Yay, we are officially a toddler now – freakin 1 year old! What a crazy infancy journey it has been learning as much as we can, trying to survive every challenge and preparing for a thrilling journey ahead. I guess this is a good time for us to look back, appreciate the present situation and anticipate for an empowering future.
It’s been an unbelievable ride considering the events we’ve been through over the past three years, with every step filled with uncertainty; little did we know that the journey would lead us to where we are today. Initially, the dream was to become a fashion designer, designing clothes for people to wear to express my creativity. After only a couple of months of launching the bespoke clothing line (PeyaR), I became aware of the impacts the industry had towards the planet and needed to rethink my involvement. Here are just a number of facts I stumbled upon:
150 billion garments per year are produced in the global fashion industry, which means about 20 items per person. (Source: Takeaways from Future of Fashion Sustainability Panel)
92 million tons of solid waste each year is produced by the fashion industry using 98 million tons of natural resources. (Source: Greenpeace)
1.2 billion tons annually is the total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production. This is more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. (Source: Anew of textile economy)
The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, in which 1,130 people died and 2,500 were injured when a run-down eight-storey factory complex making clothes for Primark, Benetton, Walmart and other Western brands collapsed, highlighted the dangers of the industry in Bangladesh. (Source: Post Magazine)
After being made aware of its impacts, there was no going back. I couldn’t unlearn what I was already aware of and all I could think about from this point on were the possible solutions to solve major issues within the fashion industry; solutions that would allow people to wear clothing without hurting the planet or the people behind the industry. So, I took off my designer hat and started a non- for- profit organization, Connected Threads Asia. The organization aimed to raise awareness on the unglamorous side of fashion, empowering individuals and businesses to promote and advance sustainable fashion. We have organized up to 20 different events; from panel discussions and talks to documentary screenings and workshops (mending and upcycling) conducted in Singapore as well as other cities.
Along the way, we have had the opportunity to meet amazing individuals and organizations that have enabled us to grow our community and materialize the initiatives we had planned. Throughout our journey, we have noticed the importance of education as it plays a vital role in changing the mindset of individuals- it is not that we don’t care, it is because we don’t really know what is happening. However, once we are made aware, it is extremely heartwarming and encouraging to see how willing and open we are to change and be a part of a solution rather than a problem. It was a humbling experience as well, having conducted talks with only 3 people in the audience to conducting events with hundreds of people. Although, the numbers were not something that I was concerned of- rather, I focused on creating an impact on at least 1 person per event because a little can go a long way!
Although I knew spreading awareness would always be a part of what I do, 2 years in the movement- I felt like it had to evolve into something more tangible, providing people with the opportunity to make a commitment/ pledge to change the industry. This is when swap events came about. But why clothes swapping of all the alternatives that you can offer if you may ask? I think, for me the way I see it is that a clothes swap is the perfect mix of enjoying the perks of fashion without taking away the responsibility that we all play as active fashion consumers.
When we decided to organize the first pop-up swap event all we had in mind was to make it just like any other shopping experience where displays are curated and a fun, stylish, laid- back event, inconsiderate of the amount of labor it requires to pull off such events. Imagine having 150-180 swappers and collecting between 2500-3000 clothes, having to steam every single piece of clothing, categorizing and curating the whole swap experience all for a 3-hour event. It was mentally and physically exhausting.
I remember this one event held at Marina Barrage where we transported the clothes that were pre- arranged and categorized into colours all ready to be displayed. However, when it arrived, the racks collapsed and the clothes were fell on the ground because I refused to let the movers cover with plastic each garment racks to protect the pieces. I was about to break down because all the hard work I put in for, steaming and curating the clothes 5 days prior to the event went to waste. I was honestly so exhausted to re- arrange everything, but I didn’t really have a choice as the event was the next day. I took a 10-minute nap in the storage space in Marina Barrage, woke up and pulled myself together and managed to arrange it in a couple of hours. All of this would have never been possible if it weren’t for the help of all the hardworking, passionate and fun volunteers who believed in what we were doing.
