Jasmin Malik Chua, originally from Singapore, is a leading voice in the field of sustainable fashion and a veteran of the online publishing industry. Now an editor at Ecouterre, she came there from TreeHugger, where she wrote about sustainable fashion and beauty. Chua took a 'scenic route' to the field of eco-fashion -- she has an M.S. in biomedical journalism and a B.S. in zoology. Here's what she has to say about the field of eco-fashion/jewelry and some of her favorite sustainable fashion stories from Ecouterre.What inspired you to become a journalist focusing on sustainable fashion and beauty? You certainly landed in the perfect place to immerse in your passion.
It wasn't a straight shot for sure. After falling into environmental blogging at TreeHugger, mostly about health and wildlife conservation (I have a bachelor's degree in zoology), I noticed we had a gap in our sustainable fashion and beauty coverage. Trying to fill the breach a bit, I learned more about the colossal impacts both industries have on our health and that of the planet, and soon I was hooked.
I’d like to first focus on definitions since many terms I read about aren’t always defined. What makes fashion (including jewelry) 'sustainable?'
Sustainability means different things to different people. For some, it involves using low-impact materials and dyes. For others, it means conventionally produced goods that are locally made and don't have to travel vast distances to get to consumers. Still others take "sustainable" to refer to quality clothes and accessories that are made to last and have the wherewithal to endure season after season. For me, the sweet spot is hitting all three definitions.
Does 'Reuse' or ‘Trashion’ (fashion made from recycled goods) count as sustainable?
Absolutely. You're using something that's already in the waste stream, so, its environmental impact has come and gone.
Silk Patchwork Dress by Edun
Do you consider handmade fashion and jewelry, by definition, to be 'sustainable?'
Handmade fashion is more likely to be sustainable than not. The pieces are made in small batches, usually domestically, by independent crafters who don't fill warehouse upon warehouse with cheaply manufactured "fast" fashion. Attention to quality is also usually paramount, which dovetails nicely with the heirloom definition of sustainability.
Whose work in handmade sustainable fashion or jewelry do you admire most and why?
It's very hard to pick a favorite—so many people are working in such diverse, wondrous ways that it's difficult to compare. But I have a special affection for companies with built-in social consciousness, like EDUN, TOMS Shoes, FEED Projects, Apolis Activism, and Satara.
(EDUN is a clothing company, whose mission is to create sustainable employment in the developing world. Rock star Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, founded Edun Apparel Ltd. in 2005 to produce clothing in developing countries and to provide increased trade and jobs to those living there).
You consistently cover some amazing stories in Ecouterre about sustainable fashion. How do you find all these stories –- whether it’s the halter top made out of tampons or rings made from spent firing-range bullets?
It's a mix of serendipity, reading other blogs voraciously, designers emailing us directly, and scouring sites like Etsy and Flickr with my fingers crossed.
What have been your favorite Ecouterre sustainable fashion stories to date (handmade fashion if possible)?
Of the more recent pieces we've run, I'm partial to Satara's story, (a fashion company that manages to be both a fashion label and a nonprofit that trains, employs, and empowers impoverished women in India).
You’ve featured lots of fashion from eco/sustainable fashion shows on Ecouterre. What kinds of trends are you seeing in handmade sustainable fashion?
The utilitarian trend definitely stands out. Maybe we're all wistful for a simpler, gentler time or the recession has induced a desire for practicality over fluff, but I'm noticing a return to vintage, heirloom designs and classic Americana, even with conventional fashion labels.
How do you incorporate sustainable practices into your own wardrobe and lifestyle?
I try to curb my spending as much as possible, but when I do buy new clothes, I try to look for eco-friendly, vintage, or impeccably made pieces that will last forever. Case in point: I have a gingham dress from Bennetton that isn't organic, but it's nine years old and looks as new as the day I bought it!
Regular readers of my blog know that I'm a big fan of eco-fashion/jewelry of all kinds. It seems pretty clear to me that eco-fashion isn't just a fad -- it's here to stay. There are more and more examples of this approach to wearable art showing up all the time. Thanks to Jasmin Malik Chua for helping to provide a useful overview of this important trend. You can read more about sustainable fashion at Ecouterre.