Going green is the new black and it’s true for the Thai fashion scene. To belatedly celebrate World Environment Day, Guru speaks to inventive Thai designers/entrepreneurs, who offer eco-conscious customers sustainable fashion items made from trash. They explain misunderstandings about trashion like “Why does it cost more?” and “Is sustainable fashion just upcycling waste?”

Sackitem

It seemed fitting that Thanarak “Frez” Voralittanon found inspiration for his Sackitem (sackitem.com) concept in the trash bin. He discovered the valuable durability of the plastic sack while sorting his household waste for recycling, taking advantage of the remarkable feature to craft bags and accessories. Each upcycled bag reflects his passion for design, offering a series of design-led bags with the “one bag, one design” concept. 

(Photos courtesy of Sackitem)

What inspired you to start the brand?

I love challenging myself by finding new ideas all the time. Making bags is on my list of things I want to try. Not to mention, I’m a garment manufacturer, which gives me an advantage. However, apparel, in my eyes, is temporary as it relies on fashion trends, while a bag is an everyday item. When I first started out, I couldn’t figure out how to present my product, which had to be different from other bags on the market, in design and concept. One day, when I was sorting my household waste for recycling, I was intrigued by how rice sacks and kibble bags could bear so much weight when I stuffed everything inside. This idea evolved into a concept of my upcycled fashion bags. Luckily, I have friends who own a disposal plant, so I teamed up with them and asked them to be my suppliers. I studied more about the ins and outs of the material while researching and developing it to bring the best out of plastic sack waste, namely PVC plastic sacks, and the result is incredible.

What makes your bag unique? 

Apart from a series of bags, we have a few small accessory offerings like key chains. Our highlight is that each bag is crafted with the concept of ‘one bag, one design’. It’s actually my favourite part. As I have a passion for designing, I position and layout each bag design myself while offering a one-of-a-kind bag for my customers. My brand was also built to reflect the concept of ‘one bag, more changes’. When my products have been sold, it means someone has decided to start changing their habits by going more eco-friendly in their shopping. 

Should your customers be concerned about the quality as your products are recrafted out of trash? 

‘As much as you can carry!’ Don’t forget that my bag is made out of a plastic sack that was once used to carry rice or grains. So, you don’t have to doubt its durability when carrying your stuff. 

How do you deal with a shortage in the supply of raw materials? 

I don’t think we would be short of materials because the world won’t run out of waste. The materials we use is derived from waste that comes from basic human needs, such as rice sacks from food or cement packages used in construction. However, I do stock up and my friends, who run a disposal facility, always reserve my materials. 

We’ve seen some of your bags display a trademark from a sack waste that you upcycled. Have you ever been warned by those brands?

Never. But I really want that to happen for my case study. To be clear, did you know that the final price of each product we purchase is already included in the packaging costs? From scavengers’ carts to disposal facilities and to my bag factory, the value of trash remains constant no matter where it is sold or visited. In my case, I did recraft my bags from materials sporting trademarks and logos, but we didn’t use their packages to resale the same products as those logo-owner brands. Sackitem doesn’t use the bags to sell rice, instead we upcycled them into a new product with a new design and purpose.

What is something you wish people knew about sustainable fashion?

Sustainability is everywhere. But in fashion, I want to shed light on why our goods, eco-friendly and upcycled products, are pricier than goods from big-name fashion brands. The answer is actually simple, like why you decided to spend more bucks buying organic or hydroponic vegetables instead of common veggies. Good things take more time and money, as upcycling material requires more processing. Plus, mass production can save costs by producing in larger numbers. I don’t recognise my brand as ‘artisanal’, but I want my customers to see and appreciate my bag as a design piece. I want to bring up the point that Thai designer brands, not only in the sustainable fashion industry, are always underrated by a set of conservative beliefs that ‘imported products are always the best’. Trust me. We have got good stuff! Final words: I don’t want you to see them as products that are made from trash, but please appreciate how waste can be turned into useful and cool stuff.


The ReMaker 

Yuttana “Yuth” Anothaisinthawee is one of the pioneers in the Thai sustainable fashion scene. From redesigning second-hand clothes to breathing new life into leftover vinyl banners and the inner tire of a vehicle, Yuth’s The ReMaker (theremaker.com) is self-claimed as a trendsetter in upcycled fashion. Taking centrestage in his latest collection is how the bag is crafted from leftover leather jackets. He also put his timeless and simple silhouettes forward along with his sustainable initiative to broaden eco-conscious fashionistas’ minds that sustainable fashion isn’t always about upcycling materials. 

(Photos courtesy of The Remaker)

What inspired you to start the brand?

This year we just celebrated the 18th anniversary of the ReMaker. I started the brand even before everyone was aware of how the production process of the fashion industry can create such impacts on the environment. The concept of the ReMaker developed from my creative passion. Turning my surroundings’ objects, especially those pre-loved ones, into useful products is always fun and challenging for me. Honestly, I never thought I could make money from leftovers until my good Japanese fashion designer friend enlightened me on how to turn trash into treasure. He earns his living by reselling and exporting second-hand clothes from Thailand to Japan and invited me to team up with him for a fashion brand. From Chatuchak to Harajuku, our brand stands out in offering fashionistas revamped fashion pieces from pre-owned clothes. However, The ReMaker started after my friend left. I transformed my brand of selling clothes into an upcycled bag label, thinking that the bag was more approachable for everyone regarding the diversity of sizes and styles of apparel. 

