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By Niki Bruce
Gone are the days when the only things you cared about when shopping were either the price or how on-trend something was. Now, with changes not only to the environment, but also towards how we want to be perceived in the world, people are thinking more consciously about how, and on what, they spend their money.
For many of us, buying a fun new dress or tee for under $30 is a no-brainer; we see, we like, we buy. However, for a lot of other Singaporeans it has now become more important to know exactly what it is they’re adding to their wardrobes, their homes or using on their skin.
“I like to shop consciously because I feel like I have more of an emotional connection with my purchases,” says Susannah Jaffer, the owner of Zerrin, a Singapore based curated online store that features brands with “meaningful stories” and great design. “I think as women, caring more about the things we buy and valuing them in a new way is the first step towards shopping more sustainably – and ultimately buying less but better.”
For Tim O’Hanlon, a writer who previously worked for Lonely Planet, shopping consciously is about choosing the right brands. “My version of shopping consciously is picking brands I know have a reputation for quality and are long-lasting over fast fashion,” he says.
“This is because – I at least have the impression that – they treat their manufacturing staff better and are more conscious of their impact, plus as they pander less to quick trends they produce less and don’t encourage a throw-away lifestyle in their customers. Finally, as the items are of vastly better quality I can wear/use them for a long time so it lowers my own impact.”
Whereas for Tamsin Nugent, a young mother based in Hong Kong, her desire to shop consciously is based on her family: “I don’t buy anything without researching it first. For me, or my family. Super time consuming and we have way less stuff because of it. But ultimately it’s better.”
Obviously those involved in the various parts of the environmentally friendly retail industries have very specific reasons behind the way they shop. Rachel Chan, the director of Luxe Botanics, a natural skincare brand that features “scientifically proven botanicals”, places conscious shopping at the centre of her retail purchases.
“Being in the eco wellness industry, I try my best to support only sustainable brands and practices, she explains. “This goes for everything from food choices – I’m 80% vegan/vegetarian – to personal care, fashion – clothing swaps like Swapaholic – to home furnishings.”
Although Chan admits that it’s “impossible to be a saint everyday”, she tries to do what she can with each purchase.
“Instead of being overwhelmed and obsessive about what’s going on in the world, I do what I can with each interaction – whether it’s reusing my cardboard egg cartons at Tekka market each week or carrying my water bottle everywhere so I don’t use plastic. With that there is an opportunity to feel empowered.
“When I buy a brand that I know takes care in its sourcing, looks after its people and the environment, there is a real sense of pride helping them continue their cause. Conscious brands are the new luxury, helping to solve social inequality and provide environmental stewardship!”
Here are some of the things you might want to think about before your next shopping spree.
Sustainability and being Eco-Friendly
What exactly is ‘sustainability’ when it comes to shopping for clothes, beauty products or homewares? The basic meaning for both sustainable production and being “eco-friendly” is to use as few natural resources as possible when producing anything.
This can mean saving water when growing cotton, or making a t-shirt to last and use selvedge edges; or it could mean buying clothes that use natural dyes instead of chemical ones; or buying from a brand that recycles its own fabric off-cuts. There are a number of different ways for brands to try to be more sustainable or environmentally friendly.
Jason Song, the managing director of Acre, a design consultancy that works with a number of brands, says that many of his clients are now looking for more environmentally-friendly ways to improve their businesses. “One of our clients uses recyclable bottles to create packaging. We worked with them to reduce the combined waste the entire company contributes with its products,” explains Song.
And Sabrina Tan from Singapore skincare powerhouse Skin Inc, says that they use “glass bottles for our top seller – the customised serums – so our customers can bring them back for rebate and we send them to a recycle centre at our own cost.”
Slow Fashion is somewhat similar to the whole “slow food movement”; the focus is not only on “clean production” like the Sustainability movement, but also the idea of buying a few quality items instead of lots of cheap stuff, and also thinking about the ethical nature of how things have been made. It’s about thinking a bit more before you buy.
One of the most popular ways in Singapore to shop for Slow Fashion is to actually go back in time and use tailors instead of the high street. Singapore has a number of excellent designer tailors and bespoke designer fashion brands to choose from. This is also a great way to make sure your garments fit perfectly, and last a lot longer.
Another way to invest in Slow Fashion is to buy pre-loved items. “Supporting the circular economy by buying pre-loved, like The Fifth Collection, and then reselling it when you have fallen out of love with it,” is another way to consciously shop, explains Debra Langley, the Singapore based fashion consultant.
