We’ve searched and we searched, but as it stands there aren’t many official studies or data on Singapore’s sustainable fashion industry. So, I decided to write this post about ethical fashion in Singapore based mostly on my personal experience living here for the past year. Being part of the NUS and Yale-NUS College community has given me the opportunity to witness firsthand the changes happening in the sustainable fashion scene among the younger generation in Singapore. Ready for the insights? Here’s what I’ve learned:
Singapore's second hand scene is growing, but not mainstream
Throughout my first year on this island, I learned a lot about the thrift shopping scene from fellow eco-conscious friends and had the chance to go to NUS’s eco fair last year. I’ve been to the flea market at Lucky Plaza and rummaged through piles and piles of the vendors’ old clothes, jostling my way through crowds of people looking for a second-hand bargain.
However, my local friends have told me that the thrifting scene is not as prominent in Singapore as it is in other countries, although many people of the younger generation (mainly broke college kids like me!) are gradually trying to change the mindset of the older generation who consider secondhand clothes as “dirty” and “cheap”.
There are also great initiatives like clothes swapping - spearheaded by The Fashion Pulpit - and clothing rental companies like Style Theory and Rentadella who are making pre-loved glamorous and accessible.
Most local fashion brands lack transparency
After doing research into popular local fashion brands like Love Bonito, Our Second Nature and Beyond the Vines, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of information about how they source their materials or how their clothes are made.
Also, the majority of them still use synthetic materials like polyester in their fabric (blended or others, essentially, you’re wearing plastic). Although they can come at a cheaper price tag, the fabrics release microplastics into the sea every time you wash it and won't biodegrade once discarded.
But there IS a buzzing sustainable fashion scene
This is promising! Local brands in Singapore that strive for sustainability, however, clearly indicate so on their website (check out labels like Source Collections, Esse and Matter Prints — great work) but otherwise, it’s difficult to learn about their production processes because it’s rarely discussed on the internet and in real life.
One positive thing though is that there are more and more local sustainable brands appearing — considerably more than what I’m used to back home in Japan. While my home country has a thriving thrift shopping and vintage scene, they fall short when it comes to designers advocating sustainability.
Thankfully, there's global organisations like Fashion Revolution that are pushing for more transparency in the industry. They have a volunteer team in Singapore (follow Fashion Revolution SG!) who are doing their part to raise awareness through content and events.
Singapore has too many malls and A LOT of fast-fashion
Our little red dot has an abundance of large shopping malls (although maybe the word “abundance” is an understatement!) Shopping centres are easily accessible here since they're basically inside every big MRT station and you can finish all your shopping in a one-stop journey.
The stores in these malls are mostly large fast-fashion retailers like Cotton On and H&M, not a sustainable form of fashion. Local brands tend to be tucked away in suburban areas and hipster neighbourhoods, requiring multiple trips to try on different styles at different stores.
This automatically causes self-selection in the overall demography of people that shop at local sustainable brands: people who are invested in the sustainable fashion movement and those that can afford the time and money to travel to different parts of Singapore. Finding sustainable brands online can also be a hassle when you don’t have the time since all the brands are not collected under a single online platform (although here at ZERRIN we’ve tried to make the job easier for you!)
So, like every other country, Singapore’s sustainable fashion scene has both its shortcomings and its strengths. While there are a growing number of local sustainable brands, there still aren't many and it’s difficult to find good second hand clothes.
But if you are already interested in sustainable fashion and you are willing to spend the time and money to invest in the movement, there's a solution to accommodate this feature of Singapore’s sustainable fashion scene. You can kill two birds with one stone by buying from Singaporean brands that push for sustainability: you can support locally and also advocate for a global mission to live more consciously. Win win!
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