An Earth Day Interview (Part I): Alicia Tsi

 

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed."

- Gandhi

Mother Earth has existed for 4.543 billion years (and counting) — waaay before we came into the picture. Instead of taking care of her, however, we — as in humans — have been carelessly and cruelly and not-so-softly killing her to accommodate our needs. Before Stephen Hawking passed away, he warned that our planet is not going to make it past the next 100 years (it was only in 2016 that he gave us a millennium). And climate change — shocking — is one main reason why.

Maybe it’s easy for many to forget that Earth is a living, breathing thing. Maybe it’s difficult to see how taking care of her is important to our well-being, our health, our future, but there is nary a doubt that our survival (and that of our children and their children) depends on her survival.

Is that too gloomy? Well, take it as a wake-up call. The good news is, you don’t have to be an expert, a millionaire or an activist to start caring for the environment. Every gesture, every step every thought counts. Hey, you made it to this paragraph — you are already a little more eco-conscious than you were 15 seconds ago. But seriously, if each one of us is

more conscious of our decisions and actions, if each one of us is willing to take one baby step in our lives/homes, together that’s one giant step for Earth. If you really need a special day to get started, do it on Earth Day on April 22 (Sunday). On this day in 1970, the first modern environmental movement took place. Millions took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of industrial development.

But first, we reached out to three green Singaporeans we adore — Alicia Tsi, founder of eco-fashion label Esse, and the co-founders of eco-friendly yoga shop Touch The Toes, Wuen Tan and Eliza Inoue — who tell us why we should all care, why it was important for them to start an eco business and not-so-scary-and-intimidating ways to start living green. By the end of the article, there’s a good chance you’d feel super inspired to change your current consumption and lifestyle habits, and change the world for the better in your own way.

Remember, alone we are weak; together we are strong. Mother Earth will thank you. You’ll see. 🌎

ALICIA TSI

FOUNDER OF ESSE

… Makes clothes from sustainable materials, by respected makers.

The sustainability route was not something I gravitated towards initially – it was a culmination of experiences. I used to be quite the fashion victim and chased trends mindlessly. Over time, I became quite dismayed at the quality of fast-fashion brands. I felt like I was devoting way too much space in my wardrobe to purchases that left me feeling empty, and I wanted to develop a better relationship with the things I was wearing.

This also fuelled my interest in the fashion supply chain, which led me to research its impact. What I found totally changed my perspective of the fashion industry as I knew it. The more I learned about the negative social and environmental impact that the fashion industry has (it’s one of the most polluting industries next to oil), the more determined I  was about taking a more transparent approach to my brand and relook at all the processes of the fashion supply chain.

I still love fashion, and what inspires me is knowing that Esse is part of a bigger movement that’s redefining the industry. It excites me when I can share my experiences, and I love that I can tell the stories of fabrics and makers through my designs. Ultimately, I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see the pieces on my customers, and watch them develop a relationship with each piece of garment over time.”

How do you think mindsets about a greener way of life can be changed or improved in Singapore? What do you think has been the biggest progress?
Alicia: I think change has to come from both brands and consumers. The first thing is, I think, to acknowledge and point out the issues this industry is facing. For brands, it’s all about putting in that extra bit of effort to understand who is making their clothing, the processes and how complex the supply chain is.

For consumers, it is about taking the time to understand their relationship with the piece of garment they are wearing. This allows them to buy with greater awareness and intention. Ask the brands more questions, like who made my clothes? and what goes into a piece of garment?

It seems like many of my customers and friends have been going through the same journey as I did. I frequently hear stories about how they have an epiphany around their consumption habits, that they have been shopping mindlessly or throwing away clothes of poor quality too often.

How do you think you can convince Singaporeans to start being more environmentally conscious? Truth is, it seems to be more expensive. What is the first step to educating people? Other than the cost, what do you see to be other challenges?
Alicia: At first glance, choosing eco-friendly options may seem more expensive, but I usually rebut that comment by asking customers to consider cost-per-wear. The fact is, the cost-per-wear for an eco-friendly option may ultimately be the same or even lesser than the fast fashion option, because it lasts longer and you can get more wears out of it.

For us, it starts with helping customers buy with greater awareness and intention. We usually ask customers more thoughtful questions like (1) Why are you buying this piece of garment? (2) How do you intend to style this piece? (3) What value does it add to your life? All these questions help customers to evaluate their purchase in a much more holistic manner. This also opens up the conversation about being environmentally conscious.

I was devoting way too much space in my wardrobe to purchases that left me feeling EMPTY, and I wanted to develop a better RELATIONSHIP with the things I was wearing.

The other challenge we face is maintaining our pace amid fast-fashion brands. We often get asked to produce more designs or launch more collections, but we have decided to keep capsules small and launch once a month because we want to refine designs and give our seamstresses sufficient time to produce garments so quality is not compromised. This might mean that we miss out on potential sales, but we also feel the need to stay true to our commitment to quality.

In one sentence, why should people care more about our Earth? 
Alicia: It sounds cliché, but we only have one Earth to share with generations to come. With global warming, pollution of waterways and landfills that are at their maximum capacity, we really have to re-look at our current lifestyle and environmental footprint.

Adopting a greener lifestyle is a journey (baby steps is the right approach!), so you shouldn’t feel intimidated or pressured to make a 180-degree change overnight.

What baby steps can one take towards living a greener lifestyle?
Alicia: Adopting a greener lifestyle is a journey (baby steps is the right approach!), so you shouldn’t feel intimidated or pressured to make a 180-degree change overnight. I think it begins with being mindful and evaluating your consumption habits.

Fashion-wise, I’ve started buying better and buying less. I try to extend the lifespan of my clothes by hand-washing them and mending them when needed. I also like shopping vintage and thrift stores.

I’ve embarked on projects to change various aspects of my life to reach my ultimate goal of a zero-waste lifestyle. My goal this year is to reduce my plastic consumption – bringing my own grocery bags, cup and containers, switching to bamboo straws are my baby steps.

NEXT, IN PART II:
WUEN TAN & ELIZA INOUE

“If we plant plastic, we’ll eat plastic.”

PHOTOS  //  YI-WEI ANG

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