Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. Too many of our clothes end up in landfills; too few of us donate to thrift shops; and too few recognize the value of carefully choosing your wardrobe and holding back on the next shopping spree.
Too few — but not none at all. All over the world, sustainable, ethical and circular fashion is making a name for itself, and in the Philippines, the movement, mostly led by women, is starting to take shape. Of course, the simplest way to avoid the perils of fast fashion is to simply buy less; or when you do, to buy from affordable second hand thrift shops, more popularly known as the ukay-ukay.
But for when you need something a bit more special or unique, CNN Philippines Life collated a list of shops and startups that offer clothing made from repurposed, reclaimed, or recycled fabric, all of which weave, sew, and create clothing with a mission. The next time you reach out for that mass-produced, department store shirt, think of these alternatives instead.
Rio Estuar is the founder of Riotaso, a play on her name and retaso, which means scrap fabric. According to Riotaso’s Spark Project page, Rio once had a clothing line “on top of its game,” but she stopped when she realized how much waste the fashion industry produces. Thus she took on the challenge of creating clothes using scraps discarded by the fashion industry, from which Riotaso was born.
The startup is now raising funds to help sustain a team that will run its zero-waste creative space, and everyone is invited to be backers for rewards (such as handcrafted tote bags) and discounts when Riotaso achieves its funding goal. Those who want to learn more may visit its Spark Project page or attend its upcoming “Riomedyo: An Upcycling Workshop by Riotaso Clothing,” on Oct. 6. Participants will be taught how to transform sentimental shirts into pillows, while simultaneously contributing to Riotaso’s crowdfunding efforts.
Wear Forward is not so much a shop but a social enterprise, providing services such as upcycling, wardrobe management, styling, alteration, fashion consulting, reconditioning, and online brand management services, among others, geared towards promoting circular fashion. Founded by Prince Jimdel Ventura, Wear Forward is a “premier fashion recommerce and social enterprise in the Philippines that promotes s_stainability, circ_lar fashion, and collaborative cons_mption thro_gh clothing as service” — the blanks are to emphasize the need for voluntary action.
If you’re looking for a place to donate preloved clothes for a cause, Wear Forward receives and uses them for upcycling, downcycling, recycling, and outreach activities. The enterprise also regularly organizes meetups to map fashion service providers and sustainable fashion business in the Philippines to collaborate and champion sustainable and circular fashion.
Pamela Nicole Mejia, founder of Phinix, has pitched the idea of turning plastic and textile waste to shoes and bags over and over — and many times, she has won the confidence of grant-giving bodies looking to fund the most promising sustainable startup in a world dominated by fast fashion. “I believe the responsibility should be with the producers first,” she says in a UN Environment video, “basically the people in the fashion industry, because it was us in the first place who created this mindset.”
In Phinix, the next line of products is not decided based on trend or whim; but rather, what may be created from the waste collected. Out of the waste, Phinix’s artisans create bags, accessories, or shoes; textiles are also woven by persons with disabilities (PWDs). Because the artisans create based on available resources, Phinix’s products are limited editions — like its first official retail collection, featuring shoes and bags made from vintage Japanese kimonos.
TELAStory is borne out of founder Hannah Theisen’s desire to build a clothing manufacturing facility, if not a large factory, which shall be the “first living wage, ethical, and sustainable garment production factory in the Philippines.” The fair-wage, zero-waste line just launched in March 2019, and takes pride in providing a “true living wage” to its workers, one that it defines as allowing for safe housing, healthy food, transportation, education, clothing and household needs, savings for big purchases, and some leisure money.
TELAStory’s clothing line is sewn by a small group of women based in Binondo, Manila, using biodegradable textiles or locally sourced deadstock waste fabric. True to its desire to be a garment manufacturing facility with a conscience, TELAStory also houses A Beautiful Refuge, a livelihood program in Tagaytay for women in crisis. The facility also offers manufacturing services and assistance to those wanting to launch their own sustainable fashion brand.
Another brand name that is a play on words is Craftcha, which sells affordable crafted products made mainly from katsa or flour sack cloth. Craftcha’s bags, pants, blankets, pillowcases, skirts, shorts, pajamas, eco-bags, and rugs/animal beds are 99 percent made from repurposed materials, including not only katsa but also scrap textiles and denim.
