"If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested, they're not values; they're hobbies," proclaimed comedian Jon Stewart, much to the dismay of every ethical activist who has dreamed of affording a wardrobe. Sustainable fashion, while a heartwarming idea, can often prove to be a challenge. To spend sixty dollars on a cotton t-shirt when you live walking distance from an H&M? Hercules would've failed his labours had that made the list.
However, attitudes do seem to be changing. "I think that the younger generation of Singaporeans are more aware of the global challenges around consumption, overproduction, and pollution," remarks Stephanie Choo, founder of Eden + Elie. Despite the uncompetitive pricing, sustainable fashion brands have been on the rise in Singapore. Even through the pandemic, they've held their ground—although, maybe not for the right reasons. "If past economic downturns are anything to go by, luxury spending not only remains strong but even increases during such times," Choo adds, making her way to the bitter part of her bittersweet observation.
"I think socially responsible businesses should be the norm and not the exception."
"It may well be that niche products catering to consumers with higher spending power can continue to do well. But sustainability cannot be a niche if we are to truly move the needle on climate change. If these products are positioned as something only affluent people can afford, it hurts the overall goal of making sustainability a mainstream way of life."
In her sixth year managing Eden + Elie alongside co-founder Leon Toh, Choo is looking to grow her artisanal jewellery brand in harmony with the changing times. "I think socially responsible businesses should be the norm and not the exception," she says. "The ecosystem for sustainable fashion needs to be built within a larger economy where raw materials, labour, systems of distribution, and market demand are all driven on values that put people, planet and purpose at the core."
Choo stresses on the need for designers and producers to be supported by a robust network of resources. Only then does she believe that the industry can be transformed. Putting principle to practice, Choo and Toh found themselves among the list of incubatees selected for The Bridge Fashion Incubator Cohort 4—South East Asia's first business incubation programme championing fashion, technology, and sustainability. Over sixteen weeks, the intensive programme grooms start-ups to refine their operations through workshops and modules, as well as exposure to leading experts in the respective industries.
"We entered the Cohort to find out what we don't know," Choo says. "I was curious to see how people from different fields merged their expertise with fashion. I believe some of the most strategic and interesting innovations in this space may come from the creative amalgamation of different fields of knowledge and that is something really exciting to look forward to."
The applications for TBFI Cohort 5 are open from now until 23:59 on Thursday, June 10.