10 Malaysian fashion brands that do social good
Feel good fashion
Shopping is usually associated with being a guilty pleasure. However, this need not be so! Spending dough is necessary in keeping the economy afloat by providing jobs to shopkeepers, artisans and designers. Fact: Shopping is good and healthy, when done consciously and moderately.
In 2020, being sustainable is on everybody's minds. During an interview for BURO Hangouts Live with Malaysian activist Sasibai Kimis, she addressed an important issue, that "sometimes being sustainable is seen as a luxury", because of its high cost. Sustainably and ethically sourced products are considerably more expensive due to multiple factors: the materials used, its manufacturing processes but mainly, the human supply chain, whereby fair working wages and a safe working environment is guaranteed.
"When you start paying people more, and making sure it doesn’t damage the environment and doing things correctly and right by respecting the environment and people, prices of products will be slightly higher".
Supporting local brands is one way to do our part in boosting the local economy during the pandemic. A little retail therapy is much needed during a time like this! Here, a list of Malaysian fashion brands to feast your eyes on. Each bring their own unique identity with their different styles and ethos. Whether they champion pressing environmental issues or the human rights movement, there's definitely a cause you'll resonate with.
One of the few slow fashion brands in Malaysia, Sayang releases approximately two collections a year. They take pride in being mindful of their production processes, working with underprivileged women in an "empowering, safe and fair environment", with "flexible hours and fair wages". Also, to ensure their employees have every opportunity to succeed in the industry, workshops are provided to learn necessary crucial skills.
What they're best at: Easy breezy, casual and minimalistic linen wear.
Aside from their existing batik line, the luxury resortwear brand has expanded into an artisanal collective, inviting artisans around the world (particularly Southeast Asia) to be displayed and sold at the flagship store in Bangsar Village II. The initiative is committed to promoting handicraft and ethical bespoke goods, rotating their collection of brands every three to six months to facilitate as many small businesses as possible.
Shop here for: Quirky, colourful accessories representing local flavour from their respective origins
Watch now: Inside the Atelier with Fern
Initially a fundraising project to help keep education free at the Fugee School has morphed into a successful social enterprise that makes dainty beautiful accessories. Their main cause champions refugee children in need and believes in humanity and inclusivity. But above all else, "that all people, refugee or otherwise, deserve the chance to determine their own life paths".
What they're best at: Delicate charmed earrings, made from pearls and semi-precious stones.
Founded by Noelle Kan who has experience in social work, Kanoe promises to be ethical, sustainable and to use fabrics that are woven from only natural fibres. They design all their garments in-house and are proud to say they run on a small yet mighty team. Kanoe sources their fabrics from all over the world, and work with local business and artisans to create one-of-a-kind creations. Our favourite collection thus far, the kimonos made out of vintage tea towels from Europe!
Shop here for: Colourful prints, island wear and off-shouldered tops batik prints.
Short for real material, Real.m's ethos revolves around practicality and everyday natural living, using sustainably sourced materials like bamboo textiles and non-GMO cotton. The garments are also made using eco-friendly processes such as vegetable dyeing. Passionate about the environment, part of each purchase's proceeds are donated to reforestation projects in Malaysia.
What they're best at: Casual basics in neutral tones, unisex cuts and free-size fits.
The cutest sounding name for a humble Malaysian brand! Little takes pride in producing zero waste clothing that is ingeniously designed so that no fabric is wasted in the process, ensuring that every inch of material is maximised and used. Did you know that conventional cutting processes estimate about 15% waste? The other plus side to this is, regular factory production pays minimum wage, whereas Little pays seamstresses a fair wage to hand cut the materials.
Shop here for: Sleeveless tops in billowy silhouettes and baby clothes!
The non-profit organisation based in Brunei was created to help the indigenous Penan people by providing a source of income and additional skillsets. Combining traditional weaving methods to make beautiful basket bags in a multitude of shapes and colourways, the handicraft accessories bring out a sense of local pride, as every purchase goes out to help raise the Penan community. Helping Hands Penan may not have a website or web store, but you can find their goods at local bazaars. Follow their Instagram page for updates!
What they're best at: Handwoven basket bags in an array of patterns, colours and sizes.
Specialising in denimware, Suri Lifestyle is a social enterprise that "empowers underprivileged mothers by handcrafting products using upcycled denim". Upcycled materials and helps mothers in need? Sold! Fun fact: Suri is an abbreviation which stands for Single Mum, Recreative and Innovative, and the word itself means mother and queen in Bahasa Malaysia.
Shop here for: Creative ways of upcycling denim materials into bags, kimonos and pouches.
Fashion is cited to be one of the most polluting industries because of its processes. One of the biggest culprits being the mass production of industrial dyes, which are harmful to the planet. Muni wants their fashion items to have as minimal effect on the earth as possible, thus opting for tropical plant dyes. They use daun ketapang to attain yellow hues, kayu sepang for red tones and pokok nila for green.
What they're best at: T-shirts in a rainbow of colours and intensity, tote bags with dipped-dyed gradient effect.
Their signature products are bags and accessories made from new seat belts that didn't make the quality control cut in factories, rendering them unusable in the car manufacturing industry. Instead of going to the landfill, Biji Biji Ethical Fashion upcycles these seat belts and transform to functional pieces of fashion. Aside from seat belt webbings, they also upcycle discarded tarpaulin banners and needle punch carpets (single use carpets found at events and exhibitions). But our favourite material has to be the luxury line of colourful vintage kimonos recut in purses and pouches.
Shop here for: Cleverly using industrial and deadstock materials into unique wearable pieces.
Founded by Malaysian environmental and social activist Sasibai Kimis, Earth Heir's aesthetic "combines traditional artisanal skills with modern, contemporary design" by working with over a hundred artisans from women's cooperatives, indigenous tribes and refugee groups across Malaysia. Earth Heir is proudly fair trade certified with the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and are passionate about pricing transparency and are open with how their products are priced. A total of 31% goes directly to the artisan for the labour and material.
What they're best at: Hand-stitched patterns set in 24-karat gold plated pendants, rings, and cuffs.