How does a brand go from fast fashion to conscious production? You might think it isn’t possible, but QLOTHÈ has just proven that it is. We sat down with QLOTHÈ’s founder, Elvynd Soh, to talk about transparency, sourcing, sustainability, the journey itself, giving back through fashion, and more.
We’ve talked about how dirty the fashion industry is several times. Much of (though not all) of the industry’s devastating impacts come from one specific part of the industry. They come from what we have come to know as fast fashion. Brands like Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, H&M, Missguided and more fall into this category. Good On You defines the term fast fashion as “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.” If you’ve ever seen a dress go from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram to being mass-produced across these kinds of stores almost overnight, that’s fast fashion working its magic.
Being that we’re living amid a climate crisis, this model of trend replication, quick turnovers, and short clothing lifecycles simply can’t cut it anymore. In fact, just the other day, news broke that Forever 21 is filing for a potential bankruptcy. Washington Examiner says it “marks the overdue death of fast fashion.” As a result, we’re seeing brands like H&M pushing out Conscious Collections, Inditex promising that 100% of the cotton, linen, and polyester they use will be more sustainable, organic, or recycled by 2025, and Pomelo dropping a Purpose sustainability range.
Unfortunately, a lot of it is also greenwashing. We’ve penned a guide on how to tell whether a brand is greenwashing or not, but if you’re looking for a brand that is really doing it right, look no further.
QLOTHE sustainable fashion collection: TERRA.
QLOTHÈ pride themselves on making beautiful clothing that tells a story. Started by Elvynd Soh, who believes that “clothing is the medium through which we express our individualities and explore our sensitivities,” QLOTHÈ endured quite the journey to get to where they are today. “I felt we weren’t exactly doing justice to what QLOTHÈ meant as a brand, and also we weren’t exactly being responsible for the impact we had as a womenswear brand.”
Two collections later (one of which is launching today), they’ve considerably lowered their impact as a clothing brand, and are much more conscious about their production. Of course, it’s much easier for smaller brands to do good. Tracking supply chains, working with more ethical partners, and doing carbon audits are just some of the steps that are considerably easier for brands like QLOTHÈ (as opposed to the massive, fast fashion houses we previously talked about.) But that doesn’t mean we can’t still take a leaf out of QLOTHÈ’s book anyway. And with that, let’s get into the juicy details…
Why the transition?
“Just to be clear, it was never an overnight thing,” the brand’s co-founder Elvynd said to us. “We weren’t unsustainable one day and sustainable the next. When we first started out, we were focused a lot on merchandising in a way that allowed us to have new arrivals every week. Though the ideas behind each collection were well-thought-out, the materials we used left quite a bit to be desired (in terms of our responsibility towards the planet). This included materials such as conventional synthetic fibres, single-use plastic poly-mailers, etc. The fashion supply chain can be incredibly dirty, and I decided that we needed to stop being part of the problem, and so we began planning the transition towards being a more conscious, responsible brand.”
So how did QLOTHÈ go about transitioning? Elvynd tells us that they took a year to come up with an internal framework of materials which they now use to guide how and what they will or will not use for their future collections. Internally, they also looked at their daily operational practices and evaluated the things they could be doing more mindfully, and the things that they can change, given their resources.
It’s important to note here that it’s not about doing everything right. Sustainability isn’t about checking boxes, because you can’t check all the boxes. (If you did, we’d all be naked.) It’s about doing what you can, with what you have. “It was quite the undertaking,” Elvynd said. “But we thoroughly enjoyed the process.”
It helps to have guiding principles set from day one. These are the three that served as the cornerstones of their transition:
1. Be real. “Transparency and communication are extremely important. We made a lot of good changes but there is still a lot to improve on. We need to be honest with what we’ve done, and also what we are still working on.”
2. Be wholesome. “We didn’t just want to use sustainable materials, call ourselves a “sustainable brand” and leave it at that. There’s a lot more to it than that. If we’re sincere, then we need to assume the mantle of an educator and facilitator. Only then we can truly become a sustainable brand, and help our followers be better consumers.”
3. Be collaborative. “Trying to save the planet is always a collective effort and was never something we could do alone. We need to adopt a collaborative mindset if we want to make real change.”
QLOTHÈ’s latest collection: ARBOR, sustainably sourced and produced fibres that carry both a beautiful lustre, drape gorgeously, and are silky smooth to the touch.
