While the rest of the world experiences 4 seasons a year, the fast-fashion world churns out 52 ‘micro-seasons’ per year with new trends out every week.
A race to get to market and meet the demand for weekly ‘seasons’ incentivizes companies to opt for shortcuts like using cheap and toxic textile dyes, unethical labour (often children, prisoners, or human trafficking victims), and low-quality materials.
These items save shoppers a lot at the tills, but the human and environmental cost is higher than most of us even know about. These realities were eye-opening to me as I started to learn more about how my clothes were made this summer.
That’s why I decided I would commit to finding ways to make my fashion consumption more sustainable and try out brands that were doing better for the planet and for their employees. After trying out dozens of brands, here’s my shortlist of 8 that are changing fashion for the better.
Your Choices Can Help Save the World
Let’s be honest - when you’re stuck at home in your PJs with little else to do, fast-fashion can be an alluring way to keep up with the latest trends and get a little retail therapy without breaking the bank.
But after months of exploring and researching new brands, I found out that there are plenty of better budget-friendly ways to have an incredible closet without adding to the problems of the industry.
Before I share my list of must-try brands, here are 3 small steps we can all take to solve these very big problems, and it starts right at home.
3 Easy Steps to Become a Conscious Consumer
+ Buy Less
This means choosing quality over quantity and committing to pieces that you will love throughout all the seasons.
+ Book Your Looks
By renting your pieces, not only do you end up having complete fashion freedom to have a new wardrobe just a few clicks away, but you rescue items that would otherwise end up in landfills. Style Carousel is one innovative Hong-Kong based brand that I recommend checking out.
+ Support Better Businesses
Research the companies you’re buying from to make sure they use non-exploitative business practices. I've included a list of my favourite 7 mostly local designers that you can start buying from below.
Book Your Looks
The average person in Hong Kong spends $10,000 HKD a year on clothes but only wears an item 7 times before tossing it in the bin. Many feel the pressure of social media influencing them to find new looks for the Instagram grid.
My solution to this? Renting! Not only can you change your wardrobe seasonally to fit in with the latest trends, but you can do so without harming the planet or your wallet.
Here’s me wearing one of my favourite pieces from Style Carousel, a Hong-Kong based fashion rental startup committed to promoting slow fashion in Asia and democratising luxury.
If you're someone like me who hates sticking to one style, renting clothes lets you experiment without the commitment. I can switch from edgy street-style one week to elegant Parisian chic another. Perfect for me and my indecisiveness!
Style Carousel also just launched StylePass, which is an innovative subscription offering for fashionistas. With StylePass, you get 5 credits every month for $1,188. You can use those credits to book items (most things are 1 credit!), save your credits for future rentals, or use them to book exclusive styles from brands like Chanel or YSL which go for around 3-5 credits each.
They’re offering a free trial right now, so you can book with a complimentary 5 credits and give renting a try without any commitments. I got my first style box for free.
The best part of this service is that they offer unlimited free exchanges, so I can try everything on at home and only wear what I love.
Support Better Businesses
Before I started learning about sustainable fashion, I assumed that the things produced with sustainable textiles and fabrics also came with a hefty price tag...Or you end up wearing something akin to a potato-sack. The reality? Well, it’s much better than I thought! There are plenty of innovative companies offering accessible, stylish and sustainable fashion.
Here are 7 of my favourite fashion brands in Hong Kong who have strong sustainability and social agendas.
Basics For Basics is a Hong Kong-based brand that produces minimalistic designs for the every-day wardrobe. A problem I found when buying basics is that they fray or rip within a couple of uses. I can’t count the number of times I've rushed to get ready and put on a t-shirt only to find that it's basically see-through because of all the wear. That's why I love Basics For Basics; they centre their products around durability and comfort using quality materials so you get what you pay for.
Another great thing about Basics For Basics is that all items are produced in fair-trade regulated factories allowing for the best guilt-free shopping experience.
I love this trendy 90s-inspired one-shoulder tank. The dual straps give it a certain je ne sais quoi.
