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5 Southeast Asian Startups Keeping Sustainability In Fashion

Asia Pacific startups that are leading the way in enabling responsible fashion choices

By Sharon Lewis

Fast fashion is going out of vogue. The flourishing industry, dominated by retail mammoths Zara and H&M, is now competing with cheaper price tags from smaller local brands, the rise of online shopping, the need to change lines every few weeks, and most importantly, questions of sustainability.

“The repercussions of fast fashion are immense. [It] is both produced and consumed fast and hence, produced more. The practice of fast fashion in unethical, because nothing used in the process is natural, from the dying, to the mixture in cloth and so on,” Kundan Ahuja, Founder of cinema and fashion content portal Bombay Balloon, tells Jumpstart.

The industry came under public scrutiny after innumerable reports emerged of poor labor practices in textile factories in emerging economies, abuse of environmental resources, and reckless overproduction resulting in excessive waste.

In a 2019 interview, Kering Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs Marie-Claire Daveu said, “In 2019, we have seen a radical shift in attention towards sustainability at large, and the climate crisis in particular. The diagnosis is now clear for everyone: we need to accelerate the pace of change and work together.”

Sustainable fashion lets people dress à la mode in clothing made using environment-friendly materials, responsible manufacturing and supply chain processes, and through upcycling garments.

People are paying more attention to making responsible fashion statements, and even big brands are following suit. Sustainability is the new trend – here are five Southeast Asian startups riding the wave.

The R Collective, Hong Kong

Formerly known as BYT, this sustainable designer brand was launched in 2017 by Redress, a Hong Kong-based non-profit organization that works towards reducing industrial fashion waste.

The brand was co-founded by Christina Dean, who also founded Redress, and Michelle Bang, Redress’ previous Chief Operating Officer. As a sustainable luxury fashion startup, BYT upcycles textile waste into retail clothing collections.

In one of its more recent collaborations, the brand partnered with fashion clothing aggregator NET-A-PORTER for the exclusive launch of a Kevin Germanier collection, and is also partnering with the Redress Design Award 2020, a global sustainable fashion design competition.

Style Theory, Singapore

Founded in 2016 by Raena Lim and Christopher Halim, Style Theory is a women’s clothing and bag rental platform based out of Singapore.

The startup offers a range of subscription plans, and users can rent a ‘box’ of between three to five pieces at a time. Users can rent another box after the items have been returned.

The startup raised $15 million in a Series B in December last year. The round was led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, and saw participation from Alpha JWC Ventures and the Paradise Group as well. Style Theory also opened its first flagship store at Orchard Road, Singapore, where shoppers can rent from 300 designer clothes and bags.

Sui, India

Sui, a green fashion brand founded by Mahima Gujral in 2018 and based in New Delhi, uses a ‘slow fashion’ business model that involves made-to-order production and eco-friendly material.

The brand uses hemp, Global Organic Textile Standard certified and organic cotton, and herbal dyes for their clothing lines. It also uses vendor-sourced recycled clothing fabric and recycled packaging.

Using a community-based approach, Sui has partnered with Indian non-governmental organizations Pins and Needles, WomenWeave, and Bagru Textiles, and also launched a SUI x ReefWatch campaign with ReefWatch Marine Conservation last year.

Remake Hub, China

Shanghai-based Remake Hub is a recycling and upcycling social enterprise with offices in China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. The startup focuses on controlling waste pollution through recycling technology.

Remake Hub takes a triple bottom line approach with its business, and some of its products include recycled yarn and a Fashion From Waste collection. Under its most recent partnership, ReefCycle, Remake Hub helped recycle fishing nets into sunglasses.

Sissi Chao, who founded the startup in 2018, is a United Nations Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, a My World 2030 Advocate, and a PWC China NextGen Club member.

Forth Co., Philippines

Forth Co. is an online fashion retail platform that focuses on ‘slow, ethical & circular fashion.’ The startup’s aim is to promote sustainable and responsible fashion choices.

The platform acts as an aggregator for socially and environmentally conscious Filipino brands such as Mori & Co., Mimi Clothing, and Gugma Artisan. Last year, it held several workshops on sustainable styling and upcycling.

More recently, Forth Co. collaborated with Fashion Revolution Philippines and Ladies, Wine, and Design Manila for an online panel discussion called Conscious Label: She Creates the Future of Fashion.

Sustainable fashion is picking up pace, as several seasons of Fashion Revolution Week and Redress Design Awards demonstrate. But fast fashion still dominates the market due to its considerable economies of scale, global brand presence, and accessibility advantages.

Eco-friendly and ethical fashion products are on the higher end of the price spectrum as compared to more accessible fast retail brands, who leverage the benefits of production at scale and vast supply chain networks.

Ahuja points out that the current slow-moving shift in consumer mindset is key to turning the situation around.

He says, “As a consumer, the day we realize how hard hitting fast fashion is and that sustainable fashion, though more expensive, lasts longer- that will be a day in the history of fashion.”

Header image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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