Sustainable fashion and Climate Change
First, is the eye-catching display of mannequins draped in exquisite fabrics and trendy accessories at the facade of the boutique. Then, it’s rack upon rack of T-shirts, blouses, pants, skirts, dresses, shoes, and bags in every imaginable style and color. Next, are the bold red signs all over the store declaring , ‘Sale’, ‘Buy 2 Free 1’ and ‘50% off’.
It takes an enormous amount of willpower not to grab as many items as possible and head straight to the cashier. Unfortunately, most people give in anyway, and buy without giving much thought to whether the items they have selected are sustainable. Many do not stop to ask themselves if keeping up with the latest fashion trends is worth jeopardizing the environment.
But, how does fashion contribute to climate change? Here, it is important to distinguish between sustainable fashion and fast fashion. According to Vogue, sustainable fashion is an umbrella term for clothes that are created and consumed in a way that can be, quite literally sustained, while protecting both the environment and those producing garments. In other words, sustainable fashion addresses environmental issues such as the emission of greenhouse gasses and water pollution as well as social issues, namely the exploitation of labor.
In contrast, the term fast fashion is used to describe clothing that is mass-produced by underpaid and overworked workers using cheap and frail materials. These clothes are not built to last longer than the span of one trend cycle and end up rotting in landfills centuries after they were worn.
“Our house is on fire” — Greta Thunberg
These words could not ring any truer and some of the matches were lit by the fashion industry. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the fashion industry produces between 2 to 8 per cent of global carbon emissions and textile dyeing is the second biggest polluter of water globally. Furthermore, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second. If nothing changes, the fashion industry is set to eat up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. Thus, it is imperative that action is taken toward raising awareness of the importance of sustainable fashion in fighting climate change. And that is exactly what our very own Sunway International Business Society (SIBS) set out to do with their event Fashion Farm!
The Main Event
Fashion Farm was held at the Sunway University Art Gallery on the 8th and 9th of June from 10 am to 5 pm. But, the experience began at a small booth in the University foyer where visitors were issued vouchers that would give them access to all the fun games and dazzling (plus eco-friendly!) items available two floors up.
Upon arriving at the expansive and sunlit Art Gallery, visitors were greeted by an enthralling exhibition. The exhibition featured a series of whiteboards that provided information, while simultaneously procuring information from visitors. The former aim was accomplished through two boards that were adorned with vibrant infographics. The first conveyed the six sustainable development goals (SDGs) that the event was advocating for whereas the second explained the recycling process of clothing.
These bite-sized snippets of information may not have seemed like much at first glance, but their impact cannot be denied as most visitors admitted that a spark had been ignited in them and they were now more inclined to consume fashion sustainably.
As for the latter aim, two interactive boards were also utilised to gauge Sunway students’ perception of sustainable fashion and the environment. One was transformed into a makeshift ‘Voting Station’ where students placed bottle caps into upcycled plastic bottles to answer two very important questions: Has fast fashion become an environment killer? Will you want to adopt sustainable fashion in your life?
Needless to say, there was an overwhelming amount of votes for ‘Yes’. Surprisingly, there was also a significant number of students who chose the contrarian route by answering ‘No’. This further highlights the importance of events in this vein as catalysts for change at Sunway University. Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to raising students’ awareness on environmental issues and this event is a step – albeit a small one – in the right direction. A few paces away from this board was another one labelled ‘Comment Wall’ where students were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the event and its cause by writing on repurposed CDs.
Then, visitors arrived at a corner which seemed to have been blessed by Apollo himself: the photobooth! With ample sunlight streaming through the windows and exuberant art pieces made from recyclable materials, this was the perfect spot to take an aesthetic pic for the ‘gram.
The creativity didn’t stop there though! The SIBS Fashion Farm committee also constructed a ‘Jenga Sculpture’ made entirely of boxes scavenged from around campus. Unsurprisingly, visitors oohed and aahed at these manifestations of the committee’s creativity.
Next, the visitors could lose themselves in the bazaar which was undoubtedly everyone’s favourite part of the event. The bazaar boasted an array of pencil cases and scrunchies that were handmade by SIBS themselves. Sold at RM8 and RM3 respectively, these items were stunning, sustainable and a steal!
There was handmade jewellery galore too with pretty necklaces and bracelets displayed artfully on a table.
The bazaar also sold preloved clothes that were donated by Sunway students during the week-long collection drive held by SIBS in collaboration with Sunway Student Volunteers (SSV) in May. Out of the approximately 700 items that were collected during the drive, 300 of the highest quality clothes were professionally cleaned by SIBS to be sold in the bazaar to encourage thrifting among Sunway students. Judging by the number of people that gravitated towards the bazaar, it is safe to say that SIBS accomplished that goal! Meanwhile, the remaining clothes and money accumulated from the collection drive were donated to the Tzu Chi Foundation, a charitable organization.
Adjacent to the bazaar was the ‘E-Couture’ design competition where people could vote for their favourite creative and sustainable outfit out of the five options, all of which were made by talented Sunway students.
There was also a workshop held in collaboration with Sunway College Student Council (SCC) which taught visitors how to make their very own scrunchies and drawstring bags! Everyone who participated in the workshop left with huge smiles on their faces and a new skill under their belt.
Finally, visitors got to unwind by playing games. True to form, SIBS managed to weave their aims into the games as well by making use of biodegradable materials here. The first game was bowling where players were expected to knock down a tower of cans using a shooting tool.
