In July, we held an IGTV Live where we had a conversation about sustainable fashion. Our Associate Editor, Clarissa, spoke to Jae who is co-founder of Bare Label – a Singapore-based, sustainable fashion brand that provides clothes transcending trends and style which will stay in your wardrobe for years.
Clarissa and Jae explored ethical fashion, where fashion intersects with broader women's issues, consumer behaviour, greenwashing, and more.
Disclaimer: Interview transcript is not verbatim and has been edited for clarity.
C: How and why did you start Bare Label?
J: My co-founder, Serena, and I met in university. We met at a luxury fashion immersive program and found out that we were both passionate about fashion but realised that there are a lot of problematic issues with the industry. In our final year, we started Bare Label to see how we could spread the word about sustainability. Now, it has gone beyond ethical fashion to the broader theme of slow living and how we can use our platform to bring that message across.
C: What does Bare Label do? What does sustainability and ethical fashion look like to Bare Label?
J: Specific to the industry, we look at a few things. Firstly, our business model. Are the products trend-based, or are we going beyond the trends to make items that are long-lasting? Secondly, the fabrics used – are they resource-efficient? How much waste and byproduct is produced from these fabrics, and how much is dumped into nearby water bodies? Thirdly, the workforce. Do you engage in labour practices that are exploitative or do your staff work in proper humane conditions with fair wages? At Bare Label, we integrate these philosophies. We look at how long-lasting the clothes are, design the pieces with these intentions. We don’t look at the trends. Our pieces can be seamlessly added to your wardrobe. You can wear it now or in 10 years’ time.
C: In the wider context of fashion, what constitutes sustainable fashion? How do we consume sustainably or ethically?
J: There is no sustainable consumption under capitalism. It really boils down to being intentional. Are you just buying clothes based on trends? There are also a lot of external choices that contribute to whether you purchase something or not and this has to be addressed at every facet – influencers, regulatory bodies, brands, etc.
I believe in the power of brands to change things. As consumers, you can only consume as ethically as the choices are available to you.
C: Recently, there has been a huge trend in thrifting. How does thrifting compare to shopping sustainably and ethically?
J: I like the idea of thrifting. I have seen interesting approaches to it, but the method has always been to go down to the store and sift through the racks. However, thrifting is ultimately not scalable in terms of business. It also really depends on the consumer and what you are looking for. Are you looking for a cool, interesting and unique piece that you want to add to your wardrobe? Or are you looking for a specific type of blouse, as thrifting cannot give you that.
Not everyone is comfortable with second-hand or thrifting, as such we are offering the next best thing. Some people prefer to shop first-hand and you can have a peace of mind when you buy it. You know where it comes from and who made it. When/If a consumer is done with the piece, you can consume it without leaving a footprint as we use fabrics that are biodegradable. These are some aspects that make thrifting not as much as a substitute but they are at alternate ends of sustainable fashion.
Plant-based and resource-efficient fabrics are the best such as linen, and recycled cotton. They either don’t produce a lot of byproducts or their byproducts can be reused. Fabrics that are less-friendly are anything synthetic, polyester. Plastic fibre will release microplastics through your laundry and into the water bodies and ecosystem.
C: What do you think of the argument that sustainable fashion is a privileged method of shopping?
J: I have to agree with you. With sustainable fashion, pieces are expensive because it truly reflects that amount of labour and cost it takes to produce the piece. Obviously, not everyone is going to be able to pay for it which makes the barriers to entry for sustainable fashion very high. It is also a case of us being normalised to fast fashion prices. Even a lot of people who can afford the high prices will be opposed to paying so much for clothes when they have cheaper alternatives. It comes down to two things: instant gratification, as consumers we usually see the benefit in front of us instead of the greater benefit down the line. Secondly, it speaks to the fact that wages are not reflective of where we want to be as a sustainable society.
C: Where do you think greenwashing fits in a sustainable marketing brand so that we are not fooled as consumers?
J: A lot of greenwashing is done by fast fashion brands. Sustainability is another trend for them to capitalise on. It’s great because people have more access to more options at a cheaper price. But the problem lies with the fact that at the end of the day they are still creating clothes at a crazy volume. Some brands are introducing 100 new designs every week. Even if it is made from organic cotton, etc. it is not sustainable. It’s a marketing ploy for a lot of these brands. It is very easy to spot if you look at their business model or their main revenue source. If it is still seasonal clothes or trendy items, then it’s greenwashing.
Personally, I have seen so many new brands pop up. There is a lot of competition even within Singapore. It is scary as a business, because you start to rethink your value proposition but it is also great because in the bigger scale of things you realise that more people are getting on the bandwagon and it is becoming more mainstream. It forces people like us to really think about what we can offer, and what other things as a brand sets us apart. This is where we can be pushed creatively to think about the design philosophy of our clothes, in the case that sustainability becomes the bare minimum of every brand. We can look at alot of independent brands as they all still manage to draw a unique identity.
C: How can we be stylish and sustainable at the same time?
J: My personal approach is to look at a certain piece I want to buy and think about how many ways I can style it with other pieces I already have in my wardrobe. Am I going to buy this just because it looks good on the model or is it something I really want? Another tip is to wait a week or two and if I am still thinking about it [the piece] then yes, I should get it.
C: Do you have any tips to start a fashion label and what can people take away from your experience of starting a fashion brand?
J: Try to meet as many people as you can in the industry. LinkedIn has been my greatest tool to meet people for things like advice and general direction or a coffee chat. To set up a business, it’s important to know exactly what you need to do before starting out. There really are many things to take note of, even down to figuring out SEO for your brand in an industry that is so saturated – you need a way to stand out. For starters, segmenting all the different business needs and slowly tackling them. Make sure your business is built on a good infrastructure.
C: Why should people care about being sustainable?
J: For too long, consumers have been focused on the NOW. Only recently have we had to come to terms with the consequences of our actions. And it is important to think about it from the long-term perspective: Are our children and grandchildren going to have a liveable home?
The first step for consumers is to reflect on their consumption patterns - what can we improve? We are not the only ones that are living on this Earth. Our habits don’t just affect ourselves. We can also try to push corporations to do better, and it might cause a ripple effect – from there corporations might start to relook their business ideas and models.
C: What is one thing we can start doing from today?
J: From a consumer perspective, the best thing any of us can do is to start researching – whether it’s on the type of fabrics or the brand we want to support. Education is always the first step towards improving the industry. There are so many resources to tap on nowadays to start your journey. You can reach out to me at Bare Label, to find out more.
Know your options. Spend within your means. As long as your intention to buy sustainably is there, then you’re already at the first step.
To watch the full discussion, head to @women.unbounded on Instagram!