There’s something new brewing at Coach’s Wisma Atria store. The fashion house has given the store a “green” makeover in a reference to the newly arrived Coach Forever Spring 2021 collection, which prioritises sustainable methods of production. As a nod to their dedication to going green, Coach has enlisted local plant store Potta Plantta to enliven the space by bringing in an assortment of live plants.
Check out our video above, where FEMALE collaborated with Coach to take content creator Mae Tan, marketing/branding guru Aarika Lee and culinary anthropologist Nithiya Laila through the special showcase. All three women’s work and philosophies align with the sustainability-first ethos of this collection, as you’ll see in our interviews with them below.
Exemplifying the Coach Forever Spring 2021 collection’s sustainability-minded ethos are culinary anthropologist Nithiya Laila (middle), content creator Mae Tan (right) and FEMALE Collective member and branding/marketing guru Aarika Lee (left).
On Aarika: Embroidered wool sweater, leather pants and Rogue leather bag. On Nithiya: Classic Cashin cotton and leather coat, and Cashin leather tote with embroidery. On Mae: Ergo leather shoulder bag, wool sweater vest, cotton shirt and skirt and her own earrings. All Coach throughout unless otherwise stated
Take for example how the bags in this individualistic, ’90s-inflected collection are made with naturally-dyed, vegetable tanned leathers – the latter is a technique known to produce leathers that are known for its durability and natural appearances (it acquires a patina over time). In other words, Coach is working to ensure their designs withstand the test of time and that considerate planning definitely adds towards one’s sustainability journey.
This vegetable-tanned leather (a first for Coach) appears on the likes of the new Coach Ergo shoulder bag – a relaxed, slouchy model that speaks of reliability and comfort.
The Coach Ergo bag is made using vegetable-tanned leather.
Additionally, the collection includes a heavy use of recycled materials – tote bags are crafted completely with recycled fabrics (such as recycled plastic bottles), while other accessories and ready-to-wear pieces were fashioned from upcycled remnants.
But being environmentally responsible is not just about upcycling and recycling. Vevers also presented vintage pieces (these are available in limited quantities) and archival designs from past collections – in a far-sighted effort to re-think the fashion industry’s obsession with the new.
On Nithiya: Ergo leather shoulder bag, embroidered cotton trench coat, cotton top, and Buckle leather sandals. On Mae: Swinger leather pochette with embroidery, cotton dress, cotton T-shirt, Buckle leather sandals and her own earrings and socks
“With Coach Forever, I wanted to find new ways of doing things,” said Vevers. “It was important to me to challenge how we create our collections, and consider their impact on our communities and the planet.”
Below, we speak to Mae, Nithiya and Aarika on how their own work and philosophies contribute to the conversation on sustainability.
Ergo leather shoulder bag, embroidered cotton trench coat, cotton top, and Buckle leather sandals
This food anthropologist and TV host is known for her advocacy of local ingredients, working with institutions to highlight their rich culinary possibilities – and how using them reduces carbon footprint. The F&B sector is inextricably linked to sustainability, she says, and it’s key to see things from a macro perspective.
Biodegradable packaging might be a good idea, but it’s only effective if there are the facilities to treat them, for example. And shifting perceptions is crucial. Take how consumers are often willing to pay for a kale salad when home-grown – and equally nutritious – sweet potato is three times cheaper. Says Nithiya: “Going green doesn’t always have to be expensive or difficult.”
How does the F&B industry intersect with sustainability?
“Personally, I think they’re inextricably intertwined. You can’t think of the future of food without it being sustainable. I think the relationship the industry has with sustainability needs to be stronger. It needs to go beyond just catering to immediate trends (such as recyclable packaging).
Yes, upgrading your packaging from Styrofoam and plastic to biodegradable is great. But next, you have to think – do we have the facilities in Singapore to biodegrade the packaging? If there isn’t, how can we as an industry lobby for the processing plant to exist?”
Why is the use of local produce and ingredients important to the movement?
“A lot of chefs are (not averse) to using local ingredients. But the consistency of local produce, the availability of it, and sometimes the quality – if we start experimenting and using more local or regional produce, what our customers need to understand that is not going to taste or look the same as say, carrots flown in from France. Because we’re not fully there yet.
All sourcing isn’t at that level, yet. There’s some really good produce grown in the region. But is it being imported in? So those are the things that will change, I feel as we become more local-centric.”
What are the challenges facing the F&B industry towards becoming more sustainable?
“As an industry, I feel there is very much an intention to want to be more sustainable; I think everyone feels the push to do so. I think the challenge is people are doing it in silos. And it’s about creating a smoother transition for people who want to become sustainable – but at the moment, (more accessible) options not celebrated… you can be sustainable if you are comfortable socio-economically.
