by Ira Dominique H. Guerrero

21 October 2019 – Jose Mari Chan’s return to the airwaves signals a time to storm the malls in search for the perfect gifts to your loved ones! But should buying new threads really be the default?

For members of a global movement that calls for greater transparency, sustainability, and ethics in the fashion industry, this shouldn’t be the case.

Fashion Revolution began in response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013. More than a thousand people were killed and another 2,500 were injured. Majority of the victims were young, female factory workers who were manufacturing clothes for the western market.

This may be a familiar scenario to many Filipinos, given that just two years later, 74 workers were killed in the Kentex slipper factory fire.

Fashion Revolution—including its Philippine arm—demands to abuses to human rights and the environment which occur in the industry. The alternative: sustainable fashion.

For Lian Sing, Fashion Revolution Philippines head of Creative Commissions, sustainable fashion is simply a reminder that our clothes came from somewhere, and were made by someone. They may arrive in boutiques all pretty and affordable, but at what—or whose—expense?

“It’s really about demanding and creating a new system for the industry entirely,” she explained. “Everyone in the supply chain has to participate. We have to think about the farmers who grow our cotton, the women who sew our garments, the rivers decimated by garment factory pollution.”

Many Filipinos are already responsible consumers, purchasing sustainable fashion at a lower cost by thrifting at ukay-ukays and looking for pre-loved items online. This way, they maximize the life of their clothes.

In fact, the used clothing trade has been robust for decades, following World War II when the United Nations provided billions in relief goods. After that, overseas Filipino workers helped the practice thrive, selling Salvation Army finds upon their return to their motherland.

In more recent years, local brands have also begun practicing circular fashion. Expert Anna Brismar defines it as “clothes, shoes, or accessories that are designed, sourced, produced, and provided with the intention to be used and circulated responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere when no longer of human use.”

Rags2Riches, for example, “partner(s) with local artisans across the Philippines to create eco-ethical fashion and home accessories out of upcycled, overstock cloth and indigenous fabrics.”

A laudable effort, given that recyclable wastes, of which textile is a part, comprise 28 percent of the total solid wastes in the country. This is second only to the 52 percent of biodegradable waste, according to a 2017 Senate report on Philippine solid wastes.

Meanwhile, on a global scale, producing textiles emits more greenhouse gases annually than international flights and maritime shipping combined. According to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report cited by Nature, it is even more troubling when you consider the fact that more than 60 percent of these clothes end up in the landfill or getting burned every year.

“It’s not easy to see the link between shopping sales and the constant warming of the planet, but that’s what we’re trying to point out—they are related,” Sing added.

As fashion entrepreneurs continue to find ways to lessen their wares’ impact on the planet, Fashion Revolution Philippines—together with the British Council, Ayala Malls Circuit Makati, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, and iOptions Ventures, among other partners—aims to give sustainable fashion a boost through an exhibit called The Walk-Through.

Launching on October 24 at the activity center of Ayala Malls Circuit Makati, The Walk-Through features works by artists Anina Rubio, Pam Quinto, Tanya Villanueva, Tekla Tamoria, Zeus Bascon, and Jas Fernandez. They touch on topics like upcycled clothes, responsible consumption, and even ocean pollution.

For example, Rubio, a muralist, foregoes paint in favor of blue, green, and yellow fabric scraps from local suppliers and turns them into depictions of nature. “I want people to appreciate nature more when they see my artworks with hopes that in turn, they get a stronger desire to protect it,” she said.

For her part, Quinto, a visual artist, uses fabric scraps to form a pathway that envelopes onlookers. Her installation piece tackles textile waste, something prompted by the fact that 60 billion square meters of textiles are left on the cutting room floor every year. That’s the equivalent of over a million buildings the size of Ayala Malls Circuit Makati!

Tamoria, meanwhile, deconstructs old t-shirts and turns them into haute couture. For her, upcycling is about using your imagination and seeing things you already have in a different light.

“I myself haven’t bought clothes since I started collecting t-shirts. I reused clothes that my friends no longer wanted. It’s also good to figure out a style that looks good on you and is comfortable to keep you from overconsumption,” she said.

Villanueva, on the other hand, promises an interactive, new media installation that speaks to the “healing” one can experience when participating in a mindful fashion industry and when appreciating artisanal processes. It is a critique on excess which has become an attribute associated with fashion.

“I want the focus to shift from the hands that create to the hands that mend and take care of what is already in existence,” she said.

Finally, Bascon and Fernandez’s garment art piece is a product of Bascon’s immersion in Aklan, where he saw the issues small and medium enterprises face.

“I visited a plantation and got oriented on the processes involved in producing a woven fabric,” he recalled.

Sing hopes that by visiting The Walk-Through, attendees will leave with “a spirit of inquiry into sustainability and fashion, and empathy for everyone in the supply chain.”

And possibly, a list of more Earth-friendly presents to leave under the Christmas tree.