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Close-Up: Sustainable Fashion In China. Long-Term Fix Or Trendy Fad?

Sustainability. It’s pretty much everywhere at the moment from economics to the environment and society. Indulging in yet another cliché, China’s sustainability comes with a more complex model. All it's cracked up to be?

In China’s capital, the glimpse one grasps from a smoggy high-rise Beijing window doesn’t quite scream “environmental bliss”. Nevertheless, the country is taking action to become ‘greener’ and more sustainable, both with the tackling of an ‘Airpocalypse’ as well as in the fanciful world of fashion. Temper delves into the world of sustainable fashion in China, looking at just how the country’s fashion scene is changing with the times and we wonder… Long-term fix or trendy fad?

Dr Christina Dean of Redress via Hashtag Legend
“Dr. Christina Dean, founder and board chair of Redress, is changing the way Hong Kong thinks about fashion, actively encouraging the city to understand the immense burden the industry places on the planet.” Courtesy of HashtagLegend.com

With new brands emerging to counteracting China’s mass-produced culture, it means more people can celebrate the individual crafts and delights of Asian fashion.

Made In China

China has forever been a mass producer of clothes; some estimates suggest 50 percent of the world’s clothing is manufactured in the country. In return for the cheaply made Chinese gear, serious environmental impacts have occurred over the years, such as waste water, making the clothing industry the second largest polluter after oil. But, sustainable fashion is finally shedding its hemp covered image and it’s finally becoming ‘cool’. Brands like Stella McCartney have been leading the ethical fashion race for a long time and high fashion brands like Gucci are now following, recently announcing their fur free plan for 2018.  What’s more, big high-street brands are catching up too; H&M have their ‘conscious’ range, so popular it usually sells out within a few days. Yet it seems that “The New Made in China” fashion is about to go green…

Clothes swaps are one-way China is tackling the sustainable fashion agenda and they’re in full swing. In major cities, swaps are being hosted by charities, shops and through social media. Live with less (简生活), a Beijing-based project, holds court quarterly and folks roll up in droves to swap their clothes, reducing excessive consumption.

One simple idea, one big impact.

Secondhand clothing was frowned upon and deemed “inferior” in the eyes of traditional China, though nowadays there seems to be a new holistic buzz surrounding the concept of clothes swapping as citizens snap up unique, secondhand garms/ gems. Millennials too are finding new ways around the shortage of quality designer clothes. Many young people lack the funds to constantly update their looks, Chinese clothing-rental startup YCloset have tapped into this.

The idea in se is pretty basic: You pay a monthly subscription to rent clothes online, then give them back once worn. This is a two-way street proving great for those “dresses I’ll only ever wear once” occasions. Their audience, consisting of primarily middle-class women, can add variety to their wardrobe, involving less risk and less cost. And aptly, less waste.

Perhaps clothes swaps are the antidote to China’s fast fashion, while communicating more complex ideas about sustainability and social awareness.

Watch this tidbit about Designer Zhang Na and her Reclothing Bank. Courtesy of the 

Fast Fashion: Will It Ever Slow Down?

Typically, a country of ‘fast fashion’, in China’s metropolis of Shanghai you’ll never be far away from a glitzy mall with glossy facades packed full of international fashion outlets. Nanjing Road, the city’s most popular shopping street is lined full of luxury boutiques. But away from these sleek shops, a more eco- friendly attitude towards fashion is growing.

Brands are now being built on the grounds of sustainability. Zhang Na of Fake Natoo has created Reclothing Bank (再造衣银行), a lifestyle brand that considers sustainability across the supply chain. What makes these clothes unique, is the fact they are made from second-hand apparel. During Shanghai Fashion Week in April of 2018, Zhang’s ‘everyday’ models wore a mix of recycled fabrics and old clothing, along with natural, organic fibres. The clothes were also apparently made by a group of women who lost their jobs. It’s wonderful to see more designers giving eco-friendly fashion a chic branding. Even more, it is particularly refreshing to see the outfits on the catwalk in often image-conscious city Shanghai.

Making their debut at the EcoChic design awards in in September of 2018, the BYT style isn’t boring. Their patterned attire is a token of bold, playful, upcycled goodness.

The Re-Usable Revolution

Another pioneer in the industry is Hong Kong-based The R Collective — formerly known as BYT (Beyond Your Tomorrow), an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Making their debut at the Redress Design Awards in in September of 2017, their style isn’t boring — or lacking in color, for that matter. Their patterned attire is a token of bold, playful, upcycled goodness.

According to their website, founder Christina Dean “passionately believes that sustainable design doesn’t need to compromise on style”. And it’s clear The R Collective wants to be part of the change that’s shaking up the East. They are designing sustainable, beautiful clothes for a mass audience. A simple and effective mantra.

Young people in China are starting to seek style over substance, logos and big brands. In fact, with new brands emerging to counteracting China’s mass-produced culture, it means more people can celebrate the individual crafts and delights of Asian fashion.

Sustainable fashion promotes a new way of thinking for China. As the government promote their new ‘green’ policy for clean air, less coal use and better regulation, we say the fashion industry is just as important. As the idea becomes more mainstream and demand rises, Chinese consumers may realize it’s actually worth paying that bit more to save our planet (or one can only hope they do).

Luxury brands are in a powerful position to take charge, charging a little more money for quality, long-lasting, sustainable clothing. Sustainability in China is on its way to being cracked. And trending on the long term.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine
Featured Image: “A 16-foot mountain of secondhand clothing, towering over Hong Kong’s Central Star Ferry Pier.” Courtesy of Miele and Redress, 2011
BYT imagery: Via The Closeteur
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