Diversity and Inclusivity
The recent furor over the whole Victoria Secret’s CEO’s statement about not seeing trans women or larger sized models on the brand’s runway and the corresponding backlash and open discussion about how the brand is failing, shows that people, women in particular, will no longer put up with being dictated to by brands about what they should look like.
Diversity is about being inclusive and Inclusivity is about being diverse. Fashion brands now need to show their designs on a wide range of models of different colours and sizes, otherwise they will be trolled on social media and lose customers.
Making an ethical choice about where to shop is a little more blurred in definition; ethical choices are very personal and based on your own particular beliefs. Ethical shopping ranges from being Anti-Fur or Vegan, to only shopping from brands that can prove they don’t use child labour, or work with disadvantaged women, or even ethical reasons tied into the same issues covered by sustainability.
While ethical reasonings can be complicated and very specific, overall it has made brands become more interested in being “transparent” or being able to show exactly how everything they sell is made. Everlane, for example, tells you absolutely everything you would ever want to know about every item they sell; this is the reason why the brand has done so well, so quickly; customers trust it.
If you want to be a more conscious shopper there are a number of things to think about now. You need to decide for yourself which of these concerns matter most to you, and how you are going to put your money where your ethics are.
Just some of the Singapore conscious brands and stores to try:
Originally known for their beautifully patterned comfy trousers, Matter Prints is now creating ready-to-wear. The brand is focused on supporting traditional textile producers by helping to make ‘rural artisan production sustainable’ and make people care more about the origin of the clothes they buy.
This is a holistic spa brand made from raw ingredients and essential oils hand-blended in Singapore in small batches. Its most popular product is the Glow Elixir that’s made of organic geranium in a roll-on alcohol-free aromatherapy fragrance.
A relatively new Singapore brand, Esse combines classic womenswear with a focus on reducing textile waste through what they describe as a “progressive supply chain”, and transparency in its production. The brand is open about which factories it uses and where its fabrics come from too. You can track everything on the website.
Is one of Singapore’s longest-running ethical fashion brands; it only works with factories that pay fair salaries. Etrican is known for its affordable, sustainable, 100% certified organic cotton clothing for women and children.
A relatively new beauty brand, Handmade Heroes is a Singapore brand that focus solely on creating products that are 100% natural, vegan and cruelty-free, with no synthetic preservatives or chemicals.
Looking for some ethically conscious bed linen? You need to try Sojao, a new Singapore brand that’s all about 100% organic cotton sheets, environmentally low impact dyes with no resin or toxic chemical finishes. On top of that, Sojao is careful to work with non-exploitative factories, and supports fair-trade practices and the economic and social rights of all the workers involved.
Another Singapore brand that’s been ethical for a while, Sifr is known for its perfectly cut, perfectly comfortable tees that are created in their own sample room with a team involved from start to finish; plus the brand packaging is made of Avani Eco Bio-cassava products.
Singapore based multi-brand store Zerrin is a good place to be introduced to all the different kinds of sustainable and ethically sourced and made fashion and beauty products that are out in the world. Zerrin is an online store that “curates conscious brands from around the world”. The focus is on sustainability, fair trade jewellery, organic skincare and learning to #shopmeaningfully.
Another Singapore based multi-brand store, Trove of Gaia focuses on zero-waste, eco-friendly homewares and beauty products, including those that have biodegradable and recyclable packaging. “Conscious living” is the end game for the owner.
This is another relatively new Singapore brand that is focused more on creating one thing – t-shirts – really well, and in an ethically conscious way, rather than producing lots of stuff you don’t really need. The brand is 100% transparent showing you exactly how much their items cost and where they were made in factories that have been “socially certified by third party non-profit organization, uses no forced or child labour, mandates fair working hours and safe working conditions”.
A Singapore natural skincare brand, Luxe Botanics uses scientifically proven botanicals with “proprietary green chemistry”. The brand focuses on “efficacy, clean formulations and use organic or wild-harvested botanicals that protect the environment while giving back to our harvesting communities”, explains founder Rachel Chan. On top of that, all the packaging is fully recyclable.
Green Is The New Black
This is a great resource for anything and everything about conscious brands and shopping consciously in Singapore and Asia, that was founded by Singaporean Stephanie Dickson. Go to greenisthenewblack.com/brand-directory for all the details.
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