Then, there was ‘Yank Me’ where players had to remove a piece of paper wedged between a stack of cups while making sure that the stack didn’t collapse. There was also ‘Flip Cup Tic-Tac- Toe’ which – you guessed it – also involved cups. This time, two nostalgic games ‘Flip Cup’ and ‘Tic-Tac-Toe’ had been combined to birth a delightful game that left every player exhilarated.
There was ‘Skeeball’ too where players had to roll a ball as far up a ramp as they possibly could. Last but not least, was a twist on a classic game of Ping Pong where two players passed ping pong balls to each other using… the recurring character, cups! Of course, the players’ efforts weren’t futile as they were rewarded with vouchers and more courtesy of SIBS’ generous sponsors- Terrae, My Burger Lab, Sometime by Asian Designers and Beyond Coffee.
Interview with the Organizers
Echo also had the opportunity to interview a few SIBS members to get their perspective on this initiative using fashion as a platform. Fashion Farm’s Event Director and mastermind, Louis, and Fashion Farm’s Vice Head of Marketing and Design, Alia were happy to answer a few questions and provide more input on the event.
When asked what was the primary inspiration that drew them to come up with an event such as this, Alia explained that more sustainable businesses were emerging, attracting a large number of the public which helped increase the business’ potential. This made them realize that overall consumer power has been steadily increasing over time, giving small businesses more opportunities. Higher consumer power meant being able to raise greater awareness among the public, especially when it came to environmental issues. Louis elaborated that YouTube documentaries promoting sustainable fashion had inspired him to venture on this program.
Echo was also very keen to know how the name Fashion Farm came about. Regarding this, Alia credited Louis, saying that he conceptualized the name by combining two things related to their event – fashion, being the core of their initiative, and farm, which is related to nature. The name was derived with the event’s aim in mind; to spread awareness on sustainable fashion through the multiple activities that were carried out as described earlier.
Louis also expressed his opinion on climate change, stating that it is something caused by overconsumption and overproduction and that, as those at fault of environmental harm, ‘you reap what you sow’. According to him, people are facing the consequences of their own actions towards nature.
Alia shared that her views on sustainable fashion had taken on a different angle after hearing an online talk from an environmental engineer. Now, she says that there is no singular definition on sustainable fashion – it is a borderless topic that can be viewed from a variety of perspectives. When asked what sustainable fashion specifically meant to SIBS, she elaborated that it is about being a mindful consumer. One who researches their needs and wants, not buying impulsively and consuming more than necessary.
Adhering to sustainable fashion would mean acknowledging that famed brands such as Zara, H&M, Shein etc., can be quite expensive compared to sustainable fashion clothing which are convenient and affordable. The brands mentioned, exploit their labor and resources, aiming for mass-production of their merchandise. Sustainable fashion strives for lower production levels to reduce the carbon footprint, creating a positive impact for the environment. Having said that, the responsibility of reducing carbon footprint should not fall on the consumers solely.
Louis shares the same sentiment, implying that sustainable fashion is a subjective topic. It is not about stopping consumption, rather reducing it. Shopping from fast fashion brands would not be a problem if people bought what they needed and not what they wanted. He says most fast fashion is made out of poor materials with low durability. Buying large amounts of clothing and donating them later is not very sustainable. He learnt this after attending an exhibition at REX KL, where he discovered that most donated clothes don’t end up with a new owner but rather, are cast aside and left unattended.
It took SIBS a good three months to plan and organize this whole event alongside 29 other members who Louis and Alia heaped praises at, saying that everyone gave their all, transforming a simple idea into a major event. They also plan to hold annual events as such with varying concepts but with similar aims.
Hopes and Goals from the event
All the activities that were held during the event were crafted with due care keeping in mind the interests of Sunway students. Predominantly, it was done with the hope of communicating to as many people as possible, especially Sunwayians, how sustainable fashion could lead to a better future. Visitors were welcomed with intriguing information boards and were encouraged to share their thoughts on sustainable fashion on the interactive boards. This may not have seemed like much at first glance but, gaining an insight on how most view sustainable fashion will prove to help SIBS in their future events. The exhibition also provided further information on the sustainable development goals that SIBS hoped to achieve through this initiative.
One of the main goals of Fashion Farm was to emphasize the difference between fast fashion and sustainable fashion. As proven by the workshop, producing designs and clothes of one’s favored choice is not really hard as it may sound. Reusing old clothes into handmade items such as pencil cases and scrunchies is also a form of sustainable fashion. Buying new products from branded outlets that mass-produce instead of learning how to find a better use from old clothes, causes harm to the environment as more clothes are being tossed away only to end up in an already brimming landfill.
Probably their most popular attraction of all, the bazaar helped SIBS accomplish their goal of contributing to the green movement as students of Sunway. Proving that thrifting is useful and also more convenient for students, this can enlighten the students on the many different ways of sustainable consumption habits.
Fashion Farm’s goal was also to advocate sustainability among the younger generations. Many are not aware of how today’s activities will affect the later generation. Starting small and slowly building one’s way up will prove to benefit tomorrow’s environment.
SIBS hopes to carry out more events as such and to receive more support from Sunway’s student body with the aim of a brighter future. Truthfully, many of us are aware of the dangers that we face, there is an abundance of knowledge but lack of action to do better for our environment.
Written by: Poorani & Priyanka
Edited by: Natalie