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3 M’sian Founders Get Real On Slowing Down The Environmental Nightmare Of Fast Fashion

With shoppers becoming even more conscious of how their choices are impacting the environment, brands can’t help but stop and take notice.

For example, H&M, one of the leaders in the fast fashion industry recently released their “Conscious Collection” last month, with the line made out of sustainable materials.

Fast fashion has received a lot of criticism over the past few years because of exploitation of underpaid workers, the disposal of too many clothes into landfills (an estimated 92 million tonnes of waste in landfills annually), on top of the high environmental toll of manufacturing the clothes.

In 2015, before this noticeable general shift in Malaysia, a trio of sisters launched their fashion brand Real.m.

Real.m was founded on the principles of slow fashion, which places value on the fair treatment of people, animals and the planet. They promote the adoption of artisan-made natural, eco-friendly fabrics for wear and home.

For their latest clothing collection, the sisters of Real.m teamed up with Xe Linn, a fashion designer and founder of Little. Xe Linn specialises in a unique pattern design and cutting method where every garment is designed to fit together like jigsaw puzzle, so that no fabric is wasted in the production process.

The resulting collection is Ivory 2.0, consisting of two tops and two outerwear pieces. Launched in conjunction with Fashion Revolution Week, the global movement’s aim is promote a fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure.

Ivory 2.0 can also be found in UNPLUG, a retail space in Bangsar. Founded by one of the Real.m sisters, its goal is to become a platform for the conscious and eco-community to share their message and values.

We wanted some insight about slow fashion, and also to find out what living a sustainable lifestyle in Malaysia actually entails, so we spoke to Najmia of Real.m, Atiyya of UNPLUG & Real.m, as well as Xe Linn, to see what they could tell us.

The Wake-Up Call

Najmia first awoke to the impact we humans were having on the environment during a bad haze in 2015, where she was sick for a month.

“The grey area around the haze—what was causing it, the lack of transparency behind it—really got me thinking. It got me thinking about lifestyle and how society’s mindless consumption can cause, not just the environment, but our health as well. From then on, I led a life with more mindfulness.”

For Atiyya, running Real.m itself got her to start thinking about being more environmentally conscious and changing her lifestyle.

Xe Linn had a slightly different journey—her zero waste fashion label was started because she hated seeing good materials go to waste in the process of creating new garments.

Having worked with numerous designers over the course of 7 years from the role of an intern to a designer assistant, she was struck by what all of these designers had in common, even though their products were so different.

“Firstly, the piles and piles of fabric waste. I often see high quality, expensive fabrics being chopped up and thrown out. Next, the use of free interns and low wages for skilled workers.”

“It is a common practice for fashion students to intern for fashion houses to gain experience for free. I paid for my own travelling costs and food working for a designer in order to gain experience. [I often] ran errands for the designer on my own expense.”

So she decided to start her own brand and do everything differently.

Taking Small Steps

It can seem like a big task and effort to even start on a sustainable lifestyle, let alone go zero waste.

So we asked the trio about some tips they could give, that wouldn’t require too much time to start or any monetary commitment.

For all the shopaholics or fashion-lovers, Najmia recommended that every time you purchase a new wear, give away an old wear of the same quantity from your wardrobe.

Atiyya echoed that advice and suggested clearing out your closet, donating your clothing and minimising all the items you don’t really need.

“Bringing your own water bottle is also a great practice because these are just small little steps that really gets you in a routine of being more mindful and less wasting,” she said.

“We don’t have to spend money to get started. We can start by extending the life of our existing wardrobe. Extending the life of clothing by a further 9 months would reduce cardon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30% each,” recommended Xe Linn.

All three are quite optimistic about the rise of the zero waste movement in Malaysia, and see the moving awareness of sustainability as a positive sign of change.

You can find out more about Real.m on their website here, follow UNPLUG on their social media here, or find Little on their website here.If you’d like to read more about eco-friendly gift options, you can check out our previous article here.

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VP Asks is a series where we gather professional and public opinions on topics that matter. Want to suggest a topic for us to talk about? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion to our Facebook page.

Feature Image Credit L-R: Atiyya, Xe Linn, Najmia

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