The sustainable fashion scene in Malaysia

I recently connected with a sustainable fashion blogger from Malaysia- Sharmila Wallace of Fashionably Kind– who wrote a lovely review of 6 Steps to a Sustainable Wardrobe. I particularly love hearing from readers who are from countries outside of the Western nations that dominate the discussion. I think it is so important to hear global perspectives. I was really interested to hear about sustainable fashion in Malaysia, so I asked Sharmila to give us an introduction. 

Here are Sharmila’s thoughts on sustainable fashion in her home country: 

It’s Time We Learned From Our Neighbours

Malaysians love a good bargain. Whether we’re shopping for groceries, clothes, travel or mobile carrier deals, we tend to go for what’s cheapest and has the best value. This fixation on sales and bargains however, comes at a cost.
The cost is not to the shoppers themselves, but to the environment, as well as garment workers residing in third-world Asian countries. I find it ironical that while Malaysians pride themselves as being a friendly and caring lot, that attitude is conveniently swept under the rug when it comes to shopping for apparel. We don’t seem to think of the consequences of shopping fast fashion clothing. We don’t do it intentionally, but we don’t question either why fast fashion is so cheap. It is time we did that, to safeguard our environment, as well as the people in our neighbouring nations.

As a Malaysian who not too long ago belonged to this category, I feel for those who lack awareness towards the detrimental fast fashion industry and how their own shopping habits affect people and the planet. Change is tough when you’ve had it ingrained in you that cheap is good enough. And it is tougher to change when you don’t have the impetus to re-examine your behaviour and shopping habits.

That said, the Malaysian sustainable fashion scene isn’t absent despite the huge appetite for fast fashion. It is chugging along slowly but surely, with sustainable brands such as Biji Biji Initative and Project Woodworks paving the way for a real sustainable fashion movement in Malaysia. There’s also a Fashion Revolution Malaysia Facebook page, however it is rather inactive compared to pages from other countries, such as Singapore. Singapore’s Fashion Revolution Facebook page has 800 likes and features activities that the community can participate in to support sustainable fashion.

Malaysia’s sustainable fashion movement needs much more participation from the community, and this realisation motivated me to start Fashionably Kind. What began as a way of educating myself about sustainable fashion has now turned into a mission to foster awareness among my fellow Malaysians about the impact of fast fashion and how sustainable fashion can help our Asian neighbours and the planet.

As Malaysians, as members of the human race, we can start by learning from what our neighbours in Singapore and Hong Kong are doing. In Singapore for instance, there is already a fair number of ethical fashion brands available to locals via brick and mortar, as well as online stores. Brands such as Etrican and Kalia Organics are curated by and found online at Little Green Dot, Singapore’s eco-friendly shopping and dining directory.

Hong Kong is not far behind. It has Redress, an NGO based there that tirelessly contributes to raising sustainability standards of the fashion industry by educating fashion designers and businesses to be more responsible. The NGO recently released its first slow fashion documentary called Frontline Fashion (more information about it here). There are also a number of designers in Hong Kong who have embraced sustainable fashion, and the numbers are growing. If you’re travelling to Hong Kong and would like to check out some of the local labels, read this South China Morning Post article.

With so much going on in neighbouring nations, it would be good if more Malaysian designers, businesses and consumers hopped on the sustainability bandwagon to help save the environment and improve the lives of garment workers based in Asian and other developing countries.

So what do you do if you’re a consumer based in Malaysia but not yet in a financial position to support regional or international sustainable fashion brands? The first thing you need to do is reign in your fast fashion shopping habit and self-evaluate. Secondly, figure out what you really need and don’t need in your wardrobe.

Once you’ve got that sorted, host a clothes swap party with other like-minded people (local Facebook groups such as My Preloved are ideal for spreading the word). If you still need to shop after hosting the swap, consider thrift stores (there are several based in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya). Better yet, shop at BLESS Shop, which is a collective of charity shop outlets that sell pre-loved and new items. All proceeds go to charity, a list of charities and outlets are available here.

True, even with our best efforts, we still may not be able to find that one item that we need to complete our wardrobe. You might want to consider Oxfam’s online shop, which sells pre-loved and new items and ships internationally. The idea is to treat your wardrobe like an investment, the way you care for your car or home.

There’s no ‘best time’ to start being a more sustainable shopper, for the people and the planet can no longer wait for us to wake up from our fast fashion stupor. Anybody can make a difference with a little effort and time taken…why not you?

Thanks to Sharmila Wallace for taking the time to write for us. You can read her thoughtful commentary on her blog Fashionably Kind. Her post on 5 Poems that Inspire Sustainable Living is well worth a read. 

2