What Does An Ethical (Asian) Fashion Designer Look Like?

By:: 
Jeanne Tai

Pretty darn good. From dog-hair scarves to bracelets made of landmines, meet the four Asian designers showing that socially-conscious fashion has both style and soul.

Margaret Lok is the Founder of WOUF social enterprise in Hong Kong

1. Margaret Lok, founder and director of WOUF

Country: Hong Kong

The skinny: Wouf uses groomed dog hairs to create accessories like scarves, shawls and hats. Customers can even request Wouf to tailor-make items using hairs of their pets.

Why dog hair?

Dogs shed a lot, especially during spring and summer. Imagine all the hair that gets thrown away every day! So we explored the possibility of upcycling dog hair to create value-added products. Dogs are also popular pets in most cities, so this production model can be adopted globally.

Most “Awww” moment when running the business?  

Last month I received an enquiry from a pet owner who had been faithfully collecting her dog's hair since 2011, and hope to make it into a scarf! I was so surprised and moved by her determination.

Tell us an interesting story behind one of your products.

The cushion, made by WOUF, is meant to be shared by both dogs and owners.

The Cushion is our only product that is not a clothing item. We started out with fashion accessories, but at some point, felt we had exhausted our options. During a late night creative session, we decided to abandon our preconceptions of what Wouf “should” be and realised there was a big market in home accessories too. The Cushion is meant to be used by both dogs and humans. By enabling this act of sharing, we think we can foster an even stronger bond between the two.   

Your inspiration?

I love Eckhart Tolle and Patrick McDonnell's book, "Guardians of Being", and the MUTTS comic strip series, for how they describe our relationship and love with animals. Simple yet touching.

This Neckwarmer by WOUF is made of chiengora

Favourite piece in your collection?

Our neck warmer. The natural colouring of the dog hair goes well with neutral-toned clothes, which I love.

 

 Janine Cheong is the co-owner and president of Habi Footwear, a social enterprise in the Philippines.

2. Janine Chiong, co-owner and president of Habi Footwear

Country: Philippines

The skinny: Habi (which is Tagalog for “to weave”) grew out of co-founder Janine's social enterprise thesis project in university. Habi Footwear pays female homemakers in Quezon City to weave upcycled rags, which are used to make sandals and espardrilles.

Why shoes?  

Philippine's shoe industry’s growth is faring much better than the rest of the apparel industry. We also figured that shoes would be the best fit for the woven cloth material the communities we work with produce. 

Habi Footwear produces classic espadrilles made with upcycled rags in the Philippines.

Tell us an interesting story behind one of your products.

Our classic espadrilles don't just incorporate woven upcycled cloth – we also use upcycled airplane tyres for the soles. We want to be both socially- and environmentally-oriented.  

Habi Footwear's website

What keeps you awake at night?

The constant drive to grow the business. My “eureka” moments often occur just when I’m about to sleep — ideas for a good marketing campaign, sales strategy, or even just about community matters.

Your fashion inspiration?

Korean-American Youtube star Jenn Im from Clothes Encounters. I love her aesthetic. When travelling, I also try to fuse new items and inspiration into my wardrobe – a simple accessory, a dress I chanced upon, or an outfit inspired by the city's street fashion.

Who do you follow on Instagram right now? 

I follow @jenimm @kimbramusic @deliciouslyella @lilypebbles @thesartorialist

 

Dinny Jusuf founded Toraja Melo - a social enterprise that provides jobs to women weavers.

3. Dinny Jusuf, founder & CEO of Torajamelo  

Country: Indonesia

The skinny: This social enterprise produces top-to-toe fashion apparel – blouses, dresses, kebayas, pants and shoes – which incorporate traditional woven materials. Started in Toraja, South Sulawesi in 2008, the company aims to empower rural women weaver artisans, and rejuvenate traditional Indonesian weaving.

Palawa pants made by Toraja Melo

Why hand-woven textiles?

Backstrap weaving is a key source of income for many home-bound indigenous poor women. However, prices and demand are low, made worse by wooden machines andfactories copying indigenous designs and selling them cheap. Many women then resort to working as migrant workers. We want to stop this cycle of poverty by using weaving as an entry point.

Handwoven cloth scarves by Toraja Melo

Tell us an interesting story behind one of your products.

In Toraja, there is hand-woven cloth named Pa’bunga-bunga, which means flowery patterns. These beautiful scarves are created using a rare weaving technique. When I started working with the weavers in Toraja in 2008, I knew only two elderly women in their seventies who knew how to make these scarves. Others had stopped because there weren't enough buyers. We collaborated with the elderly ladies to design new, more modern colour combiations and as demand grew, they were able to pass their skills and knowledge down to the younger generation. So the young are now “re-learning” how to create this motif.

Most "awww" moment when running your business?  

There are so many such stories. We know a mother who accepted low-pay work in Malaysia, away from her family. One day she returned to Toraja, chanced upon and joined the Weavers’ Cooperative that we helped to establish. She is much happier now because she can be close to her family and earns a good income from weaving. We also know a young woman who, through weaving, saved enough for her university tuition. She's now possibly the first in her village who enjoys higher education.

Your fashion inspiration? 

The women behind our woven cloth. They motivate us to keep going.Our communities consist of young women who weave to pay their tuition, breadwinner mothers who weave to feed their entire families, or even grandmothers who weave to pass on a weaving legacy to their grandchildren.

Sarong Pants by Toraja Melo

Favourite piece in your collection?

Our sarong pants are one of our best sellers. Pair it with a t-shirt or simple blouse for an instant “ethnic” look. You could dress it up with acessories for a more casual-smart look too. 

 

Cheryl Ou - Founder of Anchora

4. Cheryl Ou, founder of Anchora – Fair Trade Collective 

Country: Singapore

The skinny: This online jewelry business stocks fair-trade items made by artisans from marginalised communities. Their products are stocked at The Nail Social (42A Haji Lane). 

Cufflinks by Anchora

Why jewelry?

Jewellery is a great way to express your personality and enhance your look.

Tell us an interesting story behind one of your products.  

Backbone necklace by Anchora

Some of our products – such as our Serenity arm cuff and Backbone necklace – are made out of recycled unexploded land mines, left behind from the war in Cambodia. In this way, a weapon of destruction is turned into a product of beauty.

Anchora Fair Trade Collective

Most "awww" moment when running your business?

I visited the fair trade workshops in India and Cambodia, and met most of the artisans personally. I spent several days listening to their stories and heard how learning a new skill has helped them progressed from living in the streets to earning a sustainable income. This made me realise how important it is to support fair-trade products and services.

Your fashion inspiration?

Jessica Alba and Jennifer Aniston for their chic, classy and understated style.

Serenity Arm Cuff by Anchora

Favourite piece in your collection?

The Serenity Ring and Arm Cuff. Simple, understated, yet unique. Plus they're made out of recycled landmines – always a conversation starter!

Ready for a wardobe overhaul yet? Check out more ethical fashion companies here.

Interested in socially conscious living in Asia? Check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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