It’s time for a fashion revolution and Just Gaya’s is leading the way by connecting consumers with artisans on a journey toward a slow fashion takeover. By celebrating artisanal craftsmanship, Just Gaya’s in Singapore is a champion of ethical, artisan and fair trade fashion. But what does that even mean?
We don’t need to tell you again (but we will), fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It’s also hugely exploitive of the garment workers who live in countries where. You might remember the collapse of the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh in which more than 1,000 workers perished and another 2,500 were injured. In the days the followed, the aftermath of the man-made disaster revealed gross structural negligence by the owners, severe overcrowding within the facilities, and harrowing working conditions. The factory produced clothing for well-known brands like Prada, Versace, Mango and even Walmart. In the wake of this, let us remind you of the fundamental question you should be asking yourself before every purchase: who made my clothes?
Slowly but surely, bespoke sustainable solutions to fast fashion are presenting themselves in the form of ethical and conscious brands that are turning to traditional techniques to produce modern pieces. To do that, they look to artisans who are preserving age-old traditions like using plant-based dyes, hand weaving and fashioning hand-printed materials. But how does one realize the longevity and elegance in ethical fashion? This is also hugely challenging since artisanal brands tend to cost a pretty penny.
Just Gaya’s is a Singapore-based store that celebrates artisan fashion with a shop full of striking colours and intricate designs. At its surface, the store is multi-label boutique dedicated to curating a collection of brands, each bringing a unique handmade element to their product design. At its core, it’s a movement lead by Gaya Subra, who ultimately encourages socially responsible practices and conscious consumerism by making ethical fashion affordable to all. And when you take a look inside the life of this slow fashion entrepreneur, you’ll also find someone who is wholeheartedly invested in supporting the lifelong work of artisan communities and the skills of their trade. This is the story of how sustainable and ethical fashion looks to the past to create the future.
Nala Designs make hand-illustrated and block-printed clothing and scarves that celebrates artisanal designs.
GITNB: The term ‘ethical fashion’ is now in-trend but often misused. What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you?
Gaya: Ethical fashion is really the start-to-end cycle of any product from the beginning of production, the labour force behind it, and the final product. It doesn’t end there, though. It’s also about the life that each product lives in the hands of the consumer. Many of us don’t realize that the lifecycle of the product is also our responsibility. The longer the life of the product, the less we generally would or could consume.
What is the difference between ethical and artisan fashion? Because the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Ethical fashion considers how eco-friendly the product is from the start. Does production align with fair trade practices? Is the end-product overall ethical? And this to me includes packaging, as I feel there is a lot of waste in packaging. Artisan fashion, on the other hand, preserves the culture of the art, and many artisans happen to be ethical in the way they produce a product, plus their production if limited, therefore less waste in production and mass production.
Myself, I have not yet embraced ethical fashion (I’m madly in love with Lulu lemon and Stone Cold Fox). What are the consequences of traditional fashion that I should know about that might help me make more conscious choices next time?
Me too! I try as much as I can. As a consumer, I think the best way to embrace it is to continue being conscious when we shop. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and we need to keep reminding ourselves of the pollution it causes to the environment. We need to train ourselves to think twice before we make that fast fashion purchase and instead look for alternatives from conscious brands. What I love most about artisanal fashion is that it’s handmade (and cannot be mass-produced); therefore, it’s less impactful in the long run and also produces more one-of-a-kind pieces.
What is the value of artisan-made goods over? And how does the demand for ethical fashion impact artisanal communities around the world?
Consumers these days are highly appreciative of products that either positively impact the environment or the person who made it. Artisans also often represent entire communities, and they possess a fierce passion for creating beautiful products from their cultural trade. But since most artisans are small independent businesses, we would need to see significant investment to ensure all products and especially packaging is eco-friendly, biodegradable, etc. It will still take some time, as unfortunately biodegradable is still an expensive option.
Many people think that responsible production comes at a cost (they’re not wrong). How do you balance that and set both the expectation amongst your customers and the brands you carry?
At Just Gaya’s, we are entirely honest and transparent about where your product comes from and how it was made — the labour and the loves. We remind people that products have a longer lifespan, a timeless style and are thoroughly uniqueness. We do the best we can, even if that’s just beginning with one small aspect, at least it’s a start. Hopefully, this will catch on in larger companies who do have the capacity and budget, and change will continue to be a priority.
People love a nice mix of contemporary and classic. What are some of the traditional trades that are coming back into trend to make modern pieces these days?
This is the essence of my multi-brand — I am dedicated to curating a collection of brands that bring handmade elements to their product designs. Frankitas, for example, uses traditional hand-woven, plant-based dyed ikat (a traditional Indonesian decorative dyeing technique) and fair trade hand-woven textiles in their clutch and bag designs. Nala Designs hand draws their illustrations before it is printed onto block or silkscreen and fashioned into clothing, accessories and home décor. Fugeelah is a collection of lifestyle accessories that are inspired, designed, and made by working-age students at the Fugee School. Profits are returned to the school to help fund the younger generation.
As a multi-label shop owner, what are the challenges AND benefits that come from working with artisanal brands?
It has been a blessing to work with so many inspiring women who have created the brands I retail. The biggest challenge comes from upholding each brand’s essence while cross-integrating five brands.
What happens to pieces that don’t get sold?
I definitely try to sell everything in my store, but if any are out of season or left for some time, I will bless them to the underprivileged.
How do you select your partners? What boxes does a brand have to tick before you decide to carry, sell and promote their products?
Actually, I select brands out of sheer love and gut instinct. I specifically am attracted and focus on bringing in brands that feature a unique handmade element to their product design and complement the essence of Just Gaya’s, which is colour. Again, I’ve been blessed to carry brands that are led by strong, inspiring women who have a passion for designing striking clothing and accessories.
We love to hear about brands that have a story to tell. What are some of the unique brands you work with that have a powerful story fueling their passion?
Frankitas produced a collection of bags and purses made from traditional ethnic textiles that are rich in heritage and history. Their textiles are handwoven using an age-old traditional method of weaving and tie-dying. Some of the handwoven fabrics can take up to 22 days to create, depending on the complexity of the motifs as well as the number of colours used. Infused with striking contemporary colours and design, they appeal to women who embrace a distinctive taste to express their personal style effortlessly.
Fugeelah is a social enterprise created for children seeking refuge in Malaysia. What started as a fundraising project to help keep education free for refugee children and youth at the Fugee School, has today grown into a busy little lifestyle accessories brand. The brand employees working-age students from the Fugee School and profits raised from sales of Fugeelah are donated back to the running of Fugee School.
And finally, Nala Designs is a lifestyle brand that specializes in pattern design. Inspired by Asian culture and heritage, these patterns translate to different mediums such as fabrics, wallpaper, handbags, clothing, accessories, home-ware and stationery. Everything is illustrated by hand, block or silkscreen printed with colours that encapsulate the diversity of South East-Asia.
What are some of the #LittleGreenSteps that fashionistas should be following when they’re out shopping?
These are my rules to live by:
- Carry a reusable-shopping tote
- Look for quality products, which will last and have less impact on the environment
- Read this article.