The Future of Fashion: Philippine Brands and Local Designers Focus On Sustainability
Until a few years ago, the words “sustainable fashion” barely made it to dinner conversations and were reserved for political platforms. Fast forward to today. With the looming threat of climate change and an influx of younger, more eco-conscious consumers who are heavily concerned and distinctly aware of the supply chain’s environmental impact, sustainability has become more than a buzzword, sparing no category. After being exposed as the second most-polluting industry in the world, the fashion industry is having a big turnaround. We’ve witnessed high-street brands such as Forever21 and TopShop—once considered big players in retail—file for bankruptcy. Surviving retail giants H&M and Zara have churned out environment-conscious labels, which include materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester, combined with a strong push for sustainable programmes. Luxury fashion houses were quick to jump in, heavily peddling environmental causes and turning runways into a stage for certain advocacies. Fortunately, modern-day technological advancements have become a promising force in the future of the fashion industry, making it possible to reset and turn back the clock: recycle waste materials into “alternative fabrics,” reuse garments for long periods of time, and reduce single-use items.
Here in the Philippines, this surge of interest in sustainability is present on all fronts, with a growing number of local designers and brands giving their production cycles a rethink. The ‘buy local’ movement has reached our shores, with fashion entrepreneurs aiming to produce clothing and accessories in a ‘seed-to-assembly’ manner, in efforts to reduce environmental footprint. Small businesses supporting the livelihood of local communities are on the rise, due to a growing need from local consumers, many of whom are making a permanent lifestyle change and switching to eco-friendly purchases.
Wearing traditional weaves handcrafted from local textiles has now become a hip, modern trend, thanks to local brands like PIOPIO. Founder Paloma Urquijo Zobel is behind the multi-concept label which manufactures in El Nido, Palawan. Zobel, who grew up with a mother who exposed her to the Philippine weaving culture at a young age, aims to support and bring back time-honoured works and techniques of local Filipino artisans. “My goal is to preserve the craft of weaving and to create a demand in the market so we can make it a sustainable livelihood and in turn preserve a piece of our culture,” she says. Another Filipino heritage and homegrown brand, Herman & Co was founded by stylist and brand director Bea Constantino. A native Zamboanguena-Tausug, Constantino aims to showcase textiles and crafts from her hometown Zamboanga and Sulu. Since its launch, the brand has expanded its line to different products using indigenous methods and artisanal products.
Catching on to the new trends in textiles and technology, more local brands and designers are choosing materials engineered to last longer. The aim is to produce clothing made from some of the most sustainable materials and futuristic/upcycled fabrics, and to ditch cheap synthetics from chemicals and polymers like spandex, nylon, and polyester. This has been the new goal for many retailers, but the process is not without its challenges. It’s a concept that biodynamic farmer and holistic lifestyle advocate Hindy Weber had in mind when she started her own ethical fashion label. Adhering to sustainable design practices such as using only certified organic materials is something Weber will not compromise on. “I think the present times demand us to live more responsibly about our purchasing decisions. We all want to eat well, dress well, look great. But we’ve gotten to a point where we need to consider how all our choices also affect the environment, which in turn, directly affects us.” The pieces in Weber’s capsule collection are crafted from natural, raw, and biodegradable fabrics like hemp, linen and cotton, which are completely free from wasteful process.
There is a handful of retail brands that have made use of cutting-edge technology in innovative ways: recycling plastic bottles and fish nets for example. One that has garnered a quick massive following is cult-brand SORA. Made from plastic bottles (about 85 per cent of recycled materials), SORA towels are absorbent, non-slip, and sand repellent. Entrepreneur and social media influencer Mari Jasmine and her business partner Tina Dahl launched their brand just almost two years ago. “Sustainability has always been important for the both of us. After some initial research we ended up finding this amazing technology where post-consumer plastic was melted, turned into a yarn and then made into fabric,” Jasmine shares proudly.
Another remarkable innovation, Cabanna Living’s swimsuits are made from ghost nets, stray meshes of nylon which end up floating adrift, harming aquatic wildlife. Owner Therese LaO, wanted to put emphasis on freeing the ocean from trash and debris.
With more consumers saying no to fast fashion, and thanks to e-commerce sites Rent The Runway and The RealReal, used designer goods can be rented out or sold for a fraction of their original price. Consignment shopping is all about getting as much use as possible out of existing garments; the goal is for the fashion industry to produce less waste and avoid fashion’s buy-now-wear-once system all together. This is the kind of consumer awareness entrepreneur and TV host Tricia Centenera and her business partner Cheryll Karim are trying to bring forth with their joint dress-rental business, Talulah’s Closet. Bringing in some of the most sought-after Australian fashion labels here in Manila, the company rents out stylish frocks to be worn for one occasion. It’s good for the pockets and the environment.
Fashion’s new circular economy could become just as impactful with the use of technological advancements, but more importantly it is through prevalent concerns about the environment that consumers have come to understand the basic requirement of positive environmental impact—that the ecosystem of fashion’s supply chain must be sustained indefinitely. There is a need to continue to design, develop, and manufacture into that premise.