@lilearthgirl On Fashion, Sustainability Post-Covid-19

Activist Tammy Gan on fear, passion and communication of the cause

Last year, I chatted with Sarah Tan, founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags SG about the strain between fashion and sustainability. Admittedly, I’d become normalised that since fashion “is” inherently sustainable—there’s really no roundabout way of producing without polluting—any conversations about it were merely idealistic.

Covid-19 unleashed a slew of confessions about how companies most affected were those with unnecessarily complicated, unmanageable supply chains. When sustainability becomes the convenient byproduct of everything moral within fashion—lowering production numbers, localising textile production, paying workers fair wages, etc.—it begs the question: should it actually be looked at as the primary goal?



At Yale NUS, I wanted to try out a fashion internship, and contribute meaningfully. Stumbled on A True Cost, reminded me of a friend who brought reusable containers and bags everywhere, and National Youth Council ad to attend a Zero-Waste conversation.

Passion for the cause vs fear of what would happen otherwise.

There’s guilt too. Singapore has grown so fast, benefited a lot from world resources. A lot has to do with out involvement in oil, hyperconsumerism. Singapore today is cut off from nature, a non-natural concrete jungle. Food security will be a problem with neighbouring countries experiencing more unexpected weather.

I fear what future generations have to face. I don’t know if I’d want to have children. The world even kids born today will have to live in is terrifying. Natural disasters are not so natural anymore.

What’s interesting about sustainability?

From an industry and governmental point-of-view, there’s a lot sustainability can and has to do. Potential, innovation, mindset, courage to build a better world. Environmentalists tend to have radical world view and hope.

Reduce, reuse, recycle is not sexy. Polar bears dying may have gripped the world a decade ago, but people are tired of that narrative.

Degrowth, as a jargon, is not a negative thing. Right?

Even sustainability applied to fashion is such a wide term. There’s not one definition of “degrowth” everyone subscribes to.

To me, it’s moving away from growing profit by minimising cost, exploiting natural resources; prioritising workers’ well-being, rather than how much they can produce; what more can we do with what we have to uplift people at “the bottom”.


Price is the most difficult argument to make. True?

Vintage fashion has been a great way to get people interested in sustainability without even realising it. It’s a common misconception that sustainability is more expensive. Buying to be sustainable is not true; buying less, better.

Materialism can be used to redefine our relationship, falling in love with clothes.

Note: Cost-per-wear too.

Biggest issue with fashion.

Conversations about changing business models. Brands are changing packaging, donating to tree-planting projects, charity, but we also need to move away from produce a lot, buy a lot, throw away in five days mentality.

Brands are guilty of creating needs people don’t have. Circularity. We don’t need new stuff: sharing [rental services, secondhand market], upcycling, mending clothes. How do we convince consumers repairing is worth their money?

Brands like Hermès, Louis Vuitton. Will they be willing to merchandise their products like libraries?

That’s an interesting way to approach not producing so much. It’s a big ask, but we can’t shy away from these conversations. Even superficially, sustainability is becoming a thing to care about. We should think about what world we want to create, leave behind.

Do you have faith?

Things won’t be same after Covid-19 because they can’t be. Mayors are collaborating on how to make cities sustainable, Amsterdam’s adopted the donut economy to make decisions, we’re having a global wakeup call that supply chains are too global, we can’t level people behind when we progress.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Do people like Greta Thunberg?

Yes. She’s raw and her message is clear: we’re not working, we need to listen to scientists.

“School Strike For Climate”, Courtesy: @gretathunberg

“Social Justice Warrior”.

We should reclaim it; what’s bad about fighting for social justice? It’s brave enough to point out that something is wrong and have everyone solve problems together, it’s not an activist vs non-activist war.

AOC talked about having kids being a concern amidst climate change. Will we ever see such strict legislature to save earth?

That’s absurd, women have fought for reproductive rights forever. I haven’t actually read this news, but I’m assuming AOC’s sentiment was probably taken out of context. But new parents should think about how this world will be a difficult one to live in.

We also need to move away from individual narratives, blaming people. We can’t let corporations and governments make us believe personal responsibility is the only way. Industries need to move away from carbon emissions, burning fossil fuel.

Can sustainability, e.g. upcycling trash, be marketed as luxury?

Perception is very easily changeable. A lot of what we like today is not because we find them attractive. On the flipside, it’s a misconception that sustainability must be unattractive.

Will the future of our environment look radically different?

We don’t have flying cars, no one’s teleporting yet. I don’t think we’re headed directly towards a techno-utopia. But if we don’t do anything now, it’s going to look genuinely scary. It’s not healthy to be in denial, but we should move on beyond acceptance of circumstances. We can move towards a better society.