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inside our wardrobe green is the new black

Singapore’s Fashion Talkshow: Inside Our Wardrobe

Hosted by the Singapore Sustainability Academy, Sustainable Fashion 2.0: The Great Reveal featured a thrilling and enlightening discussion, led by the much-awaited unveiling of Fashion Pulpit’s Inside Our Wardrobe survey. Green Is The New Black covered the talkshow to learn more…

The fashion industry accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output – more than international flights and shipping combined. It also accounts for a fifth of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced globally each year. How can we be more conscious wearers?

The Experts

In his opening, Raye Padit—Founder of CEO of Singapore’s first-ever retail space for swapping and upcycling apparel, The Fashion Pulpit—set the scene for the discussion, by highlighting the need for a slow and intentional relationship with our wardrobes. He took us through the results from Inside Our Wardrobe, a collaborative research two years in the making, that was released in November last year. “We need to go back to ourselves and really understand what fashion means to us outside the noise we have on our phones and social media,” he said.

Following his sharing, Xingyun Shen, Research and Impact Coordinator of Fashion Pulpit moderated a panel discussion with three eco-champions of sustainable fashion. The speakers included Jasmine Tuan, Co-founder of Cloop, which is a swapping community dedicated to closing the fashion loop by collecting, curating and circulating apparel and creating alternatives; Samantha Thian, Founder of Seastainable, a social business known for supporting sustainable living with purpose-driven brands and products for marine conservation; and Kae Hana, Fashion lecturer and Biomaterials Lecturer.

Here are our key highlights/takeaways from the discussion.

Our ever-evolving relationship with clothes 

When asked to describe their relationship with clothes, Kae Hana nearly instantly responded that “as an ever-evolving person, I have an ever-evolving sense of clothes. There are staples that serve me across the years because I mostly choose and stick with things that can fit me for ten to twelve years down the line.” 

Adding to that point, Samantha said, “Clothes are a reflection of my journey. They’re about fitting my current lifestyle. And if that’s changing, I want to be able to sustainably mirror it. I don’t think it needs to remain stagnant.”


Understanding second-hand culture and patterns

The Fashion Pulpit (TFP) was founded in 2018. Now, with a community of 2,800 swappers at a permanent location, TFP is offering retail services while investing in education and research.

Inside Our Wardrobe (you can find the full report here) is one such initiative, a wearers-focused study that’s an easy read and a good first step to understanding our journey with clothes. It’s based on a 30-minute survey rooted in slowness and introspection. The first chapter, Reflect, is rather confrontational, forcing readers to actually look at their wardrobe, to feel the feelings and memories it evokes, both good and bad, and understand the stories behind our clothes: how do we engage with them? Why do we replenish them? What needs are we responding to?

The following chapters uncover some interesting social and environmental patterns. One key point that stood out was how there are higher levels of spending reflected amongst primary caregivers, and how it’s important to consider the nuance of feminised consumption and their role as caregivers. Eventually, Raye emphasised, “the power needs to return to the wearer. How we vote with our dollars also helps to make a difference.”

In response to the report, Kaye shared they felt “incredibly comforted after reading that we’re not alone. It’s a journey, no one has it all figured out.”

What is it about this body-object relationship that compels us to keep clothes even if we can’t wear them again? 

Jasmine Tuan told us that she used to be a shopaholic. She’d look at her wardrobe every morning and feel like she needed more, and would keep returning to fast fashion. A full wardrobe’s decision fatigue is not something we’re unfamiliar with: the decision fatigue from staring into the endless options, the sense of lack that makes us want to buy more, and then the cycle repeats. What is it about this body-object relationship that compels us to not give them away to thrift stores and swapping communities?

To quote fashion expert and researcher, Louisse Crewe, “The very act of wearing clothes is transformative. We inhabit them and they tell stories about us: where we bought them: when, where, and with whom we wore them: the places we went, the stains from the party, the rip from the fall as marks of value, not disdain.” The hope and softness that clothes hold our bodies with are reasons enough to develop more intimate relationships with them, relationships that open us up and let us share these experiences and hope with the world.

Addressing concerns of growing e-commerce during the pandemic

Swapping is ultimately a business of trust and community. But e-commerce? That’s swift, cheap, and fatal. One-click and you’ve already added to the environmental cost of packaging, transporting and ultimate disposal/incineration. (Did you know that often when you buy then return clothing items, they’re not returned to the warehouse but immediately disposed of?)/. No matter how brands try to rebrand and claim to be sustainable, e-commerce does not add to sustainability. It’s tempting and cheap but has a massive carbon footprint. And as it has picked up during the pandemic, addressing very real needs, we’ve started seeing a recycled paper shortage. What’s needed is more affordable alternate solutions that people can choose.

On accessibility and space for nuance in the swapping community

You may have seen photos of piles of donations sitting around the Salvation Army donation centers. Nearly all of these donations are thrown away. We need to think about the afterlife of clothes before we commit to them: donation takes away the agency and responsibility from the wearer. In the long term, it’s not the right solution.

When asked what their preferred ways of letting go of clothes that don’t serve them are, Kaye responded that swapping is complex. It depends a lot on what category you like to swap and what suits your needs and comfort, a process of self-discovery. But as a plus-size swapper, it’s just a lot harder and more frustrating to go for swapping events and return empty-handed. Thrifting, then, serves as a more fulfilling and safe option. “We should do a plus-sized swap very soon,” Jasmine offers. The current second-hand market is an expansion of what the first-hand industry looks like. This industry needs to start recognising that there are sizes beyond Size 15. Not everyone can swap (like wearers living with skin problems, for example), and that’s why we need to have other options available.

On that note, an audience member brought up ethnic wear, and how cultural diversity needs to be respected. It can be disrespectful to enter spaces that just hang up ethnic wear without context or explanation on how and when to wear it, which can lead to appropriation. Raye from Fashion Pulpit shared that they have “specific events for specific seasons to help gather community so that they can exchange clothes as well as knowledge.” A regular and inclusive feedback system that asks people how they can curate and gather the clothes that are displayed also helps.

Our main takeaway

As Raye insisted, “Swapping is not meant to be hard, it’s meant to be intentional. It’s supposed to make wearers feel like active participants. And that can feel new or even different in a society that chips away at our agency.” Swapping is not just a band-aid for a problem. Intentional swapping, with constant self-reflection (and education), goes deeper. Something that Jasmine said stuck out for us too: “It’s better if you purchase one Zara piece and use it for years than buy several clothing pieces from sustainable brands which you will wear once then just stop wearing. At the end of the day, it’s our relationship with the fabric that matters most.”


FEATURED IMAGE: via Pexels | IMAGE DESCRIPTION:  Photo of a person sifting through a row of clothes in a thrift store, with portraits and other ephemera in the background.