FACT: Not all brands that promote sustainability are sustainable. The unprecedented scale of fashion today raises tremendous ecological, social and economic questions, and society continues to demand that fashion brands disclose more information about their policies and practices.
Apart from using sustainably- and ethically-sourced textile materials of natural, recycled or upcycled origins, a brand is only truly sustainable when it also includes fair labour practices as part of its sustainable endeavour, ensuring garment workers are paid equitably and working in ideal conditions.
If any brand is deserving of being accredited as 100% sustainable, it’s the Upcycle Psychedelic Gals, better known as Upsygals (pronounced “up-cycles”).
The label – founded in early 2020 by RMIT University fashion graduate Xinyi and her best friend, scuba instructor QianKu – is known for kitschy and quirky tropics-inspired bespoke garments derived entirely from upcycled clothing, which aims to present a new perspective on sustainable fashion.
QianKu shares: “For us, instead of taking more from Earth and depleting its resources to make new clothes, we want to help reduce what we already have way too much of – clothes.”
Upcycling discarded clothing and deadstock fabrics might be considered a relatively novel idea, but it’s not a new concept. It’s essentially about reducing existing waste to elevate second-hand clothing.
What makes upcycling so much more labour intensive than other modes of design?
QianKu: “Compared to fast fashion or its equivalent mode of design, where rolls of fabric and other materials are instantaneously available upon purchase, I’d say that upcycling is a lot more extra work.
“Sourcing for the right preloved clothing amidst the piles of dusty clothes in thrift stores, thoroughly washing them before we start unpicking each thread, then ironing every piece of fabric takes time! But don’t get me wrong, we love it!
“We also avoid using new fasteners or embellishments; we handmake everything including straps, buttons, bindings and fringes using only scrap fabrics.”
Even the threads and packaging are sustainable, you say?
Xinyi: “It’s the most challenging part as well, because most threads in the market are made of polyester, and in order to be as sustainable as possible, we are adamant to only use threads that are either made from natural fibre or recycled plastic bottles.
“We’re currently using 100% cotton paper threads that were made in the 1990s, and that was after it took us a long time to finally find it. However, we still can’t get our hands on recycled plastic bottle threads due to low production because of its low demand. The prices of these threads are also sky-high compared to common polyester threads.
“We handmade the packaging for our clothes using reclaimed grain sacks and use 100% compostable mailers made from plants to ship them. The mailers can be reused, then composted at home within six months.”
What is the best and easiest thing to do to engage in sustainable fashion as a consumer?
Xinyi: “When one spends money on something, they are supporting whatever that is. Sweatshops and child labour are at the core of fast fashion, where underpaid workers are overworked in terrible conditions.
“Do some research and make sure it’s not something you’d like to support. Hence, the easiest thing is always to buy less. Upcycle and do not buy what is not needed.”
What goals should the industry set in the coming years to be sustainable on all levels?
Xinyi: “Stop exploiting workers and treat them fairly. Clothes are in fact, not supposed to be that cheap when they’re priced fairly. When it’s reasonably priced, people will buy less and treasure what they own more.
“We should also stop chasing after fleeting fashion trends. Instead, brands should try to produce more timeless designs.
“Recycling is not good enough, so it’s better to upcycle. We already have more than enough on hand to last forever; by not creating more new things, we instantly reduce our carbon footprint.”
Thoughts on sustainable fashion within the local fashion industry.
QianKu: “Upcycling thrifted clothes are becoming a trend, in a good way! Although most of the new sustainable brands in Malaysia might not be as sustainable as they can be in terms of the materials used, such as threads and packaging, it’s still incredibly encouraging to see them upcycling old clothes.”