"We generate a lot of textile waste every year. According to the National Environment Agency, Singapore generated over 150,000 tonnes of textile and leather waste in 2016 but only 7% of it was recycled. To put this in perspective, this is roughly 47 pairs of jeans per person in Singapore!"
We speak to Agatha "Agy" - a textile artist, environmentalist, mother and wife. This lady previously co-founded Connected Threads Asia and Fashion Revolution Singapore to bring greater awareness to the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Her current goal & focus is to get people to reconnect with their clothes through techniques such as repair and transforming them into creative wearables (a.k.a. upcycling). As featured on Channel NewsAsia, Channel U, The Straits Times and TODAY.
Share a short story on your personal journey that inspired you to take action...(and hopefully inspiring them too!)
It was the realization that my wardrobe was starting to look like an archaeological dig and contributing to the heaps of textile & leather waste being incinerated each year, that I felt action was needed.
Each garment has passed through so many hands and countries before reaching your wardrobe, and so it is all about respecting and valuing the makers who made the piece of clothing.
You could call what I do “slow clothing”, the anti-thesis to “fast fashion”, which has now taken over our malls. Fast fashion churns out collections every two weeks, taking advantage of low labour costs and their extensive logistics network.
Manufacturing so many clothes to entice people to buy them not only creates a burden on our environment, but disconnects people from the garments they wear. It also causes people to lose touch with the skills needed to make clothing.
I encourage people to up-cycle and repair their own clothes so that they can have a deeper relationship with their wardrobe!
What do you believe is key for an individual to start acknowledging that conscious consumption is imperative to oneself, and take action?
Sometimes, people do not take action because they deem it too difficult to fit into their lifestyles, or they are just overwhelmed by the various actions that one can take.
I think it is important that they understand that it is okay to take small and simple steps, like not using or refusing a plastic bag, or just sewing back a button onto your shirt.
Share your elevator pitch to ‘consume less’.
Do not let your possessions overwhelm and dictate your life. Have more control over what you consume by using your possessions, rather than owning them.
Are you witnessing any interesting fabrics, new technologies or concepts that are gaining popularity or could be “the future”?
One exciting area is research into using food waste such as kombucha, mushrooms and even soy, to make sustainable textile fibers. (I have tried making leather from kombucha and one of the problems is making it waterproof.)
We live in a world where it does not make sense to have trade secrets. For the industry to move forward and change in a more positive manner, it is imperative that players have continuous dialogue, collaborate and freely share technology / ideas with each other.
Another area that I see is increasingly popular is where brands are encouraging their customers to bring back their clothes for repair or upcycling. It is happening in the West, and hopefully more brands will bring it to Singapore.
Many people tend to see the “Consciousness Economy as marauding ‘do-gooders’ who want to make the world better at the cost of business or profits” – what are your views on this?
Difficult question to answer. Many say it won’t help solve the environmental disaster we are living in. However, if we look at it from a positive angle, the movement has not only put the spotlight on the environmental causes, but also exposed these issues to a segment of the market that would have never thought about taking action for a good cause. My hope is that it will push this group into taking more action from the initial baby steps.
What do you view is the biggest thing or trend in the conscious fashion scene that has changed over the past few years?
It has been very exciting. People are starting to question where and who made their clothes. They are more curious about the fibers used and are opting for natural and even organic fibers. We are also seeing increased interest towards second-hand clothing, be it through thrift stores, vintage or swaps.
What are your favorite ‘conscious’ places to visit?
I do love purchasing second-hand clothing at thrift stores such as New2U located at Waterloo Street.
What are some simple questions an individual can ask a fashion brand should they be looking to purchase when in need?
Be very curious, and ask questions that are aligned to values you believe in.
Do you vouch for organic or natural fibers, or are you an advocate for natural dyes or human rights? Is there certification?
You can find your answers on the labels of clothing, in the corporate social responsibility reports that can be downloaded on the brand’s website, or even independent reporting sites, such as ProjectJUST. Just be curious and never take things at face value.
Agy can be found at Agy Textile Artist. She originally worked as an environmental scientist in the corporate sector, working on mitigating environmental impacts, before moving into environmental policy at the National Environmental Agency in Singapore.
Now, she incorporates textile waste in her interactive art installations and holds regular talks and workshops. Restyle Your Wardrobe is one of her signature workshops where she shares her knowledge of rethinking the way we view our garments. Pick up sewing skills from scratch and create something new from a t-shirt or a pair of jeans!