What materials do you use? 

I took advantage of a leftover vinyl banner and inner tire for my bag material since I noticed that those things were used for just a short time but can stay with us forever. I was invited to be an instructor at CSR workshops to teach communities in the countryside while I earned several design awards for upcycling trash into edgy products. I was fulfilled to pass on my philosophy to others, or let’s say many sustainable fashion brands started to emerge while selling their products from those materials. So, I decided to go back to my roots in redesigned second-hand clothes and selected leftover leather jackets as the main material for my latest collection. 

Why second-hand leather jackets? 

I found piles of leftover leather jackets in good condition at Chatuchak and flea markets. They’re sold at cheaper prices and no one wants them as they aren’t the right fashion choice to pull off in the crazy hot Thai weather. As I dig deeper into where they came from, these pre-owned garments are shipped from first-world countries as a donation to the developing countries, namely in Southeast Asia. Besides, they’re mostly premium lambskin leather. To answer your question, I don’t think we haven’t maxed out the potential of leather yet, compared to the damage it causes our environment, as the process of tanning leather is poisonous to the world. I want to bring them back to life while selling and sending them back to where they came from as revamped leather goods.

Should your customers be concerned about quality as your product is recrafted out of trash? 

Cleanliness is important. We treated the leftover leather very well with a laundry service that specialises in leather cleaning before redesigning it. I consider the health of my team first, as we are the first ones who come into contact with the leather waste. As I said, they’re almost in mint condition. The leather jacket that we used just had holes on the back or a ripped hem, so we cut out the areas that weren’t damaged while remaking them onto a bag.

How do you deal with a shortage in the supply of raw materials?

If we’re short in supply, it’s a promising sign that consumers are getting serious about reusing their clothes or thinking more rationally about shopping. To me, leather goods aren’t what I consider my product, but my concept and philosophy of sustainability are. I want to enlighten everyone that waste is one of the materials that we overlook. Even if I’m running out of raw materials, I’ll find other sources while bringing them to life with my creativity.

Any thoughts on fast fashion and what changes do you want to see?

Fast fashion is changing too quickly, forcing customers to catch its seasonal trend, and it consumes a lot of energy and resources. I want everyone to focus on timeless fashion, which is built to last the test of both time and trends.


Aibelle 

Partners-in-crime Anong “Aib” Kongthip and Ornjira “Belle” U-chupala once stopped by knitting factories and noticed how surplus yarns from textile production went to waste. Both took advantage of it while using their expertise as textile designers to breathe new life into abandoned stocks of yarn, inventing their own upcycled textile material called “Knitted Rope”. They founded an upcycled textile accessory label, Aibelle (aibellestyle.com), offering limited collections of bags and accessories as each of the surplus colourful yarns they retrieved from the factories is unpredictable. 

How did Aibelle come about?

Bell: We got a chance to visit a knitting manufacturer and what caught our eyes were surplus yarns in good condition. To prepare for manufacturing errors, the textile factories have to stock up on their yarns, which means there’s always a surplus after the production process. However, those leftovers can’t be reused as they aren’t enough or can’t match the colour of the orders. What they did was either sell it at a lower price or throw it away. After realising that the good stuff was going to waste, we came up with an idea to give new life to the surplus yarns by founding an upcycled textile accessory label, Aibelle.

What makes your brand unique from others?

Bell: We offer a series of bags and accessories that are crafted from the brand’s cutting-edge materials called ‘Knitted Rope’. It’s our pride as we invented our own material using our craft expertise as textile designers. Think of it as rope-weaving in coloured yarns, where each collection is unique as we can’t predict the colours of the surplus yarn that was left in the stock of those textile factories. 

Should your customers be concerned about quality as your product is recrafted out of trash? 

Aib: Our products may be seen as something that is recrafted from trash, yet the ‘trash’ we use is a raw material in mint condition that was just left over from the production process of knitting factories. 

Bell: Whether it’s recycling or upcycling products, I don’t want you to be concerned about their quality. There are processes for treating leftovers. I want you to focus and appreciate the ideas of the designers about how they can turn trash into treasure instead. 

What is something you wish people knew about sustainable fashion?

Bell: We care about our production process at every step. I want to show that the word ‘sustainable’ doesn’t only mean that we give new life to trash. We want to make sure that every step of doing business is harmless to the world. 

Aib: Don’t think that the sustainable products are made from trash, but look deeper into its concept and processes and how much resources are saved. 

(Photos courtesy of Aibelle)

Any thoughts on fast fashion and what changes do you want to see?

Aib: It’s a fact that the textile production process plays a huge part in damaging the environment. While we cannot deny that clothes are important to us, it is better to deliver necessities to people while also saving the world. 

Bell: Adding to what Aib said, it isn’t only fashion brands’ faults but also consumers’ behaviour. Everything has a price, whether it is before or after use. You can start partaking in protecting the environment by being more conscious of your shopping. 

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