SHOPPING WITH A CONSCIENCE
In recent years, Southeast Asia has seen a nascent but growing sustainable fashion movement. Add an ethical edge to your shopping with these five Southeast Asia-based brands, each an intriguing blend of sustainability, beauty and creativity.
Ock Pop Tok
Meaning ‘east meets west’ in Lao, Ock Pop Tok (ockpoptok.com) does more than fostering cultural exchange, it also marries ethnic craftsmanship with sophisticated marketing to advance Laos’ socio-economic development. Based in Luang Prabang, Ock Pop Tock is the brainchild of English photographer Joanna Smith and local weaver Veomanee Duangdala. The pair runs Ock Pop Tock as a textile production and retail initiative, providing livelihoods for more than 200 rural artisans and their families. As Jo explains on her website, “Weaving is part of cultural identity and the dangers of global homogenisation are very real.” Cognizant of their responsibility in keeping Lao weaving traditions alive, the duo established the non-profit Fibre2Fabric to explain different weaving techniques and cultural significance of textiles in Laos.
Choo Yilin Artisan Jewellery
Singaporean designer Choo Yilin (chooyilin.com) launched her eponymous artisan jewellery label to demonstrate that luxury does not have to be sacrificed for sustainability. By commissioning Karen silversmiths in northern Thailand to forge aspects of her pieces, Choo generates a form of economic livelihood for these hill tribe communities while sustaining centuries-old cultural art-forms. “To me, sustainability is not just about adhering to responsible social ethos but also taking steps to lessen the environmental impacts throughout the entire supply chain,” says Choo. Melding hill tribe silver with European design inspiration, Choo turns recycled metals and ethically sourced gemstones into exquisite pieces such as earrings, bracelets and chokers.
Giving non-recyclable plastic a new lease of life is the mantra of Jakarta-based XSProject (xsproject.com), which converts discarded packaging into cheery totes and off-beat accessories. Initiated by American artist and environmentalist Ann Wizer, the project creates livelihood opportunities for the local community by buying plastic waste from Jakarta’s thrash pickers and passing them on to artisans to be fashioned into new products. Profits from the sales of these items are then channeled back into the community. Besides helping to halt the landfill crisis, XSProject turns a problem into chic finds for eco-savvy consumers. After all, one man’s thrash may be another’s fashion.
Belle & Dean
For parents seeking to start their little ones on the sustainable path of life, look to organic apparel brand Belle & Dean (belleanddean.com). Co-founders Dean O’Sullivan and Issy Richardson left London to establish their organic label in Singapore. From baby rompers to grownup tees, the duo uses only certified organic cotton and eco-friendly ink for their prints. Detailed animal sketches are featured prominently in their collection to inspire awareness and protection. Wearing organic clothes is one small step toward a better environment, as Issy explains, “If things are made well, they will last longer, and a longer lifespan means that ultimately, less natural resources like water and valuable soil nutrients are used.”
Meaning ‘community’ in the ancient Pali language, Nikaya Handcrafted (nikayahandcrafted.com) is an online boutique store established by social entrepreneurs Andrea and Brandon Ross. After living in Southeast Asia for five years, the husband and wife team set up Nikaya to bring traditional Khmer crafts to a wider audience while empowering local artisans and ensuring the continuity of these age-old skills. Nikaya stocks a handcrafted selection of locally produced bags, karma scarves, pillowcases and brass jewellery. Another bonus – ten percent of the brand’s profits go toward Journeys Within Our Community, another philanthropic-focused initiative set up by this dynamic duo.