In the past decade, sustainability has come into sharp focus for the fashion industry. In 2019, Google recorded 27,000 searches every month specifically for sustainable fashion. And while it’s far from a new concept—educators, designers and advocates around the world have been exploring the nuances of sustainable fashion for the last 20+ years—here in Singapore, the topic has come into much sharper focus over the last five.
That’s exactly what new documentary—The State of Sustainable Fashion in Singapore—aims to highlight. Released on 28 August, it sheds light on what sustainable fashion means today through the perspectives of local creatives. From designers, to business owners, to youth reps, each of them are shifting the narrative and empowering communities to transform their relationship with fashion through fresh perspectives and innovative business models.
But why create a documentary about sustainable fashion in Singapore?
Let’s dive into it.
When ZERRIN launched back in 2017, we wanted to create a platform which championed independent creators and inspired people to foster a deeper connection to things, people and planet. To us, the concepts of design and sustainability are a vehicle for mindfulness. We believe that better design—brands, systems and business models—can help remedy some of our world’s most pressing social and environmental issues.
In the fashion space, examples are Pala Eyewear, which has funded much needed eye care and corrective surgery across the African continent, or SukkhaCitta, a social enterprise changing lives in rural Indonesia through the regenerative production of their farm-to-closet clothing label.
Over the last half a decade, there’s been a significant shift in Singapore. The island is now home to a collective of indie businesses advocating a greener, more equitable future for fashion. So many cool, creative new ways to engage with clothing now exist: from subscription rental to clothes swapping. Thrifting is cool now. Upcycling is on the up. And thanks to initiatives like Cloop, we finally have more accessible recycling solutions.
Viewpoints still divided on sustainable fashion
However, despite this progress, our internal research and many conversations with clients, customers and brands over the years have unveiled a consistent disparity in views regarding sustainable fashion. Many people are still divided on what the concept means, or their views are narrower than they should be.
While we earn revenue from the sale of sustainable brands from our website, sustainability is not something you buy, it’s a mindset shift.
This led to the conundrum: how can we convey this message to a broader audience?
That question inspired this project, to create content that painted a more holistic picture of what sustainable fashion in Singapore embodies today from an independent, grassroots standpoint. While we’ve featured individuals who represent a spectrum of sustainable fashion consumption—swapping, renting, thrifting, mending, preloved, vintage, buying less, textile recycling—the way we consume fashion on an individual level is deeply personal. We hope watching this series will serve as a springboard for what sustainable fashion can mean to you.
Individuals in the documentary include:
Sera Murphy, founder of The Reoutfitter, a one-stop solution for wardrobe decluttering, personal styling and fashion resale
Rakhee Shah, founder of artisanal fashion label Maisha Concept
Yan Ng, founder of tech-powered fashion label Lily & Lou
Raye Padit, founder of The Fashion Pulpit, Singapore’s first clothes swap destination
Eshton Chua and Ian Sam, co-founder of Syne, a fashion brand which upcycles kimonos into new creations
Raena Lim, co-founder of South-East Asia’s largest circular fashion platform Style Theory
Jasmine Tuan and Ying Ling Tan, co-founders of circular fashion platform Cloop
Anisa Johnny, Senior Lecturer of Fashion Marketing at Raffles College of Higher Education
Lumin Hew, founder of youth-powered sustainable fashion movement The Fashion Parade
Nicole Chin, content creator, thrift queen and personal style advocate @Chinchillavintage
Amanda Lim, co-founder of clothing upcycling and repair service Alt.native
To wrap up, here’s some local and global context about why the sustainable fashion agenda matters:
> In Singapore, over 254,000 tonnes of textile waste was created in 2022, of which only 5 tonnes (2%) were recycled (NEA) Absence of a dedicated textile recycling plant means the bulk of discarded clothing is either incinerated or exported to become another nations burden.
> Our clothes could be making us sick. Due to toxic dyes and treatments, many of our clothes contain toxic chemicals like carcinogens and formaldehyde. According to Fashion Revolution’s 2023 Transparency Index, only half of the 250 largest fashion brands publish a restricted substance list, aka the first step toward managing the use of toxic substances in their supply chain.
> Videos tagged with the word ‘haul’ on TikTok have been viewed billions of times at the time of writing. The crazy levels of consumption in these hauls are mind numbing—and many of them showcasing next-level cheap clothes from Shein (PS: in case you didn’t know, the ultra fast-fashion retailer’s global office is right here in Singapore).
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.