For example, sure, it’s nice to get a salad at a place like Grain Traders but not everyone is able to do that. What about the kopitiams and food courts that sell you economic rice dishes for $4? That’s where a holistic focus on sustainability would make the most impact and where we need to see the shift, I think.”
Swinger leather pochette with embroidery, Ergo leather shoulder bag, wool sweater (worn around shoulders), cotton top, cotton skirt and her own earrings
For this eco-enthusiast/FEMALE Collective member who co-founded the buzzy branding agency Elementary Co., doing one’s part for the environment starts with the little things. Like adopting reusables for takeaway orders (she’s in Zero Waste SG’s Bring Your Own Container campaign). Or buying groceries from the wet markets and sources such as Ugly Food, a start-up that aims to reduce food wastage by retailing produce that might be deemed unsaleable simply because of visual imperfections.
Think of going green as akin to climbing a ladder, says Lee. “You don’t have to feel like you’ve to jump to the top to consider yourself as making any impact.”
What are some good resources you’d recommend to people who’d like to get started?
“To find out how to be more sustainable in Singapore specifically, Zero Waste is a good resource as a general Google about things will bring you to more international resources that might not necessarily apply to us and the systems in play here.
I’d also read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, watch the documentaries Our Planet, Blue Planet, The Biggest Little Farm, and if you haven’t already My Octopus Teacher (available on Netflix).”
Common myths and misconceptions around the sustainability movement that should be addressed:
“Probably that you have to be 100 per cent zero-waste and sustainable in order to be effective. Another common strain of thinking is that there’s just no point in doing anything because we’re so far gone.
I think being environmentally conscious is about taking small achievable steps and cutting down where you can everyday. The small changes have a domino effect and soon you’ll start wanting to do more because you realize that you can.”
As both a marketer and someone with a substantial social media presence, how do you navigate the demands of your jobs with your desire to be more sustainable?
“It is hard but for a few years now, I’ve refused the excessive packaging (that comes with typical media/press gifts) and if it’s a product that I do use, I ask (the brand/agency) if it’s alright if I just receive the product on its own without the extra stuff that comes with a fancy media kit.
I also try my best to look out for eco-conscious brands and actively support them. And that includes giving time to brands that may not necessarily have been committed to being more sustainable before but are doing what they can to make the change.
Personally I’ve also learned that we really don’t need that much and it’s impossible to really use everything that comes our way so sometimes we just have to pass on things and it’s OK.”
Swinger leather pochette with embroidery, cotton dress, cotton T-shirt, Buckle leather sandals and her own earrings and socks
This prominent fixture in the fashion circle is the rare candid voice. “As much as people in the industry know that sustainability is a problem, I don’t think that many are actively doing something about it,” she says. “But that’s not a bad thing. More time is needed for people to process because it’s as if suddenly, everything that we have learnt and loved about fashion has been deemed negative.”
To that end, the influencer has become more selective about the brands that she works with (they must align with her personal values) and declines gifts. A beach clean-up project is in the works. “I’m seeing things differently now as I get older and instead of just talking, I feel like it’s now time to put those dreams into concrete action.”
What first got you interested in pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle?
“What really got me in was actually children – I love kids. So to have the thought that kids will grow up in an environment where they cannot enjoy nature – I just find that shocking and unimaginable.
I personally spent a lot of time outdoors as I grew up near the beach, so I cannot imagine a future where children won’t get to enjoy being outdoors because it’ll be too hot. So that was a pretty big wake-up call for me and my biggest motivation.”
What’s your philosophy towards being sustainable?
“I think I generally approach things with a ‘why not?’ perspective. It’s an approach that can be applied to almost everything and any situation – even something as simple as opting to not get the plastic bag when you’re at 7-11 for example. I find that cashiers tend to get surprised when you decline to get the plastic bag but to me, if I can carry it with my hands, why not?
Yes, it’s not always the most comfortable option but it’s still doable, right? So why not? I feel like this pretty much sum up my attitude towards a lot of things in my life – always questioning how things are done and exploring different ways of living.”
Tell me about the projects you’ve worked on that are related to sustainability:
“So two years ago, I held a sale to declutter my wardrobe. It raised nearly $20,000 at the end of it and I split all of the proceeds between two causes that are very important to me – one is WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore), which focuses on protecting the environment and the other is The Contentment Foundation, which promotes a holistic approach to education and where I’m still volunteering at.
I’ve also worked with Zero Waste Singapore on some campaigns and now I’m exploring the possibility of a beach clean-up. This is in conjunction with other influencers from different scenes and we’re still in talks but we’re hoping to pool our audiences to do some good together.”
Photography Stefan Khoo Photography Assistant Alif Styling Assistant Jasmine Ashvinkumar Hair Sean Ang, using Wella Eimi and Dyson Makeup Clarence Lee, using Charlotte Tilbury
A version of this article first appeared in the April 2021 Community edition of FEMALE