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Fashioning change: local entrepreneurs changing children’s fashion

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Claire Severn talks to three local entrepreneurs who are trying to make a difference in the world of children’s fashion.

There aren’t many among us who can say they don’t like a good bargain. It’s a natural instinct to want to get the best bang for your buck. So when low-cost fashion started to take over the high street back in the 1990s, shoppers were in their element. Now they could update their wardrobes on an almost weekly basis and simply discard items when they (quickly) went out of fashion.

But somewhere at the back of our minds we knew it was too good to be true. There had to be a flipside. And there was, but while reports started to emerge about poor conditions for factory workers and environmental concerns, still we kept on buying, trapped in a throw-away culture – surely our individual purchases weren’t part of the problem?

Then came the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, in which over 1,100 people died and another 2,500 were injured when a factory building collapsed. The world started to sit up and take note. The human cost was real; fast fashion had a dark side.

Jump forward to 2016 and another shocking side to the story came to light with the release of Canadian documentary RiverBlue. This time, for Hong Kong, it was even closer to home. Those cheap jeans we’d all been buying were polluting rivers, like the Pearl River in China with chemicals and dyes. What wasn’t pumped into the rivers remained in the fabrics, ready for us to wear.

All in all, it makes for a pretty depressing read, but the good news is that the publicity has put pressure on the big-name brands to clean up their acts. The Bangladesh Accord, which aims to help ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh become – and stay – safe for millions of workers was brought into effect in April 2013 and was signed by major organisations such as H&M, Primark and Arcadia Group.

Here in DB, we’re pretty aware of the impact humans are having on the planet. We see the trash in the sea and the smog in the air, and we want things to change. Not only do we want a better tomorrow for our children, we want a better today.

It’s this drive that is behind a rise in ethical childrenswear retailers across Hong Kong. In fact, as it turns out, we have some great online options right here on our doorstep.

Healthy, sustainable socks

First up is Eureka Bamboo Socks – a DB-based eco-conscious company dedicated to creating fashionable socks that are not only produced ethically but are also healthy to wear.

According to co-owner and two-year resident Darren Counsell choice of fabric should be one of the key considerations for parents when selecting clothes for their children.

“Much like you are conscious about the food that you eat and the water you drink, you need to be conscious about clothing fabric – it can contain lots of harmful chemicals and toxins,” he explains. “So, try to ensure the products that spend a lot of time against your children’s skin – most importantly socks and underwear – are ‘health friendly.’

“Eureka uses bamboo as its main material because it is hypoallergenic. The eco-friendly fibres are much gentler on the skin than man-made fibres, and they are also antibacterial, antifungal and odour resistant. Furthermore, bamboo can be 100% organically grown, so there are no traces of pesticides. Our manufacturing partners all have the OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certificate – this is the best known, independent, global certification for textiles tested for harmful substances.”

Darren goes on to explain that bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet – it’s an easily renewable resource, and it can withstand water shortages, requiring two thirds less water than cotton to grow. “Importantly too, bamboo releases 30% more oxygen into the atmosphere and absorbs more carbon dioxide than other plants, so it decreases greenhouse gases whilst cleaning the air.”

Jun Li-Friese of felix & mina with her son Felix 

Organic ready-to-wear

Another local label leading the way for sustainable kids’ fashion is ‘felix & mina,’ owned by Peng Chaubased mum Jun Li-Friese. Catering to girls and boys aged one to six, the brand is named after Jun’s son, Felix, and his cousin, Mina.

Driven by its motto of ‘Live the moment, live with consciousness,’ the brand idea was dreamt up in 2002 with the aim of creating stylish childrenswear that is also safe for kids and the environment. The range includes fun, functional pieces made from stretchy, breathable fabrics in designs that appeal to parents and kids alike.

Jun says that the way the clothes are produced is a key element of felix & mina’s ethos. “We use a lot of Turkish cotton, which is incredibly soft,” she says. “This ensures that the clothes are lightweight, fastdrying and super versatile. It’s also completely organic, which helps to avoid issues with skin allergies. Ours is a very strict production method. All of our organic cotton series meet the European Union’s Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) regulations.”

Jun says that the organic element doesn’t mean you have to compromise on style either. “Usually materials that are eco-friendly are not very colourful, however we use organic dyes, so we are able to provide bright products that are still safe for the environment. We offer free delivery within DB too, so it’s super convenient for DBers to shop with us.”

Sarah Garner of Retykle with her ‘little tykes’ Harry and Olympia

A reusable wardrobe

Of course, one of the problems about making kids’ fashion sustainable is how quickly they grow out of things. Sure, you can make an effort to shop responsibly, but what do you do with the things that no longer fit?

According to non-profit organisation Remake, most of our discarded clothes end up being incinerated or sent to landfills, and they estimate that items made of nonbiodegradable fabrics, which is most of the clothing we own, can sit in landfills for up to 200 years.

That was the issue Sarah Garner had in mind when she set up her clothing business Retykle, which offers a reselling service for midto high-end childrenswear. A regular at the Handmade Hong Kong markets in DB, Sarah says the inspiration for the business came from her astonishment at how fast her first child, Henry, was outgrowing his clothing, and she wanted to find a solution.

The concept behind Retykle is simple: parents fill a bag with clothes that are either new (we’ve all got those items at the back of the wardrobe somewhere) or in ‘gently used’ condition and either arrange a free pick up from home or drop them at the Retykle studio in Wong Chuk Hang. Sarah’s team then adds the items to their catalogue and sells them online, with 50% of the revenue going to the seller.

It’s a win-win, removing the hassle for the sellers, while giving buyers the opportunity to enjoy big savings on quality brands. And once the items have been outgrown once more, if they still meet the Retykle standards, they can go back into the cycle.

According to UK charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Plan), organisations across the supply chain could cut up to 3% of their carbon, water and waste impact by making clothes that last just three months longer.

“The biggest issues we are facing in fashion are cheaper and faster clothing production and overconsumption,” says Sarah. “The single biggest solution to our fashion crisis is to keep our items in circulation for longer and buy less new stuff.”

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