Fashion Revolution Malaysia seeks to heighten awareness towards ethical fashion
Fashion Revolution Malaysia (FRM), the local chapter of UK-based Fashion Revolution, aims to heighten awareness towards ethical fashion at all levels.
FRM country co-ordinator Sasibai Kimis is keen to meet with local ethical fashion brands and get them on board. Sasibai, who is also founder of local ethical fashion brand Earth Heir, emphasised that she and assistant country co-ordinator Laura Francois want FRM to be a collaborative effort.
Their vision, she said, is for FRM to be an educational and collaborative platform to encourage sustainable fashion in Malaysia. To start with, they plan to educate and empower consumers and individuals, share information on sustainable fashion products and empower fashion designers with sustainability tools. The final level of engagement they aim for is to engage policy makers, namely companies and government.
Part of their plan this year to spread awareness is to do another Fashion Revolution Week. “We are also trying to engage with Mercedes-Benz Fashion week, KL Fashion Week and also hope to do a Green Fashion Week Asia event,” Sasibai told Fashionably Kind in a recent interview.
How it all began
The seeds of Fashion Revolution Malaysia were sowed in 2014, according to Sasibai. “After running Earth Heir, I realised that part of the problem with growing our own brand is that there was so little awareness of ethical fashion in Malaysia. When we did our events and tried to educate consumers about how they should know who made their clothes, we found some consumers don’t know and don’t care, but many of them had never even thought about it. Their attitude was: “Clothes? I just go to the shop and buy them, that’s it. How the clothes were made or where they had come from was something they had actually never thought about,” she shared.
Sasibai had noticed UK-based Fashion Revolution on Facebook and Instagram and decided to act. In 2014, before the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, she contacted Fashion Revolution and told them that she wanted to be the country co-ordinator to help grow the awareness of ethical fashion in Malaysia. (For the uninitiated, Fashion Revolution is a global movement that arose from the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in 2013.)
That’s how Sasibai got started with Fashion Revolution and she commends them for being extremely supportive. “It’s all volunteer-run and there’s no funding for this, so Laura and I self-funded a lot of things and invested our time because we both really believe in this,” she added.
Not long after Sasibai became the country co-ordinator, Laura Francois e-mailed the fomer. Francois is Canadian but living in Penang and the two women met in Penang and Sasibai told her about Fashion Revolution Malaysia and brought her on board as the assistant country co-ordinator.
“I’m a social enterprise consultant working primarily with ethical and sustainable brands around Southeast Asia. I was working in Penang when I contacted Sasi regarding Fashion Revolution as I had previously worked on related projects in New Delhi and Montreal. I had decided to move to Malaysia specifically to work on projects related to consumer awareness in fashion, and hence I later accepted the assistant country coordinator position for Fashion Revolution Malaysia,” Francois told Fashionably Kind via e-mail.
Commenting on the partnership, Sasibai said: “It’s been great, Laura has been an amazing help and so that’s how we launched Fashion Revolution Malaysia last year. We did two launch events, one in KL and one in Penang. We have gotten a lot of support from Penang, from student groups and people in the arts scene who helped us organise a clothing swap. In KL, ImpactHub KL helped us do the launch for KL, and helped us when Fashion Revolution founder Carry Somers came to Malaysia.”
Growing Fashion Revolution Malaysia
Sasibai shared that when Somers made a trip to Malaysia late last year, it gave her and Francois more perspective on how to grow FRM. “We realised that we have to raise money on our own and do things to raise funding, and also how to make a dent on a very hard wall, how to start,” she said.
Somers gave the two FRM co-ordinators valuable advice. “She basically said: we know that for ethical fashion around the world, there are not huge numbers of brands that are pursuing sustainable fashion. So how do you as a consumer, shop ethically? It’s more expensive than you thought it would be, because fair fashion is more expensive, because you’re paying the people fairly and you’re respecting the environment. We cannot expect US$1 t-shirts from fair fashion, right? So if people are used to something that is that cheap, something that needs to change.”
Somers told them that they needn’t ask consumers to start big. “As a consumer, you can actually just start by asking questions. In engaging brands, a great starting point is transparency of their first-tier factories and workshops. Yes, we do want to grow ethical fashion brands, but essentially, we also should be engaging non-ethical fashion brands as well. We should be engaging them in helping them become more ethical and more transparent,” Sasibai emphasised.
“It is not a war”
It doesn’t have to be ethical versus non-ethical fashion, Sasibai asserted. “It’s not a war, we’re trying to grow the whole ecosystem for everybody.” According to her, Somers advised her that when trying to engage with non-ethical brands, to just ask them for information on their first-tier factories.
“Because that alone is a good starting point. Just getting them to be transparent; we’re not asking them to stop making polyester or nylon, but if they could just be transparent about where they are making clothes, especially since many big brands have so many layers of factories. Then consumers can know where they are made, and they can start researching or if the brand is willing to give information about employment and working conditions in that factory, then that would be very helpful.
“So that gives a non-ethical fashion brand the ability to communicate with their consumers, although they don’t brand themselves as ethical, they are still transparent. Somers was saying that the first step is just ask these brands for transparency. Because ethical fashion brands tell people where their stuff is made. But do other kinds of brands know that? We’re just trying to encourage them to know where their products are made, even if they don’t reveal that information to the public, they need to know.”
Sasibai highlighted that was why Rana Plaza happened, simply because many brands didn’t even know where their clothes were being made. “Because everything was repeatedly sub-contracted, in the end it happened in that factory with horrible working conditions and all those people died. It was such an unnecessary waste of lives,” she added.
It makes economic sense
Sasibai emphasised that FRM is “for brands to come together so that everyone is committed to grow the ecosystem, to create awareness and to engage with all brands and apparel producers in Malaysia”.
“We want to grow the Malaysian ecosystem, we want to be able to grow and change ethical fashion as a whole, and to engage with policy-makers and engage with industry, to let them know that these are things they should consider and be transparent about. Because fashion retail buyers are also getting pressure, if they are buying from factories here they’re probably getting pressure about the factories being ethical and are treating their employees well. How many of the brands here are even aware of that, or maybe they are just focusing on profit and just selling to whoever. But if they really want to grow their market, they should really start thinking about ethical fashion.”
She advised brands to have a smaller range of products that are sustainable or organic and have practices that are ethical, and ensure their manufacturing processes are sustainable, such as treating wastewater before it feeds into the waterways.
“We have laws, but things can’t be just regulation-driven, because people will only do the minimum. You have to bring an economic discussion to the table for people and let them know that they would be making those changes for economic reasons. They must have stories to prove to people: this is why we’re doing what we do, because it makes business sense for us to be ethical,” she said.
Fashion Revolution Day is on April 24th . For more information on Fashion Revolution Malaysia, visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/FashionRevolutionMalaysia/ and connect with them on Instagram at fashrevmalaysia.