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Sustainable and ethical fashion in Singapore: Tracy Phillips, Vanessa Caitlin, and Charlotte Mei de Drouas on how to dress conscientiously

Sustainable and ethical fashion in Singapore: Tracy Phillips, Vanessa Caitlin, and Charlotte Mei de Drouas on how to dress conscientiously

Food for thought

Text: Ryan Sng


Image: Instagram

Sustainable and ethical fashion are gaining more traction than ever in 2019 (thank heavens), but in a world where non-sustainable options predominate, it can be difficult knowing where to start when it comes to shopping and dressing conscientiously. We don't think that inexperience should deter us any, however, and to that end have asked our seasoned friends Tracy Phillips (@tracyjoyphillips), Vanessa Caitlin (@vcluxe), and Charlotte Mei de Drouas (@thecharlottemei) to share their tips for hopping on the sustainably-minded bandwagon in Singapore below. Quoth the eternally on-point Captain Planet: "the power is yours!"

Tracy Phillips, Ppurpose director and Buro. Singapore contributing editor

When did you first discover sustainable fashion?
Tracy Phillips (TP): I’ve been wearing vintage since I was a teenager, though at the time it was less about being sustainable, and more about the fact that I loved fashion from past eras and the affordability of vintage. It was in 2015, after watching The True Cost — a documentary about the impact of the fashion industry on people and the environment — that I really made steps to be more conscious about my sartorial choices.

How did learning more about sustainability change your relationship to fashion?
TP:
It made me a lot more picky and comfortable to be seen in the same things. I buy better, I buy less, and am less bothered about seasonal trends. I always ask myself if I’ll get at least 30 wears out of any item before I buy it.

What was the hardest part about adopting a more sustainable approach to dressing yourself?
TP:
It actually hasn’t been that hard. I think once you understand the impact and do some soul searching, making better choices comes quite naturally.

When it comes to adopting sustainable dressing habits, are there any complicating factors specific to Singapore?
TP:
I would love to shop vintage more, but we don’t have that many options. On the bright side, we have a slew of pre-loved designer and fashion rental sites to choose from.

What advice would you offer people seeking to shop more sustainably?
TP:
Buy better, and buy less. Shop from eco-conscious brands. Shop vintage and pre-loved clothing, rent clothes, or do wardrobe swaps with friends. Always look at what you have in your own wardrobe first. Failing all that, just think of landfills.

 

Vanessa Caitlin, photographer, director, and digital creative producer

When did you first discover sustainable fashion?
Vanessa Caitlin (VC):
I don’t think there was a specific moment of discovery. It was a gradual, almost subconscious transition to sustainably shopping and dressing.

How did learning more about sustainability change your relationship to fashion?
VC:
I shopped a lot less, educated myself on how to be more sustainable, and as a result became more mindful when making purchases or sourcing fabric.

What was the hardest part about adopting a more sustainable approach to dressing yourself? Was any complicating factor specific to Singapore
VC:
This isn't just applicable to fashion, but I think it’s especially tough to lead a 100% sustainable lifestyle in Asia, where straws, plastic lids, and plastic bags are used for just about everything. My lifestyle is still not as sustainable as I’d like to be. But I’ve found small solutions like repeating outfits (I used to be a serial outfit non-repeater — is that even a thing? Lol) and maintaining a fairly dark, mostly black wardrobe; that helps to minimise small stains that you may need to use pollutant chemicals to remove.

Who is getting sustainability ‘right’ in fashion these days?
VC:
Honestly, I haven’t been keeping up with trends. I’ve adopted a specific look that works for my lifestyle right now. That said, if I want to buy eco-friendly clothes online, I check out Know the Origin every now and then.

What advice would you offer people seeking to shop more sustainably?
VC:
Consume less!

 

Charlotte Mei de Drouas, host, presenter, and nutritionist

When did you first discover sustainable fashion?
Charlotte Mei de Drouas (CMD):
I first discovered sustainable fashion when I was at a fair three years ago, which had a number of small artisanal brands displaying their pieces. I was initially attracted to their clothes, but after hearing about the ‘why’ behind them, I decided to learn more about the impact of the fashion industry, and how to shop more consciously. We consumers are effectively voting with our dollar!

How did learning more about sustainability change your relationship to fashion?
CMD:
I hated the fashion industry for a while, and simultaneously hated the fact that I loved fashion so much. It took a lot of research to fully understand what sustainable and ethical fashion meant, what it means to me, and what I can do about it. In the beginning, it was hard fighting temptation whenever I saw new items in store windows every week, but thinking about who made the clothes and how the pieces were manufactured made it easy to walk away.

How do you shop and dress sustainably?
CMD:
I make a conscious effort to prolong the lifespan of the clothes I currently own. I always think twice before deciding that I’m ‘bored’ with a particular piece, or I swap it at The Fashion Pulpit where I can earn points for other pieces in the store. I also rent clothes for special occasions instead of buying them, and have conversations with the brands I work with to see how we can work together towards better, more sustainable practices.

What was the hardest part about adopting a more sustainable approach to dressing yourself? Was any complicating factor specific to Singapore?
CMD:
I don’t feel that there is a lack of sustainable fashion brands in Singapore, except maybe for men, but hopefully that will change soon! There’s always room for more sustainable brands, but I’d rather see more fast fashion brands reevaluate their practices than see new players pop up.

Who is getting sustainability ‘right’ in fashion these days?
CMD:
I love Matter Prints, Zerrin, Maisha Concept, and Baliza. I used to find it difficult to buy basics which are sustainably and ethically made, but Zerrin has filled that gap this year with the brands they have brought in. Matter Prints, meanwhile, commits to creating pieces that are friendly to all sizes, and also inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community, which I really appreciate!

More brands need to be sustainable (i.e. they need to use sustainable materials, operate with a more circular business model to create less waste, and reduce their carbon footprint) and ethical (i.e. they need to be mindful of human/workers’ rights). I don’t expect all brands to get there today, as I understand a lot of business factors come into play; but I hope to see them start the conversation, be honest about where they currently stand, and to slowly work towards those goals.

What advice would you offer people seeking to shop more sustainably?
CMD:
Remember how our parents used to ask us: “do you just want it, or do you really need it”? Think twice before shopping for something. How much wardrobe mileage does it have, and can it be worn multiple ways? You can also check out The Fashion Pulpit; I’ve found great items there without having to spend a dollar! Sustainable fashion can be affordable.

Finally, know your fabrics. This has totally transformed the way I shop. I stay away from synthetic fibres as much as I can now, and understand textile certifications; this also helps you understand the the price tag, and why $3 bikinis shouldn’t exist.

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