The R Collective is a Hong-Kong based designer brand created by the founder of Redress, Cristina Dean. It features classic designs with a modern twist while aiming to reduce waste from textiles and packaging.
Reminiscent of the 1870s, patchwork denim is the new rage amongst fashionistas. I love wearing my patchwork jeans with funky cowboy boots (that are also making a well-deserved comeback).
Another Tomorrow purposefully carries a very select offering of pieces. This speaks to their dedication to the perfection of everything they do. Each piece is expertly crafted with high-quality materials and they're transparent about how everything is made. You can see this when browsing their items. Every piece has a unique digital ID which when scanned, shows the provenance and sustainability facts for that item.
The brand also curates a trendy and minimalistic look, with pieces perfectly cut to the female silhouette to make you feel powerful and feminine.
I recommend checking out their blazers and trousers such as this gorgeous double-breasted linen jacket or this delicate slight flare trouser. Despite a higher price tag, I think these pieces are worth it, as their designs can be worn in any season.
Well-known designer brand Stella McCartney has been making great strides to move fashion towards a sustainable future. The brand stopped using leather, fur, and feathers in their products, and also employ new manufacturing processes that are much less exploitative of natural resources. Stella McCartney is a great way to buy luxury while still remaining environmentally conscious.
As a student on a budget, it’s hard for me to afford designer labels like Stella McCartney even though I love their designs. My life hack for this is renting through Style Carousel. It’s a great way to have a high-fashion wardrobe without hurting your wallet and renting is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint. Two birds one stone!
Tove and Libra is a boutique Hong Kong-based brand that carries chic modern staples using natural materials that are saved from landfills or sustainably sourced.
They design season-less and minimalist items to combat and slow down the ever-changing trends of the fast-fashion industry.
One thing I love about Tove and Libra is the attention they pay to the finer details. They source everything down to the trim from high-end manufacturers to guarantee perfection.
You can see their dedication to the finer details in their signature elasticated cropped trousers that are tapered just above the ankles for a chic look.
One brand to put on your watch list is Kay Li, a local Hong Kong brand that specializes in chic contemporary womenswear.
Kay Li experiments with patterns, textures, and fabrics to produce iconic androgynous pieces that are really out of this world. The brand also advocates for a “less-is-more” approach with small-batch production to reduce waste and consumption.
Kay Li dedicates a lot of their resources to educate the community about the harmful impacts of fast-fashion and works alongside a local fashion school to raise awareness and encourage the next generation of designers to approach the fashion industry with a sustainable agenda.
The founder, Kay Li's software engineering background has clearly given her an aptitude for calculated detail. Her statement ELEANOR Fringed Dress really speaks to her talent for calculated risk-taking. The dress has an Avante-Garde feel yet it's balanced with a simple and streamlined cut to give an overall classic look.
This Hong- Kong-based ethical footwear brand balances sustainability with the perfect blend of aesthetic and comfort. Lacess makes minimalistic sneakers made from upcycled leather trimmings rescued from landfills, recycled plastic bottles, and natural materials.
I’ve tried these on and I have to say they are one of the most comfortable shoes I've worn! With sizes up to EU 41, they’re perfect for long treks through the streets of Hong Kong.
Lacess also donates a portion of their profits to Compassion First, supporting victims of human trafficking. I love a guilt-free shopping experience!
Every Bit Counts
Shopping for a sustainably-sourced wardrobe is getting easier to do with more businesses committing to ethical and environmental outcomes as well as business results. I included 8 of my favourite brands on this blog but there are plenty more to discover, and every small action towards a more sustainable future counts.
The world's resources are limited, and our carbon footprint is something we all can reduce. It's time to change the course of the future by being a more conscious consumer. Everyone can be a part of the change by renting pieces, supporting better businesses, and reducing their consumption.
About the Author
Maxine is a full-time sustainability enthusiast and BSc neuroscience student from London. She was born and raised in Hong Kong and spent her summer interning in the city, exploring, and learning about sustainable fashion brands.