Doing better: walking the talk with their new collection
With these guiding principles in mind, QLOTHÈ set out crafting their new collection. Called ARBOR, it launches today, which happens to be Amazon Day. (No, not the online retail giant. Amazon as in the rainforest. As in, the most important ecosystem in the world.) As with all their collections, ARBOR too tells a story.
“For ARBOR,” Elvynd tells us, “we really wanted to hit home the message that forests around the world are natural beauties that have given us so much. And yet we’ve been mistreating them for so long now that it’s time for us to give something back. It’s really this blatant disregard of the importance of our forests, and the fact that it’s up to us to give them a voice that inspired the ARBOR collection.”
Collaborating with environmental partners
As previously said, the journey towards doing better is not one in which brands walk alone. With this new collection, QLOTHÈ is launching its “Buy a Piece, Plant a Tree” initiative. The key idea is such that for every piece their customers buy, a small sum will be dedicated to community projects that are spearheaded by their partners, such as planting trees and helping reforest an area. Planting trees has various knock-on effects, aside from reducing carbon emissions. It also ensures healthy freshwater supply for the surrounding region and restores the livelihoods of people whose day-to-day commerce and lives depend on these forests.
Specifically, QLOTHÈ is working with PMHaze on their pilot peatland restoration project in the Sungai Tohor area of Riau province in Indonesia. Aside from donating a small sum for every piece to this project, direct donation amounts will be offered as part of QLOTHÈ’s product catalogue. QLOTHÈ is also working with noissue as their packaging partners to replace and improve the materials they use to package their products. For every package they send out, they will plant trees in collaboration with OneTreePlanted across North America, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
Elvynd says that by doing this, they can help their brand and their customers make a tangible impact in saving the planet and spreading awareness surrounding the very real climate issues we’re facing today.
Improving sourcing policies
QLOTHÈ is also looking inward. With this collection, they’re working with Canopy (see below) to construct a public CanopyStyle policy to improve how they source, purchase, and use forestry-related products so that they are sustainable (as in, not exploiting ancient or endangered forests). This goes beyond paper, but also the fibres they use as materials for their pieces too. (By the way, did we mention ARBOR is crafted from Lenzing Tencel and ProViscose? What a dream.)
Who is Canopy? A non-profit with a mission to protect the world’s forests by transforming supply chains to become more sustainable. They’re working with incredible brands like EILEEN FISHER, Stella McCartney, Reformation, and Patagonia amongst others. QLOTHÈ believes that it’s important to work with Canopy to ensure that their policies are up to standard and not marred by commercial inclinations. By holding themselves publicly accountable, they can also further take responsibility for their own consumption as a brand.
Making their supply chain more transparent
As if all of the above isn’t impressive enough already, QLOTHÈ is taking it one step further in their transitioning process. They’ve recognized that consumers are getting smarter and more conscious. This means they’re looking for brands who are not just saying they’re sustainable but also proving it. In response to this consumer demand, QLOTHÈ is currently working with a team of green analysts in Canada on a comparative environmental analysis of their pieces against other brands.
This analysis will break down their impact across key metrics such as carbon emissions, energy usage, water usage, fair-wage labour, etc. They will publicly present the findings so that they have better transparency with their customers. They will also visually present the information for each product so to empower their customers to make more informed decisions. Elvynd hopes that with this, QLOTHÈ can set up a type of “report card” for themselves and their customers, so that it creates a journey for them both together. The end goal is to form a collaborative community that works towards creating positive change for our planet.
Always more to work on
Like us at Green Is The New Black, Elvynd and QLOTHÈ also believe that sustainability is a journey. In the future, they’d like to work on better transparency in terms of “people who toil behind the scenes to make our clothing.” They’d also like to work on greater awareness, which means continually embarking on “initiatives that can better the accessibility of a sustainable lifestyle through educational resources and collaborations.” This is especially important, since leading a sustainable lifestyle often remains accessible only to a select few, often those of a more privileged background.
When it comes to the bigger picture, QLOTHÈ also strives towards making a greater impact by continuously undertaking cleaner, and more sustainable practices, both internally and with their partners. This means recycling programmes, and clearer accountability frameworks, among others.
All that being said, QLOTHÈ is possibly one of the few brands we know who have transitioned this successfully. And who take sustainability so seriously, too. Head on over to their website to check out the launch of their latest collection, ARBOR, and maybe nudge other fashion brands you know to do better too.