We are often confronted with sobering data about how the fashion industry perpetuates throwaway culture. For instance, consider a 2022 Bloomberg study stating that the fashion industry produces a staggering 80 to 100 billion new garments annually. Another, albeit older, but equally eye-opening study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2019 reported that only one per cent of all clothing ever gets recycled, leaving the massive pile of clothing to accumulate in colossal waste heaps.
Waste material from a garment factory is being discarded into a canal in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The improper disposal practices contribute to environmental degradation and pose significant challenges to water quality in the region.
This sentiment is echoed by the luxury resale platform Vestiaire Collective recently, which launched a social media campaign illustrating that the reported 92 million tonnes of textile waste produced yearly – according to Earth.org – could fill four Marina Bay Sands buildings every day. The brand has taken a step further by combating fashion waste, banning 30 fast fashion brands from its site.
Amidst this textile tumult, a breath of fresh air is blowing in the form of a renewed interest in thrifted garments and clothing swaps. It appears a cadre of young designers is on a mission to disrupt our fashion consumption habits, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary through the artful practice of upcycling. Ahead, we meet four brands who are turning second-hand garments and materials into one-of-a-kind creations. Scroll on for more.
Nuryanee Anisah, co-founder of Commenhers
WHO’S BEHIND IT: Established in 2021, Commenhers is the brainchild of Nuryanee Anisah, 23, and her business partner Ye Htut Linn, 22. Citing her upbringing as a source of inspiration to launch her label, Anisah explains that her family “instilled in me the value of spreading kindness and caring for others, which has inspired me to establish an impact-driven brand with a focus on reducing fabric waste in Singapore through upcycling.”
SHOP FOR THE BRAND AT: commenhers.com
WHAT TO EXPECT: Originally started as part of their school project when they were both at Singapore Polytechnic studying for their Business Administration diploma, Commenhers was the duo’s response to an observation of how much textile waste was being generated each year.
“During the pandemic, I realised there was a surge in the number of textiles being thrown away. When you visited some local thrift stores, you’d easily find pieces that had mould growing on them. I felt that it was such a waste that these textiles were not reused or upcycled, and this thought became the springboard for Commenhers,” says Anisah.
Anisah, who is also studying full-time at NUS Business School, works with a diverse group of individuals, including single mothers, homemakers, and senior citizens, to create her range of clothing and accessories. In doing so, she is also providing them with a means of employment.
Commenhers is known for primarily utilising upcycled denim textiles in its designs.
On the design front, anticipate a range that includes everything from patchworked maxi skirts to striped tote bags and checked bucket caps. Denim takes center stage as a heavily-used fabric, although corduroy and velvet also make occasional appearances.
“Last year, we successfully upcycled over 700kg of textile waste with the support of eight local housewives sewing from the comfort of their own homes. This accomplishment was made possible through selling on social media and participating in pop-up booths. This year, due to our collaboration on corporate projects with Decathlon and Gain City, we are aiming higher and hope to upcycle 1,500kg of textile waste,” she shares. “We also launched two co-sewing spaces this year to accommodate 40 of our makers.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The brand is setting its sights overseas, with plans to expand its footprint in countries like Vietnam or Indonesia. This expansion aims to allow them to continue positively impacting beneficiaries through their production practices and set high goals for the amount of textile waste they can keep out of landfills.
Valerie Wong, the creative force behind upcycled fashion label Fuwari
WHO’S BEHIND IT: Behind the kitschy, quirky designs of Fuwari is 25-year-old Valerie Wong. Speaking about how she first got into upcycling, Wong explained that the spark came when she watched her siblings discard perfectly good clothing. “It struck a chord with me because I couldn’t bear to see these items go to waste. I decided to embark on a mission to finding ways to give them a new lease on life, and that’s when I discovered the world of upcycling. It felt like a lightbulb went off in my head, and I began taking these forgotten pieces and turning them into unique fashion designs. I knew I had found my calling.”
SHOP FOR THE BRAND AT: www.fuwarishop.com
Expect kitschy-fun designs at Fuwari.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Fuwari, founded in 2020, primarily focuses on fun colours and designs inspired by youth nostalgia. “It is a reflection of my playful personality and vibrancy! In my shop, you’ll find a carefully curated collection of reworked items that embody my passion for creativity and sustainability,” Wong explains. Think 2000s-style slogan tees reworked into halter dresses, cropped shirts, and tops made from patchworked socks sewn together. Aside from selling her wares, Wong also runs upcycling workshops where she teaches participants to create their own upcycled treasures, ranging from tote bags to plush toys.
WHAT’S NEXT: Wong wants to take her brand into a physical space. “I am aiming to have a space that serves as a store and workshop in time to come, where I’ll be able to focus on Fuwari full time,” she reveals.
Superwasted was started by the founders behind the popular Haji Lane vintage store, Vintagewknd.
WHO’S BEHIND IT: Founded by Eileen Tan and Eden Tay in 2022, Superwasted is the sister brand to the duo’s wildly popular vintage store in Haji Lane, Vintagewknd. While the latter offers vintage threads and a selection of upcycled clothing, Superwasted was created as an alternative brand to craft upcycled clothing designs and has been embraced by a younger and more adventurous crowd.
While working on Vintagewknd, Tay and Tan spent more time and gained more experience dealing with the textile waste and used garments industry. It was here that they realized the volumes of waste the industry continually generates. This realisation propelled them to form their next goal: creating a sustainable alternative to the fast fashion mega-industry by taking these excessively created, unwanted, old materials and turning them into on-trend clothing comparable to fast fashion styles for the younger crowd.
SHOP FOR THE BRAND AT: 16 Haji Lane
Rave, grunge, and blokettecore are just a few of the aesthetics you can discover at Superwasted.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Think dark, grunge vibes that help you channel your inner ravechild. Discover boned corsets made from sports jerseys, patchworked denim pants, splice-and-sewn shirts, and even upcycled co-ord sets for you to pick and choose from. Best of all? They cater to a wide range of sizes. “We’re always going to continue to create pieces that are inclusive to everyone of any age, size, gender, or style,” share Tan and Tay, who prefer to answer as a duo. “We believe people who discover us love us for how we have a place for them because we have something for everyone!”
WHAT’S NEXT: The duo is looking beyond fashion, and they are currently working on sustainable homeware and lifestyle products. “Our brand has taken its course depending on where we’re at in our personal lives,” they share. Citing their move into their first home, they’ve developed “a growing interest in expanding our brand capabilities to weddings as well as the home and living category of products.”
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