A sight for sore| bored fast fashion eyes: a Top Ten of those who paved the way for more sustainability in the China Fashion game. From yak yarn yearnings to the turnings of unwanted clothes into the most burning wardrobe desires: Revolution in motion.
Sustainable fashion is now a growing wave in China as more and more designers focus on ethical sourcing and durable practices to appease shifting consumer values. Out with fast fashion and in with long-lasting, eco-friendly, responsibly produced clothing.
But, as they say, one must lead by example, thus the question beckons… Who were among the China(-based) pioneers, designers to brands, seeking to create and design some newly desired sustainable sass?
High Temper time to explore our Top Ten avant-guards of sustainability — in China Fashion.
Related — in more than one way
1. Fake Natoo
Founded in 2008 by designer Zhang Na (张娜 in Chinese), Fake Natoo is challenging the traditional notions of “fast fashion” in China. Zhang works with old, discarded clothing and donations, to create clothing gold out of unwanted materials. Her passion lies in exploring the connection between people, dress and the environment.
On top of this, Zhang’s eye-catching and chic clothes are produced by a “group of migrant women who lost their jobs”, ensuring the overall production process is sustainable and helpful in more than simply fashionable ways. To top things off, Zhang received the award for Most Creative Designer at Shanghai Fashion Week 2018.
2. The R Collective
A trailblazer in China’s sustainable fashion world, this Hong Kong startup is the brainchild of Michelle Bang. The R Collective takes fashion waste, particularly leftover luxury materials, and turns this into affordable clothing for the masses. Proving that fashion can be a force for good, The R Collective aims to “cultivate change and captivate consumers”. Sustainability is all about reducing waste and subsequently The R Collective tries to create a product people really want, and more importantly, will keep.
Temper time for a little eco-101, then. Did you know that wool is a naturally renewable fiber? Every year sheep produce a fleece, which is 100 percent biodegradable, sustainable and natural. The R Collective reduces its environmental impact by sourcing their upcycled luxury wool directly from the manufacturer. Nothing “meh” about that.
Related — in more than one way
Another brand that draws on natural fibers to make their clothes is collaborative mens- and womenswear brand, based between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, FFIXXED — founded in 2010 Australian creative directors Fiona Lau and Kain Picken. Their designs are not only sustainable, but can be worn in multiple ways. How very Miyake so?
A dress can be doubled into a skirt by folding it down, its straps worn across the body or lying flat on the sides. The choice is yours. The label describes itself as “ready to wear”, with the designs oozing laid back, casual and simple vibes, perfect for an everyday look. One that will stand the test of time.
Natural fibers, custom-developed fabrics, and personalized production techniques reside on the top of the designer agenda to physically touch upon issues of sustainability and ethical working practices.
One of the most effective ways to reduce plastic packaging is bagging yourself some reusable bags. BAGGU produces beautifully patterned, reusable bags, that state “Ethically Made in China” on the label. BAGGU products are constructed to minimize material waste and ensure high quality — even claiming each bag can hold up to 25 kg. Time to get your 物美 (wùměi| Wu Mart aka China’s Walmart) on and stack those eggs, we say.
Nevertheless, what exactly does “ethically made” mean? Well, the BAGGU factories inside China are audited yearly by an independent third party for occupational health and safety. These audits help ensure that humane work hours and wages are enforced and that the facilities are safe. Sure as eggs is eggs.
5. LOOP Swim
Eco-revolutionizing apparel. LOOP Swim (formerly known as FINCH) launched in 2014 with the global eco-conscious traveler in mind, creating pool to poolside wear made from repreve, the leading, most trusted, branded performance fiber made from recycled materials (including plastic bottles).
After 22 combined years of observing the waste in the mainstream fashion industry, founders Itee Soni (New Delhi) and Heather Kaye (New York) in 2010 took matters into their own hands, teamed up and launched a brand that ethically creates and manufactures swimwear in Shanghai, China.
Print design and sustainability at the core of the LOOP DNA, the designers maintain complete control of the fabrics, factories, dye, and packaging. LOOP is working tirelessly to clean up the fashion supply chain.