Side note: I suddenly miss all of you and will be forever grateful of your love and support; I think we should organize a get together soon. 😊
After organizing 16 swaps in different locations as well as building a strong community passionate towards fashion and sustainability, it felt we needed to take the next step towards greater evolution. The pop-up swap events were amazing to engage, make friends and make fashion a force for good, but we needed to make this movement more like of a lifestyle rather than a one-off event every month.
Hence, this is where we are now, as we built the first swapping permanent space in Singapore enabling everyone to swap at any time and bringing everyone together into one space. The space is a collective result of all the experiences of being a designer, event organiser, conducting workshops; hence we do not only offer a swapping service, you can upcycle and mend your fashion items at the same time and learn new skills from the workshops that we offer. Who would have thought that all this while we have been preparing for this next move, that every step is preparing us to evolve and every individual we impact has helped us to make things happen?
Appreciating the present…
The whole experience of opening The Fashion Pulpit was like being a blind person guiding another blind person, we knew where were going but we both did not know how to get there. But all we could do was to try to implement everything and eventually get there.
The first few months was just overwhelming, addressing different challenges in running a retail; the operation demands, the need to constantly grow, and the idea of always innovating. The different demands of old and new members were great tests as we needed to question if this idea is making an impact and providing value into our daily lives and not just to the planet. We continually took into account every feedback from everyone and painfully accepted criticism because we knew this would only help us grow and be better. Cracking our heads through every team discussion and consultations with our mentors helped us on how we could address the negative stigma of a pre-loved/worn or second hand culture and implement a swapping concept, making it a lifestyle as well as changing the mindset of how we treat our clothes; this was always a constant topic that we would discuss.
My doubts began to grow as everyone around me questioned the feasibility of this business idea as we were too focused on the impact and changing mindsets that it may be feeding souls but not necessarily our tummy. Learning how to switch from my creative hat to my business hat is still the most challenging part for me, the worry that if this month won’t be good where are we will get funds to keep going. But somehow the universe always does its magic providing us with opportunities to continue doing what we do.
Yes, it’s been a year now, some say we are growing too slow and some say we are growing fast enough. Some will say we got our basics covered and the only way is a healthy growth, but some will say we don’t have a strong business model and we need to figure out soon. Well, I say we have not figured out many things in running a movement, that is trying to change mindsets, creating an impact at the same time scale up and grow the community.
What we can do now is serve the 600 active members we have and grow it from there, continue to engage and educate our followers through all different social media platforms and curate more workshops that will help us be a more responsible clothes owner. Extend the lifespan of clothing more in the years to come so we don’t have to throw the clothes we have in our wardrobe that will help lessen textile waste as well as encourage more people to swap so we no longer have to use more virgin resources that will lessen pollution that fashion production is causing.
I remember when I first saw this empty place and now it’s occupied by fashion items filled with stories of their own; the stories of our members on why they swap and how they are trying to convince their family and friends to swap too, and by the walk ins who have discovered us for the first time and have joined the community. Within that one year we have heard beautiful stories and met amazing individuals whom some have left Singapore to pursue another career in other countries, or have gone abroad to study and even to those tourists who found us through Google and choose to spend some time with us to swap even on their tight schedules. You all matter to us and will forever be a part of the community. You will be part of our growth and what you did will contribute to the next evolution that will happen tomorrow, next month, next year, nobody really knows.
Anticipating the future….
I guess what I am trying to say is we may never know what the future will hold, in terms of us pushing this movement to remain fashionable, but also responsible individual. The uncertainties and challenges ahead is lightened because we know that we have a community carrying it with us. None of this was ever possible if it weren’t from your support and love. We all believe in the same vision that fashion can be a force for good. We are no longer anxious for what future holds for us as we anticipate it with much joy and excitement!
Cheers, to our 1st BIRTHDAY and for many more years to come! We are now a toddler a great time to explore, learn and have more fun with you all! <3 <3 <3