Dedicated to being environmentally conscious, Danielle Champagne walks the walk and talks the talks when it comes to green living. She runs one of Singapore’s first sustainable fashion labels, Zhai, which is famous for its use of natural fabrics like bamboo, linen and Tencel. We chat to her about her entrepreneurial journey, conscious living and her tips for shopping more mindfully.
Have you always worked in fashion?
I studied art and design and have a teaching degree. For the majority of my career, I’ve worked as a primary school teacher in various countries, teaching mostly younger kids from kindergarten level to grade three. My family and I have moved around quite a bit for the last eighteen years, and teaching has thankfully been an easy career to move with. Somehow, however, when we moved to Singapore, I knew I wanted to return to my artistic side.
What prompted you to take over the business in 2013?
Having lived in various countries, some with quite a harsh climate, I had developed irritating skin issues that prompted me to research into natural fibres. Once I tried, tested and discovered the incredible benefits of these fabrics for my personal health, I became addicted and passionate about spreading the word about them!
This journey of discovery into sustainable materials also opened my eyes to the dirty side of the fashion industry, and my attitude changed completely. When I discovered the Zhai brand, it truly matched my values and that’s why I jumped at the opportunity to take it over.
Tell us more about the natural fabrics you use.
Our collections are produced in bamboo, linen and Tencel, and the fabrics are sourced in Indonesia, Malaysia and China; wherever they are developed. We ensure that the distance is not too far from Singapore in order to minimise our carbon footprint as a business.
To reduce my own footprint, I try to do as much research as possible online and reach out to previous clients of suppliers. I’ve sourced my best suppliers through references and word of mouth. In the past, I’ve avoided some suppliers whose reputations were not so in line with their publicly declared practices.
Zhai has become well known for its luxuriously soft bamboo fabric. Where and how do you source and certify the material?
Our main bamboo fabric supplier is located in China, and they hold the patent to transform the grass into the fabric. Our bamboo material comes from forests which are FSC certified and use a closed-loop system to produce. All the fabric is Oeko-Tex certified. I export to Japan and work with a third party laboratory there which tests and confirms the fabric content for me. Some suppliers visit me in Singapore and I request for fabric content certificates. Sometimes, however, even these are not available as I like to work with very small family-owned fabric manufacturers, like the ones in India, who simply don’t have the money to spend on getting certified.
“Our bamboo material comes from forests which are FSC certified, and use a closed-loop system to produce. All the fabric is Oeko-Tex certified.”
Why is a dedication to sustainability important to you?
Personally, my long-standing skin issues led to such a transformation. After seeing the benefits of living a more green lifestyle, I changed my attitude towards my purchases, and now it’s a part of who I am. I see Zhai as a huge, green recycled umbrella under which my whole concept keeps evolving. Be it supporting local, using natural fabrics, sourcing upcycled or recycled products, avoiding animal products, supporting family-owned businesses or fair trade practices, everything comes under this beautiful cover which matches my values.
What challenges have you faced to grow your brand?
Our main challenge is visibility. Publicity costs a fortune and being a green company we focus on events and online. There is a lot of competition online, though, and it’s challenging to spread the word about the wonderful information and products we have. Singapore being Singapore, the rent is also steep so our good intentions to promote a greener world come at quite a cost!
What changes have you noticed in shoppers response to sustainable fashion?
People are more interested than before, but I’d say there’s only been a marginal improvement. Most of our loyal customers are eco-conscious, and these stories are better told in our boutiques where they can try on the clothes. Nothing compares to the look and feel of bamboo clothing. So we find our customers still prefer visiting our physical store.
What keeps you motivated and driven?
I just love what I do! My goal is to inspire others to make small changes in their daily lives. So we can all help the environment and the planet.
“My goal is to inspire others to make small changes in their daily lives. So we can all help the environment and the planet.”
How do you live more consciously in your daily life?
To name a few, I eat vegan and organic, recycle and upcycle a lot. I only shop when I truly need something and when I do choose a sustainable option.
What tips would you have for women who want to start being more mindful of the products they buy?
A little step a day will change a great deal! Carry a reusable bag around with you for shopping instead of using plastic bags. Read your clothing labels and ask questions. Don’t support brands who aren’t transparent about workers rights.
Learning to shop wisely is easier than you think. It also saves you money in the end as the quality and durability are much better!
Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.