Founders of Hong Kong label Tove & Libra share about sustainable fashion and upcycling
It's a well-known fact that fashion ranks as one of the most polluting industries around the world. Keeping this in mind, Tove & Libra was created by Ivan Tang and Christine Chow in 2018 with the aim of changing the industry from within. The fashion label, which retails exclusvely online, has a strong focus on sustainability, with up to 50 percent of their clothing made from upcycled deadstock fabric.
Intrigued, we caught up with the duo and picked their brains about Tove & Libra’s unique business model and what the future looks like for the eco-conscious label.
Could you tell us more about your background in apparel manufacturing?
Ivan Tang (IT): Our grandfathers came from Shanghai and started a garment and textiles manufacturing business in Hong Kong together half a century ago.
Christine Chow (CC): Although my father has never talked about wanting me to join the family business, he instilled in me an appreciation for well-made clothing, stressing quality over quantity.
How did working in the family business lead to Tove & Libra?
IT: The experience we accumulated has helped us in all aspects... from fabric and trim knowledge, to production expertise and even corporate social responsibility.
CC: Having connections to a factory has really helped, as it can be difficult to find one willing to work with a new label to produce in small quantities. We're also able to source for materials and develop samples more efficiently, which might be a challenge for young designers just starting out. The marketing aspect, however, is a steep learning curve for us.
Where does the name come from?
CC: “Tove” is a Danish name for “a strong woman”. We chose the name as we love the Scandinavian aesthetic — a minimalistic aesthetic, use of natural textures, and warm, inviting hues. Although neither of us are Librans, we chose the word as it strikes a balance. We want our label to be a balance of style and sustainability.
What's your design ethos for Tove & Libra?
CC: I drew inspiration from my own predicament of having a closet full of beautiful clothes but having nothing to wear because they were poorly made or difficult to pull off in real life. With Tove & Libra, we want to provide stylish, wearable designs in flattering fits and colours for the modern woman. On a broader level, we want to push for change within the industry and highlight issues such as ethical production, use of sustainable materials, and creating well-made, time-tested designs.
Sustainability has been the buzzword of late. What's your take on that?
CC: Hong Kong alone generates 300 tonnes of textile waste every single day. Our charity partners have shared that many donations they've received are brand new garments with tags still attached. As a society, we're buying more clothes than we need. It’s not that we shouldn’t have fun with fashion, but moderation is needed.
Why is sustainability at the core of Tove & Libra?
CC: Sustainability is an issue close to our hearts. Having worked in the fashion industry for a decade now, we understand the damage inflicted to the environment through negligence, malpractice, and ignorance. We find that it’s difficult for big companies to truly enable positive change as their instinct is to protect the bottom line. By starting our own brand, we hope to have a voice in the industry and show that it's possible to manufacture, purchase, and consume consciously and responsibly.
Where do you get your deadstock material from?
CC: We get them from our own stock or our partner fabric suppliers. In our manufacturing businesses, the customers work with large quantities. A small error in calculation would result in significant leftovers, which accumulates over time. Instead of throwing these away, we incorporate them into our collection. The limited colours, quantities, and compositions of the leftovers forces us to be creative in our design process.
How do you curate the deadstock fabrics then?
CC: We start with a colour palette for each season, then comb through our warehouse and our suppliers’ to look for possible options. Then, we have an overview of the collection. Our aim is to think of the needs of a woman and how to provide solutions. For example, our Pull-on Chino style has been popular, and customers often request for more colours and fabric weights, so I would narrow down the fabrics that would work for that particular style.
What happens to the deadstock fabrics you don’t use?
CC: With the leftovers in our warehouse, we make simple pieces once a year during factory downtime and donate them to Crossroads, an organisation that distributes apparel to needy communities.
Let's talk about your creative process.
CC: When we find a material we love, we try our best to use it. For example, we had a cotton-modal fabric available in three colours and created sample pants for the fall/winter collection. We tried two styles and it didn’t come together. In the end, we turned it into a skirt and it worked out for the better. We promote a simpler approach to our closet so we consciously make the decision not to design five jumpsuits or nine off-shoulder blouses in the same season even though it might be a trend. Conversely, we may decide on a design first before searching for suitable materials.
How do you ensure your fits are flattering for all women?
CC: We give ourselves time to get things right before production. We fit on real people, myself and my team included, and incorporate materials and designs that can accommodate different figures. Being a female designer, I'm more sensitive to how women judge themselves in what they wear and design around that perspective.
Do you think the brand can be fully produced using deadstock fabric?
CC: It would be fantastic to do that if we can find enough deadstock material. However, our approach to sustainability is not to limit ourselves.
What's the future like for Tove & Libra?
CC: We hope to win customers steadily by introducing a simpler, more conscious approach to their closet. We want to eventually expand Tove & Libra into a platform showcasing other similar-minded and independent Asian brands. We'll also focus on finding more physical retail opportunities, such as pop-up stores or stockists, where customers can have a first-hand experience with us.
Does this mean a larger retail presence in Singapore?
IT: We are certainly working towards that. But we want the brand to grow organically and authentically, so our expansion would be at a sustainable pace reflected by the demands of our customers.
Buro 24/7 Selection