A series of blogs written by 2016 Emerge Communication Champions.

What images do you conjure when you think of ecological clothing?

Perhaps a flashback to flimsy paper bags or oversized gear?  Or young travellers back from the streets of Kathmandu or Saigon in elephant-printed baggy pants, now folded away or discarded after the holiday period. Many others still view ecological products as a compromise.

This perception is slowly changing at last. From Piñatex™ pineapple leather to Matt and Nat vegan leather bags, the latest trend in sustainable fashion highlights quality and sophistication.

This change in attitude and perception permeated throughout this year’s Emerge Conference, organised by Skoll Centre at Oxford Saïd Business School last week.  Attendees raised concerns about the prevalence of cheap polyester plastics, the bedrock of fast fashion.  Speakers discussed circular economy and circular products, which will be equally convenient to use, if not more, than products newly replaced.

Kresse celebrates her firm’s success not with the financial health of quarter, but with the amount of “waste” gleaned from landfills

One such speaker was Kresse of Elvis & Kresse, the maker of high quality life-style products made from decommissioned fire hoses collected from a dozen waste streams. An Elvis & Kresse branded bag easily competes with luxury designer accessories, both in quality and design, but usually wins the heart of a consumer due to its unique story and because half of the profits are given away to the Fire Fighters Charity. Kresse celebrates her firm’s success not with the financial health of quarter, but with the amount of “waste” gleaned from landfills. Hers is clearly one way to soothe the growing consumerist pains of our modern society.

nu

Nu. presenting at the Mustard Seed Pitch Competition. Photo by www.fisherstudios.co.uk

Nu. offers a slightly different approach, to a similar effect. The founders Ali and Aisling aim to create a stylish public wardrobe, easily navigated on an online platform. They presented their startup business to the audience during the Emerge Mustard Seed Pitch Competition. The inspiration behind Nu. was a trip to India three years ago when Ali and Aisling met with garment workers and saw the environmental impacts of the fast fashion industry.

In the founders’ words, “We knew we were angry and passionate, but it took a while to get over the feeling of powerlessness and start channelling our frustration into something productive. We spent a lot of long days talking about different ways of tackling the issue, and many long nights doing research. Nu. as an idea has been an evolving process with a lot of collaboration with other individuals and advice from other organisations working in the ethical fashion world.”

This seems to be a prevailing theme of the weekend at Emerge Conference. If there is an issue, if there is a problem you are displeased with, do not wait around hoping someone else will fix it.  Get to work; Kresse started her own business when she was 22.  Start small; in fancy terms, start with a minimal viable product.  For Nu. the idea first materialized as successfully-run, brick-and-mortar clothing swap shops in Dublin.

Clothes you already have in your wardrobe are exponentially more sustainable than new clothes you will purchase, no matter the manufacturing process

Lastly, of course, there is only so much impact the sharing economy and circular products can achieve in terms of environmental benefits.  As long as we consume, we leave behind a footprint. These entrepreneurs and their customers recognise this.  Clothes you already have in your wardrobe are exponentially more sustainable than new clothes you will purchase, no matter the manufacturing process.  Reducing new purchases, repairing and extending the lifetime of your clothes, sharing your outfits, swapping with friends, and choosing well-made, thoughtful and durable products is the new trend in sustainable clothing.

Author Bio
May Thu Khine

Student by day, entrepreneur by night, May Thu is co-running a fashion startup catering to professional, modern women of Myanmar while completing MBA studies at London Business School. Her most recent role before starting school was as an aide to the Group’s Chair, Mr. Serge Pun, known regionally as the 38th richest man in Singapore as well as Myanmar’s “Mr. Clean” for his anti-corruption efforts.  May Thu was born and raised in Yangon, and enjoys talking about her city. She led more than 20 urban heritage walking tours in downtown Yangon as a volunteer for Yangon Heritage Trust.

May Thu Khine

May Thu Khine

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