FASHION / ISSUES

WE Q&A: HK’s very own Eco-Chic Warriors

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With our upcoming Liberty issue on the way, we caught up with Bloggers Sam Wong and Tania Reinert, who last year started “A Boy Named Sue“. They realised the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong needed an injection of eco in its system, so to tackle the sea of synthetic fibers, these fashion savvy girls spent 2012 rummaging online for the style of the ideal eco-chic woman, many of whom we hope to see running round Hong Kong in the latest green get-ups.

You both share a background in fashion, but what brought you two together on the issue of sustainable clothing? 

S: I studied Fashion and Sustainable design at Parsons The New School for Design so my thesis was dedicated to the idea of product library systems and how to encourage sharing garments in an industry that is about ownership and instant gratification.

T: Actually I have never worked in fashion before. I have a finance background and have studied economic history. I have always had an interest in fashion and design since I was a kid, my dad is an amateur art collector and I have always been surrounded by fascinating interesting objects while growing up. I started a blog when I moved to Hong Kong from London, to learn more about the city and meet new people. I met Sam through a mutual friend. At the beginning of this year I started to feel that I couldn’t really express what I wanted to say through the blog, Hong Kong is all about consumption, shopping and big brands and I felt like I wanted to create something different that was not just about clothes. I always knew I wanted to work with Sam as she has a very keen eye and a beautiful unique aesthetics that I really love. At the same time we read a book by Lucy Siegle, which opened our eyes on the reality behind the fashion industry.

Your store offers 11 different international designers; take us through the journey of how you decided would feature in your store? 

We started with an aesthetic and a philosophy for the woman we wanted to dress. We wanted to deliver clothes for grown up tomboys, effortless, tailored and without any frills, but also fresh and unique. So once we decided to search what was out there, it was all down to research, google, eco forums, trade shows and we spent around two months everyday just looking for designers. The visual aspect was crucial for us: a garment can never be sustainable if you are not going to wear it. You have to love each piece that you wear; we don’t want organic t-shirts that will be sitting in the back of the cupboard for the rest of your life. After the aesthetics box was ticked it was all about the quality, cut, the message that designer projected, the production methods and materials used.

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Will there be new designers in the future? 

Yes, we find new designers every week and it’s great because as soon as we launched, designers have been approaching us with their work! We are adding on 3 new brands to our portfolio next season. It seems sustainability is becoming more common and there are new names coming out all the time.

 What are some of the predominant materials used in creating one of the garments?

Partimi uses modal- reconstituted fibres from beech trees- to create her T-shirts. Upcycled leather from a manufacturer of motorcycle accessories is used to make The Sway leather jackets. The lining is also recycled cotton and so are the bags they come in. Re-purposed leather and organic cotton lining for Fleabags.

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So, as fashion bloggers is the brand also based around your personal sense of style? 

Yes we know what style and pieces we like to wear, we just wanted to find a matching ethos as well.

Any plans for you guys to design your own eco line for the store?

We would love that, but not yet, maybe in 2014!

On your website, you’ve created a triangle that spans across working eco, social and local, the eco to make sure the manufactured clothes are doing less harm to the environment, but can you tell us a bit more about the social and local side of things? 

We realized that ‘sustainability’ is more than just being environmentally friendly- it’s also about the people who make the clothes which is in essence why we added ‘social’ and ‘local’ to our ethos. On the Social corner, The Muzungu Sisters works with cooperatives around the world to stimulate local economy and sustain traditional craft. For example they work with whole families in Bali to create the ikat sarongs- the last group of artisans who do this kind of work. Our Berlin based designer, Isabell de Hillerin, works with women from Romania and Modova to support the dying art of handcrafted woven textile. Thu Thu celebrates women in Northern Vietnam by incorporating hand embroidered baby blankets into her collection of jackets and trousers. The Local side is something we’re working on slowly- collaborating with designers around our own city to encourage sustainable craft and practices.

Obviously liberty is important to your brand, but what does it mean to you personally? 

S: Liberty is about sacrifice- we reap the benefits of other people’s passion, work and labour. Liberty only exists with its twin, Restraint. When we say “we have the freedom to do and say whatever we want” it’s not necessarily beneficial either. For example, to put it in context of fashion, with the amount of fast fashion choices, people can say “I can wear what I want, create what style I want and buy what clothes I want thanks to the freedom that fast fashion allows us.” Yet they are slaves to impulse consumption and buying for the sake of novelty. And the prices of garments are artificially lowered because someone else is paying the price that we as consumers are not willing to pay and our environment suffers with it for the sake of freedom that fast fashion appears to be offering us.

T: Liberty is a contentious term. You can consider it from the point of political liberties, like in China or Burma. There liberty for me is the liberty of thought and speech. Something we in the West take for granted. Liberty is also a synonym of choice, ability to choose whom you want to be, what you stand for. It is also the ability to question: paradigms, customs and the way things are done. With the amount of information available and the freedoms that we have, we have a duty to use our liberty, to choose and question.

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You’ve demonstrated that eco-fashion doesn’t have to be the typical newspaper bag and instead can be chic and more up market which we don’t see a lot of in HK. Do you think the Asia market is privy to sustainable fashion? Or is it a movement that will slowly become more prominent? 

T: I think Asia catches on to things faster than we can imagine. The government here are really behind aside form a few places like Taiwan and to some extent Singapore when it comes to the idea of sustainability and preservation, but as resources become more scarce and pollution more acute, businesses including fashion will be forced to become more green and Asia is amazing at adapting to change so I think as long as the movement garners momentum it will only be a question of time. (Well at least I hope so)

Having just opened, what’s the response been so far? 

S: HKers are pretty open to new stuff whether or not that is sustainable is another topic. They love buzz- a new restaurant concept or store concept- but I don’t think we can ride on hype either.

T: Very positive in fact we really didn’t expect that Hong Kong would be that open to the whole concept. We expected the bulk of our customers to be US or Europe based, but everyone her has been highly receptive. It has been really amazing to find so many customers here.

Any plans to open a permanent space ?

S: Not in the near future unless someone donates a space!

T: I would love to have a physical space with a café and a small bookstore, a space where people wouldn’t just come for shopping but to sit down and relax.

Any eco-friendly tips outside of the wardrobe?

T: Less washing and dry cleaning and No tumble dryer. Use less: less coffee cups, less plastic bottles of water, less paper, less take away boxes. Start cooking at home

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What are your visions for the future then? 

S: I’d like to visit those places (Dhaka, China, Cambodia) that have the highest impact due to the fast fashion industry. Right now it only exists in my mind but I really want to see with my own two eyes the consequences of our consumption habits- I think it’ll really give another dimension to what we do here at A Boy Named Sue and give us a clearer vision to the future of our brand- even if we do start manufacturing our own line.

T: Lifestyle brand move beyond fashion, a way of life, collaborate with bigger brands, branch into food

And lastly, just out of curiosity, why’d you pick “A Boy Named Sue” as a brand name, solely because of the Johnny Cash song? 

The narrative of our brand is the struggle and search for fashion that is both strong aesthetically, beneficial to the environment and the hands who make them. It’s not an easy task and we’re aware of all the ‘buts’ in each solution we find however we’re seeking perfection through our mistakes. So if you understand the story of Sue, you will recognise the woman, our customer, in that journey.

Find more about their ec0 fashion forward garments on their website.

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