An Earth Day Interview (Part II): Wuen Tan & Eliza Inoue

Now more than ever, as our world crumbles away and becomes inundated with plastic, there is an urgency for everyone to be educated, to truly understand and realise that each of us can make a difference.

— Wuen Tan (above)

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 our 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 — the co-founders of eco-friendly yoga shop Touch The Toes, Wuen Tan and Eliza Inoue, and Alicia Tsi, founder of eco-fashion label Esse (read her interview here) — 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 this interview, there is a good chance you are going to 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. 🌎

 

WUEN TAN AND ELIZA INOUE

CO-FOUNDERS OF TOUCH THE TOES

… The first eco-friendly yoga and lifestyle store in Singapore that sells sustainable products and supports fair trade. 

It harks back to 1991 or so, when I was introduced to Earth Day in school. The stuff on exhibition then was nowhere near as horrific (or graphic) as our current circumstances. But it was sufficient for a seed to be planted, and a shop to be born many years down the line. Now more than ever, as our world crumbles away and becomes inundated with plastic, there is an urgency for everyone to be educated, to truly understand and realise that each of us can make a difference.” — Wuen

“Before Touch The Toes (TTT), I was a creative in an advertising firm. I was uninspired by the products I was helping to sell, so I left my job. That was when I joined TTT during its early stages. It was important for us that we endorse brands who ran their operations ethically and sustainably. It’s good to know that the brands we promote help to empower their work force — which includes paying above the living wage, having manageable work hours, and simply creating happy work environments that allow advancement in life.” — Eliza

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?
Wuen: For there to be real change, the government must be willing to step in/up with hard measures. At the moment, (some) schools play a big part in educating our next generation. Social media has also offered a good platform for active groups — allowing Singaporeans to be exposed to what the rest of the world is up to.

Eliza: Sustainable lifestyle should be made more convenient and enticing to encourage more people to participate, and eventually for it to become the norm. For instance, if there are bulk sections in our supermarkets, we will be encouraged to purchase products that are package-free. Because, to be honest, even if we bring our own canvas bags to the store, all the products are still plastic packaging. My suggestion would be to offer less variations of the same product and offer them in bulk.

Cafés and restaurants can help by offering more vegetarian or vegan options. Right now, I feel that the selection is quite thin, unless you go to niche places. This makes it harder for those who want to gradually make the switch. Our society needs to slowly shift, too, until our economy is not solely driven by selling things we don’t need.

IF WE PLANT PLASTIC, WE’LL EAT PLASTIC.

On a positive note, I’m excited that Singapore is offering solar energy options for households in the Jurong neighbourhood starting this month. I’m looking forward for the Open Electricity Market to extend islandwide. Prices seem to be the same or lower than our current electricity charges, so the switch should be enticing for many.

I know Singapore is the greenest city in the world, and I love that we’re surrounded by lush greens. This is truly a privilege. But I often wonder what it would be like if we utilised more of these green spaces for vegetation.

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?
Wuen: It isn’t so much the cost. Eco-friendly clothing and yoga products are very competitively priced. It is habits and behaviours that need to be adjusted and changed. Old habits die hard, but half the battle is won if

more products offer function, form and ethics. This has always been what TTT strives for.

We are a highly materialistic society — people feel a strong need to validate working hard by buying more. A key challenge is getting people to embrace quality over quantity — that less can be more.

Eliza: I agree price is an important factor. Right now, organic produce and clothing can seem pricier for people who are on a budget and are used to buying fast fashion. To me, it’s about prioritising — learning to buy less, planning ahead on your purchases, and don’t fall prey to impulse buying. If we buy less, we can afford to spend more on individual items that have longer life cycles. If we own less, we’ll have less items to discard, and hence leave a smaller waste foot print.

Like most people, I’ve accumulated so many things over the years. I’ve recently started my downsizing journey, selling items on Carousell and flea markets. It has been an interesting process. I started asking questions like “why do I have two staplers instead of one? Why do I have a few of the same things?” One lesson I’ve learned is, when you spend your time trying to resell your item for 70% of what you paid for, you feel kind of sad but, it makes you think twice about future purchases.

In short, why should people care more about Mother Earth?
Wuen: Because there’s only one. “As we sow, so shall we reap.” If we plant plastic, we’ll eat plastic. Which is literally the case now: Water, salt, seafood, et cetera, all contain micro plastics. I can’t imagine the havoc it is going to wreak on our health in the years to come if we don’t care more now. We care about ourselves and our families, which, by default, means we need to care about Mother Earth.

Eliza: This is an interesting question. Caring for our earth is essentially caring about the extension of our home. Because without a healthy environment, we won’t get clean air, water or food — the bare essentials we need to live. So fundamentally, if we don’t take care of Mother Earth, humanity will be up next on the extinction list. And the funny thing is, our planet will still carry on existing in its new environment regardless of whether we are in it or not.

For those who are now inspired to start, what baby steps would you recommend they take towards living a greener lifestyle?
Wuen: We all like shopping, so let’s start there. There are more and more eco pop-up fairs in Singapore — these are fun, and stalls are always happy to share what they do and why. It’s a huge community. That way, people can also see that they’re alone in their efforts. Positivity sparks more positivity. Also, it’s easier these days to buy sustainable products like

leggings made from recycled plastic bottles (like Teeki, which TTT carries if anyone’s interested). This act of voting with our dollar gives plastic new life. Start small. For example, bring your own metal or bamboo straws. Pat yourself on the back for each single-use disposable plastic straw you refuse. Because when we succeed in one small thing, it’ll naturally lead to the next. 🙂

Eliza: 1. Sell items that no longer serves you. I prefer selling to giving because people tend to value items they pay for. You’ll be surprised how many people would be willing to buy the things you think no one wants.

2. Designate a vegetarian or vegan day, or a few days a week. Start slow and steady. For many people (including myself), going entirely vegetarian or vegan is difficult, and it’s likely that you will relapse if you go cold turkey.

3. When it comes to clothing, buy pre-loved or research brands that support ethical and sustainable practices. These guys have made the effort and taken great strides in building an eco-system that minimises environment damage, helps their work force while creating products that you like. I’m more in favour of supporting social enterprises than making donations, as the former helps create dignified jobs, and it’s a long-term commitment rather than a temporary fix.

BACK TO PART I:
ALICIA TSI

“I was devoting way too much space in my wardrobe to purchases that left me feeling empty.”

PHOTOS  //  COURTESY OF WUEN & ELIZA

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