In fact, according to owners Toto and Merly Manicad, Craftcha can make any kind of product from scrap — a testament to the doggedness of their enterprise, now going strong ten years from typhoon Ondoy in 2009, when the spouses Toto and Merly first started it. Beyond fashion circularity, the family business also provides opportunities for PWDs and needed inspiration for those wanting to start their own zero-waste startup, as Merly started Craftcha with only ₱500 as capital. The rest, as they say, is history.
Forth Co., founded by Sheila Mae Fuentes, brings together local brands that are “sustainable fashion advocates” — brands that call for ethical, circular, and slow fashion. This includes brands who defend workers’ rights; those who reuse, recycle, or repurpose used clothing and fabrics; and brands who counter fast, cheap fashion, and damaging patterns of fashion consumption, according to Forth Co.’s Facebook page.
Aside from holding workshops on upcycling and styling and providing practical tips to plan sustainable wardrobes, Forth Co. also regularly feature their partner brands, which includes: En Route Handcrafted, which works with women communities of Tribu Malagos of Calinan Davao, making accessories from beyond-use T-shirts and other eco-friendly materials; teeforel, which sells thrifted and repurposed pieces for women; Muni Studios, which uses environmentally-sustainable fabrics and promotes ethical manufacturing; Ino & Ling, which means to “innovate and linger”; and Thread Story, which turns reclaimed fabric into clothing, made by home-based mothers in Taytay, Rizal.
Candid Clothing uses upcycled fabrics, mostly excess fabrics from large manufacturers which would likely go to waste. As it strives to go zero-waste, what goes into the floor is also crafted into accessories or reusable cotton pads, according to founder Samantha Dizon, who grew up in Taytay, Rizal.
The online shop also sells relatively cheap (less than ₱1,000) bamboo tees, reversible camis, dresses, “skorts,” and boxers. “We don’t dream of beating out the competition and becoming the biggest ethical fashion brand,” according to Candid Clothing’s website. “We hope for a world where ethical is the norm for fashion business — both big and small.”
Re Clothing by Bianca Gregorio offers sustainable pieces “with a story,” as its products — shirts, bags, trousers, among others, all made from secondhand items or deadstock fabric — are hand-embroidered with charming designs. Practically every piece is one of a kind, says Re’s website. The shop also does custom embroidery. While the shop is on a break (its founder is attending an academic fellowship on social entrepreneurship abroad), it will re-open mid-October.
Lazy Fare and Lucy in the Sky are affiliated clothing stores managed by sisters of the Lontoc family, with Lazy Fare offering basic wear and Lucy in the Sky offering trendier options. With two physical stores in Glorietta in Makati, it’s hard to imagine their products being sustainable, stylish, and budget-friendly all at once, but they are.
It’s no surprise that their clothing — made from overruns or deadstock fabric — easily flies off the racks both offline and online. “When we make our clothes we think of three things: how they can feel good, how we can make it affordable, and how we can lessen our impact,” the stores state in their Instagram page. “Dead stock and recycled fabric [are] central to how we create our pieces, with style, comfort, and the environment in mind.”
Co-founded by Annie Tan Lim and daughter Anya, ANTHILL (Alternative Nest and Trading/Training Hub for Indigenous/Ingenious Little Livelihood Seekers) Fabric Gallery might be more known for its ethically-sourced indigenous weaves woven by community enterprises. However, the business also works on an “ecosystem business model,” and includes several circularity programs: a weave exchange program, where pre-loved ANTHILL clothing may be returned for gift cards; a zero-waste program, where textile waste is upcycled into new weaves by Argao weavers in Cebu in its Textile Innovation Center; and a re-weave program, for the repair, reconstruction, and creation of pre-loved weaves at accessible prices. Pamana (heritage) is its first zero-waste collection — featuring tops, jackets, and skirts made from scrap fabric.
Reese Fernandez Ruiz’ Rags2Riches (R2R), founded in 2007, is a trendsetter in the best sense of the word, as R2R may be considered as one of the first brands to successfully champion circular fashion, sustainability, and ethical working practices. The brand first started by supporting women as they wove scrap fabric into purses and bags, crediting them as artisans in the final product. Today, its social enterprise model is one to emulate, as after more than 10 years, it has become a “fashion and design house empowering community artisans.” On its website, R2R states: “In a world where fashion and design are often seen as excess, R2R is proof that style and sustainability can coexist.”
Recently, R2R released their limited edition “R2R on Repeat,” a new clothing line that “celebrates repeating clothes, mixing & matching what you have, keeping a high impact wardrobe as low impact as possible, and weaving joyful stories.” The collection is made from overstock fabric and detailed with indigenous textiles.