These Founders Want To Make Asia The Global Centre Of Sustainable Fashion
Does eco-friendly fashion still conjure up images of mud-green fisherman’s trousers, hemp, and dye that comes off on your fingers? Well, cast aside your prejudices because Toqa is on a mission to make sustainable fashion cool
Fashion holds a mirror up to society, reflecting back at us what is going on in economic, cultural, social and environmental terms. In light of this year’s UN report on climate change, it is no surprise that people are finally taking sustainable fashion seriously.
Broadly, sustainable fashion means choosing clothes that are kinder to the environment—after oil, the fashion industry is the second largest global polluter—and to the people involved in the production process. Sourcing in particular is coming increasingly under scrutiny, with many major brands launching campaigns against modern slavery.
The sustainable fashion industry’s growing presence in the global market is illustrated by the arrival of a number of new brands. One of the most creative is Toqa, which manufactures sustainable high-end fashion from the tropics. Co-founded by designers and environmentalists Isabel Sicat and Aiala Valdovino, they were determined to use not only the leftover material, but the history and folklore that make up island life.
The duo met in New York City, but with Valdovino hailing from Hawaii and Sicat from the Philippines, it was natural for Toqa to find its first home far away from urban life. Instead, they moved to Manila and created a fashion-forward, island-style brand.
The idea started with creating textiles that originate from rescued deadstock—discarded fabrics that are no longer in production—and for each collection to reflect the character of the island they were sourced from. Because there is a finite amount of raw material for each season, each collection is produced once, and when the deadstock runs out, no more will be made. That is because their pieces are reflective of a particular exploration of a place, and a particular moment in time, never to be repeated again. It also means you won't catch many people in the same dress or swimming costume as you.
“When surveying the landscape of potential materials, we found that the Philippines is quite restricted in its textile production capabilities,” says Sicat. “Finding a place where we could buy large amounts of deadstock made immediate financial sense. After this initial economic reasoning, we found that more and more our values, social ethics, and interests aligned with the wealth of opportunities that were presented here in the Philippines."
The choice to use deadstock—which includes merchandise that has been used but never sold—is growing in popularity as sustainable fashion-lovers do their level best not to participate in the environmentally unfriendly business of material production.
“Yes, deadstock is, by virtue, limited in nature — but that is precisely why we enjoy it,” says Sicat. “We are able to take existing textiles and manipulate them in ways that showcase their specific strengths or connections to the place of inspiration. Our “dri-fit knit” is a nod to the aesthetics and functionality of a technical fabric; our “basahan tela” is all the leftover scraps of the collection fabric patched together to create an altogether new textile. The process is labour intensive and meticulous, but fulfilling. To understand that there exists beauty even in items that are literally deemed 'dead', in itself, is its own reward.”
Their collections include coral pink dresses cut close to the body, ultra-high cut one piece swimming costumes, lime green, floor-length coats and draped maroon tops. Everything from their designs to their models and even their website exudes a particular kind of cool usually only seen in the global fashion capitals.
Toqa's processes are, of course, the antithesis of fast-fashion. Sustainable fashion brands are about changing mindsets: switching our shopping habits from buying a new, cheap dress for a night out—one which we may well throw away after a couple of wears—for something well-made and long-lasting.
According to Nielsen, 73 percent of millennials said they would spend more on sustainable products—and yet consumer trends show price and convenience are still more persuasive. However, that is arguably due to the lack of affordable, fashion-conscious sustainable brands on the market. A survey by Mintel showed 44 percent of younger millennials said they would like to see more eco-friendly fabrics used in clothes, compared to 34 percent of Generation X and 30 percent of baby boomers.
So how do Sicart and Valdovino believe can we make sustainable fashion more appealing to a generation who grew up with fast fashion? “By designing beautiful clothing,” says Valdovino. “Excellence in craft is something that speaks for itself: instead of pandering to a demographic, we believe in creating good work. People are intelligent and will recognise honesty when they see it.”
And while Asia has—over the last two decades—become the global manufacturing hub for footwear and apparel, the Toqa founders believe it can also become a world leader in sustainable fashion. “Yes! It’s our future,” says Valdovino. “We are far more invested in exploring Asia and other tropical islands than we are turning to existing Western-centric fashion capitals. Our whole philosophy of a circular economy of fabrics is very much informed by an Asian upbringing. There is unbridled potential here.”
And for those of you who still believe eco-friendly fashion means sack-like clothing in itchy fabrics, one look at Toqa’s ultra-sexy, seriously cool designs will change your mind. And get you opening your wallet.