Diego Dultzin Lacoste, founder of OnTheList, on how businesses and consumers can minimise waste and maximise positive impact
Compared to the rest of the world, consumer demand for sustainable fashion in Asia has been slow but is now gaining traction thanks to initiatives by governments, NGOs, designers and changing customer perceptions.
The ongoing pandemic too, has accelerated awareness of how our lifestyles and buying decisions impact the environment. Younger consumers, particularly Gen Zs and millennials, consistently show that they are becoming more selective in how and where they spend their money, supporting companies with a strong social purpose and appreciating quality over quantity.
What all consumers can agree on, however, is that modern retail is unsustainable and generates tremendous waste.
During our previous careers in the luxury fashion industry, Delphine Lefay—who would eventually be my co-founder—and I were privy to the large amount of waste in retail which can end up in incinerators and landfills. In Hong Kong, this waste can also be perpetuated by consumers, with an estimated third of all clothing in wardrobes having never been worn. It is for these reasons we work very closely together with our brand partners to make positive steps towards a circular economy, where resources are reused for as long as possible.
We set up OnTheList with two aims: to reduce waste by minimising brands’ unsold inventory and to create new business opportunities via the circular economy. As a flash-sale-distributor of premium brands, OnTheList has saved to date over 2.24 million fashion and homeware items from ending up in landfills, powered by over 700 brand partners and 710,000 members in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
The current rate of apparel production far outstrips recycling efforts
According to the UN Environment Programme, the fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water and creates 8 to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions—more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It also generates around 20 per cent of the world’s wastewater and releases half a million tonnes of synthetic microfibers into the ocean annually. Compounding the problem is the fact that polyester has now replaced cotton as the most popular textile fiber in the world. This is problematic because polyester is primarily derived from petroleum, sheds microplastics, and requires lots of energy to produce.
Many companies have introduced great recycling and upcycling initiatives to tackle textile waste. K!BO, for example, is a terrific Hong Kong-based recycled sneaker brand. But the impact of recycling continues to be limited, due to the sheer volume of material being generated and the skilled work required to sort the different fiber blends and materials used in each garment.
Transparency and accountability are critical in avoiding greenwashing
For me, Patagonia is a brand that really walks the talk when it comes to sustainability. Beyond Patagonia's 1% For The Planet pledge (which has become an alliance of like-minded businesses) to support environmental non-profits, it’s clear they look to approach all aspects of their business with sustainability in mind—from the materials they use in their products to the way they power their stores with renewable energy. It’s inspiring and shows you’re never at the finish line—there is always that more we can do. Patagonia was one of the brands that inspired us to become a B Corp.
As a B Corp-certified company, we promote sustainability by encouraging a circular economy in the fashion industry by minimising waste amongst our members and brand partners. We have been recycling our plastic hangers, bags and paper products since 2019, resulting in over six tonnes of waste being saved last year from ending up in landfills or the ocean. Our new, even more durable shopping bags are made from 100 per cent recycled polyester, which encourages our members to reuse them. All our packaging uses minimal ink and environmentally-friendly cardboard. Our ultimate goal is to reach net zero by 2030.
What to ask yourself before your next purchase
Here are some useful questions to keep in mind before pulling the trigger on your next fashionable buy:
● Does this company have any sustainability certifications (e.g., Certified B Corporation, Fair Trade, Cruelty-Free)?
● What are they doing to give back to the society and community, (e.g., by contributing to charity work)?
● Do they consider the environment in their business ethos, (e.g., by using recycled materials in their packaging)?
● Are they integrating the circular economy into their business model (e.g., how do they reduce waste)?
Consumers should stop investing in ever-shorter-lived trends
We’ve all succumbed to buying seasonal trends that are then discarded after a couple of months—this is money and valuable natural resources down the drain, not to mention the carbon footprint involved. Worse, seasonal trends are cycling even more rapidly now, which means your once-trendy item is now going to fall out of fashion faster than ever before.
The solution is to shop mindfully—seek out items you know you’re going to love for a long time. Take this mindset to your favourite brand’s sales—this not only saves money but might also save an item from the landfill. And of course, also remember to reuse and recycle all packaging materials.
Diego Dultzin Lacoste is co-founder of OnTheList, a members-only flash-sale distributor which offers exclusive access to luxury brands at discounted prices. Launched in Hong Kong in 2016, it now also operates on- and offline showrooms throughout Asia Pacific.
This piece is part of a collaboration between Tatler Asia and Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a global leadership community of chief executives, which counts more than 30000 members from 142 countries among its members.