NuoMi (糯米| nuòmǐ in Chinese — aka “glutinous rice”) is a Shanghai luxury fashion line geared towards women and children. And real fashion gluttons. While they use natural fabrics where possible (soya, bamboo, cotton), their main focus lies on creating sustainable livelihoods for their workers. NuoMi trains and provides employment opportunities in the fashion industry to unskilled individuals coming from extreme poverty situations — orphans, the homeless,… NuoMi Shanghai aspires to be the first socially powered fashion brand to expand in China.
The brand’s aim is to train families to create both high-quality garments as well as a business that will continue to flourish in the future. Their clothes are simple, chic and timeless designs. It symbolizes feel good fashion, and not just in a fabric(ated) way.
Facebook: NuoMi Shanghai
Shokay is the world’s first socially responsible premium yak down brand. Not only is Shokay’s clothing line based off sustainable fibres, but they are actively contributing to the development of communities in western Tibet.
Carol Chyau in 2006, when she was about to graduate from Harvard Kennedy School, sought to promote socially responsible business ideals in Greater China. Travelling to South China’s Yunnan Province, Chyau spent time working directly with NGOs and the local government and was introduced to yak down for the first time. According to the Shokay website, “ideas were slowly taking shape and when she returned to Harvard, she knew that the best way to help catalyze the growth of social enterprises in China was to start one of her own.”
Spinning yarn, not wheels.
8. Ellie Kai
The brand Ellie Kai began in Hong Kong in 2011, founded by then expat Liz Hostetter. Unable to find well-fitting clothes in Hong Kong, Hostetter began working with a local tailor to create her own designs based on what she knew worked for her. This proved a lifetime’s lightbulb moment and she was inspired to start her own “made for you” brand.
The Ellie Kai website states, “our fabrics are sourced with transparency, we embrace a limited-waste model due to our focus on Made-to-Order and our employees are always treated fairly.” Always. Ellie Kai is now a global brand boasting with offices in Boston, Cape Cod, Hong Kong and China.
The ICICLE tagline reads, “comfortable sustainable, fashionable”. ICICLE carefully selects high quality materials with environmental awareness, creating clothes for the professional. Whether it’s for work or just life, their clothes forsake unnecessary embellishment and let the quality materials speak for themselves. Today, the brand boasts 200 stores and three factories across Mainland China, with 2,000 employees. And an anticipated retail turnover (for 2017) of 1.6 billion RMB.
Another eco-did you know: From the cultivation of silkworms to the inspection of the spinning and the water immersion process, Chinese silk fabric is created in more than 20 steps. First of all, the raw materials need to be carefully examined and selected. Sustainability requires solid foundations.
An oldie, but goodie — and an honorable Temper doozie. (Yes, we are swapping adjectives for nouns as we at Temper heart us some sub-par syntax.) Though perhaps not very active in recent years, we did not want to keep this gem from you. Beijing-based designer brand NEEMIC was brought to life by Amihan Zemp and Hans Martin Galliker in 2011. The brand offered a line of organic clothing based on the foundations of sustainability, fair work and creativity.
NEEMIC from the start opted for the use of sustainable materials, sourcing leftovers from the high-end fashion industry. From the softest mohair knits, to the warmest alpaca coat. Spinning cattle-like yarn proves an artisanal art in itself. The design: Simple, clean-cut, often oversized and casual.
Galliker also runs Uncover Lab, a sustainable platform promoting contemporary independent fashion and apparel labels,designer collections and lifestyle products from and in China. Most recently, he has been working on the launch of “Urban-Rural Bridge”, a platform that makes the overall China farming supply chain more efficient and assists individual farmers in achieving a more convenient daily routine.
Farm animals to fashion… The art of being artisanal.
When it comes to wearing and owning a sustainable wardrobe in China, it’s most definitely possible. With ethical Chinese brands and designers on the rise, the attitudes of young Chinese consumers are slowly, but surely, changing.
Long-known for its mass-produced clothing, the Middle Kingdom has now joined the worldwide sustainable clothing movement — and it’s proving to be a tale of love at first sight.
That’s not a wrap.
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