Celebrating Chinese New Year By Supporting Sustainable Chinese Brands
Image: YanYan Knits
China’s reputation for sweat shop factories producing cheap products is a thing of the past. We’ve found 6 Sustainable Chinese Brands to support this Chinese New Year, putting people and planet first.
2021 is the year of the Ox, which symbolises strength and determination, something we all need a bit of this year. Beginning on 12th February, with the new moon, this Chinese new year, festivities actually start the day before and continue until the Lantern festival 15 days later. We’re not like most digital mags (but you knew that already), we won’t be trying to flog you some pointless red fashion just because it’s Chinese New Year. Instead we’re celebrating our favourite sustainable fashion brands, hailing from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Each brand is unique of course but observes a unified vision of a return to the earth. Inspired by Taoist culture it’s a belief that strives for harmony between nature and humans. Whether thats the fabric they use, or recycle, or the causes they stand for, each displays it’s own unique take on sustainability in China today.
6 Sustainable Chinese Brands To Support
While knitwear isn’t typically traditionally worn in China, designers Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung are passionate about it. They create quirky pieces that are inspired by their heritage but nod to their modern lives in New York and Hong Kong respectively. Around 50% of the collection is made using yarn leftover from other brands. This yarn is normally over-ordered or just discarded, destined to end up in landfill or incinerated. YanYan utilise what would be thrown away, lessening the need for more virgin yarns to be created. The yarn is spun in selected mills around the world and knitted with pride by ethical factories in China. We love the modern feel that YanYan bring to an ancient material, coupled with traditional shapes and styles found in Chinese fashion. Only a small number is made in each style too, making them less impactful but totally covetable.
Icicle is serious about nature. Not only do they produce with respect for nature, they want only the very best to be close to your skin. Favouring only natural fabrics like organic cotton, linen from Belgium, silk from China and cashmere from Inner Mongolia, they leave everything as untouched as possible. Icicle only uses natural dyes for everything from linen to leather. Vegetable tanning makes their leather soft but non toxic. Utilising slow, artisanal techniques like grain dying, pu’er tea dying and indigo printmaking, they create beautiful effects. Linen is rain treated, meaning rain water is used instead of chemicals to separate the flax fibre from the plant. Their philosophy ‘Made in Earth’ is at odds with China’s perceived role in the fast fashion and goods industry. They are proud to be forging a new path whilst being proudly made in China.
Recognising a need for a more circular solution to waste, designer Xenia Sidorenko began Usedem, a denim upcycling brand manufactured in China. Using waste denim from Chinese factories as well as sourcing from individuals they are China’s first industrial denim supply brand. Their exciting accessories range provides practical and fashion forward options for any taste. Working with brands like Levis, Lululemon and Hunter Gatherer, they also provide services and education to spread their circular learnings and help rid the fashion industry of waste. All of their bags and accessories are made in partnership with Home Sweet Home in Shanghai. The not for profit organisation provides jobs and training opportunities for Chinese people with disabilities.
150 million sharks die every year thanks to the finning industry, overfishing and loss of habitat. Not only is the disapearance of these ancient creatures a loss for us, their dwindling numbers affects the delicate eco system of the ocean. In Sharks We Trust was created by Miao Wong after a life changing diving trip to Costa Rica. When she learnt that China’s shark finning industry was responsible for 70 million shark deaths, she decided that her brand should be manufactured in China. As well as education on the issues ‘from the ground up’ through their factories, ISWT also partners with conservation projects around the world. Each collection is photographed to highlight a different part of the industry. The 2020 range was shot at a seafood market, and the 2019 collection was worn by anti shark fin chefs. The swimwear itself is made using 78% ECONYL and 22% Xtra Life Lycra, made from a bio based elastane. All printing is digital to lessen water usage and negate toxic chemicals from the process.
Caroline Hu burst onto the fashion scene in 2019 when she won Business of Fashion’s China Prize. Lauded for her craftsmanship and deftness with fabrics, legendary fashion editor Tim Blanks noted that, ‘her gowns embody a growing appetite in fashion for the precious artisanal. It’s a more sophisticated manifestation of the customisation craze.’ Using deadstock fabrics like lace, along with repurposed kerchiefs, curtains and tablecloths, Hu drapes and smocks to create beautiful shapes. The fabric is never cut or altered in order to prevent waste. The result is a small but perfectly formed range of dresses, tops and skirts, akin to seashells or bubbles. While the pieces are so otherworldly, they are also timeless expressions of craftsmanship and a deep love of resucuing fabric.
When founder Carol Chyau worked in Yunnan, South China before her graduation, she was inspired by the people there that herded yak and collected the animals down. However at the point of her visit in 2010, only 10% of the 14000 tonnes of the de-haired yak down reached the fashion market each year. On her return to University, she created her social impact knitwear brand Shokay. Today they produce incredibly soft knitwear, all sourced responsibly in Tibet. The yarn is 30% warmer than wool and 130% more breathable than cashmere. Once collected, the yak down is knitted by hand by women in Chongming Island near Shanghai. As well as providing a 40% income increase for the women and a 60% increase for the herders, Shokay sets aside 1% of their revenue to their Community Development Fund which helps development in rural Tibetan areas.
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