cup.
The activism part came naturally after she got into the groove of this new lifestyle. Her proudest accomplishment was when she was invited to curate a segment for an Earth Weekend event in Malaysia in April 2019. It involved spreading awareness about Fashion Pollution through talks, fashion swops, upcycling workshops, and fashion shows featuring notable eco warriors.
Working with Malaysian social enterprise Biji-Biji Initiative, Jasmine designed an art installation Trash Tank at the 12th Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival in October 2019 to increase awareness on plastic waste.
She now owns secondhand store Blackmarket Preloved in Malaysia that aims to circulate good fashion pieces within the community. Designed like a walk-in wardrobe, the store offers preloved items without price tags and operates on a pay-as-you-wish basis. This “low commitment” business allows Jasmine to continue operating the store even while she’s in Singapore. “The future of sustainable fashion is to stop buying new clothes. If you really must, buy second hand, pay for rental services or swop.”
Despite her ferocity in championing this lifestyle, she stresses the importance of empathy. “I don’t blame or shame other people’s waste. #ecoanxiety is very real. I do my best to make the zero waste lifestyle positive, and share my journey through social media, events, talks, workshops, and create a ripple effect from there.”
In the realm of art, textile artist Agatha Lee is known for her intricate embroidery work that explores making the invisible visible. Agatha, who is self-taught, has exhibited at a slew of local and international events such as Singapore Design Week 2018, The Festival of Quilts (UK) and The Knitting & Stitching Show (London, Dublin, Harrogate). But Agatha isn’t just an artist – she’s also known as an environmental advocate.
Born in England but now based in Singapore, Agatha uses what she can find within her home and surroundings, upcycling them in her art work. And her eco-conscious work is typically in the line-up of green events held here, including Green Is the New Black (2017), an annual multi-day festival that hopes to inspire people to live more consciously through talks and exhibitions, and Steeped Strong (2019), an all-women art show for artists to discuss environmental and political issues through their work.
Using a combination of free motion embroidery, rust dyeing, and wet felting, Agatha created Bowls Of Fragility for the Steeped Strong art exhibition (2019) that depicted how human consumption habits were harmful to coral reefs.
The thoughtfulness of her work is largely influenced by her previous career as an environmental policy maker, which has enabled her to “bridge the gap between the environment, nature, and art”, and look deeper into intersecting issues, like waste in fashion. This also led her to co-found The Green Collective SG, an eco-conscious multi-label concept store in Funan Mall.
The store offers an array of lifestyle and fashion products that are curated based on the 17 United Nation Sustainable Development Goals, which cover a range of sustainable issues from climate action to responsible consumption. Every brand selected adheres to two or more of these goals.
Agatha aims to make the invisible, such as weeds, visible through her art. Her latest work Finding Space (2020) features tiny weeds called Japanese Mazus that were found in her neighbourhood.
Envisioned to function like a “kampung”, the store employs a unique business model based on sharing principles. “Each brand contributes in some form or another, such as by being a cashier, providing digital marketing services, or any other expertise they can bring in order to help the Collective run smoothly,” says Agatha.
Agatha also spreads her message through community-based installations and workshops. One of her most popular workshops is an upcycling one, where participants bring in a few pieces of their own clothing and learn how to give them a new lease on life, so that they can last longer. The 4.5-hour session costs $95 and is held at Fashion Makerspace at Chinatown Complex. She has run this workshop for seven years, with the next one taking place on July 5, 2020.
For Mahima Gujral, responsibility is not so much a means to an end as it is a guiding principle. Mahima is founder of Singapore-based sustainable fashion label Sui (“needle” in Hindi), known for its feminine wearable pieces. The label aims to be thoughtful about all the key steps of the value chain by assessing them and making sure that each impact is positive.
Mahima begins by working with small craft communities in Delhi. Sharing her factory space with her family’s 55-year-old clothing business in India, she takes pride in the culture that every person who works for the company is like family. “We wanted to carry those values forward to Sui when it came to worker welfare,” she says.
This translates to the clothes through the use of sustainable fabrics (such as hemp and recycled tencel), herbal dyes and practicing a zero-waste policy where fabric scraps are upcycled into accessories. The label operates mainly on a made-to-order basis to further reduce waste.
“It goes beyond being organic or using sustainable fabrics, it is a lifestyle – and it has to be embedded in the heart and soul of what you do,” says Mahima.
Sui not only educates consumers about responsible fashion through social media and blog posts, it has also made its threads accessible through its affordable entry line, Basic-ally Sui. Every piece retails under $100 – thanks to the use of dead stock fabrics that do not require dyeing, which helps bring down the production cost.
Mahima stresses that internal communication is key to educating the public. “A year ago, we switched to herbal dyes from azo-free dyes as herbal dyes are extremely low in impact and good for your skin too. We had to educate our team, who had difficulties in getting the right shade, on why the switch was necessary,” she shares. “Educating ourselves first helps us communicate with customers to make more responsible decisions.”
Sui handmakes its pieces as much as possible, right down to the intricate embroidery of nature motifs, such as orchids and hibiscuses. Available online at sg.wearesui.com
This article was first published in Her World’s June issue.