The Conscious Festival is a travelling festival focused on conscious consumption, and with over 70 participating brands, artistes and gamechangers, it’s also the first of its kind in Asia. The 2019 edition is being held in Singapore at South Beach Avenue, this weekend.
Conversations on sustainability is taking centre stage at the festival this year, and one of the brands making a case for it is The Extra Smile. It also happens to be making its Singapore debut at the event. Founded on the idea of “sustainable, hand-made, high quality clothing for children that is fair to everyone involved and kind to the planet” by Samantha Thouret and Heleen Devos, the ethical kidswear label focuses on improving the lives of workers in the fashion industry. Thouret and Devos also collaborates with workshops which guarantee safe working conditions and fair wages for their employees. The duo also champions transparency in all aspects of their business.
“The drama at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013, made us aware of the dangerous and inhumane working conditions in which fashion generally is produced,” said Thouret in an interview with Harper’s BAZAAR. The 2015 documentary titled The True Cost of Fashion by globetrotting filmmaker Andrew Morgan gave them the “extra push” to change the course of fashion production towards a more ethical route. “We want to give a smile to everyone who touches our garments; the farmer who harvests the cotton, the seamstress who lovingly sews the hems, the children who wear them, and the adults who wash and keep them in good condition.” added Thouret.
We caught up with Thouret to find out what the term ‘transparency’ means in sustainable fashion today and more. Read on to find out what she had to say.
Why do you think transparency is such a hot topic in fashion today, and how have you ensured it in all aspects of your business?
All over the world, people are getting tired of consumerism and are opting for a more sustainable lifestyle; this explains the success of eco-tourism, vegan food and slow fashion.
A study by Adobe and YouGov confirms that in Asia-Pacific, consumers are 44% more likely to purchase from one brand when it is transparent about where it sources its products. Sustainability concerns are top-of-mind for consumers.
Consumers are aware of their wallet power, and therefore demand more transparency from brands. That is also the demand from the Fashion Revolution campaign. Transparency, combined with sustainability, is a priority for us. We inform our consumers about the composition of our garments and where they have been made from on our website, social media and label of each piece of clothing.
What were some of the challenges you faced when setting up the brand, and how did you overcome it?
We have gone to great lengths to find, compare and order organic fabrics, wooden buttons, and recycled sequins. Each time, we choose the most sustainable option available.
When we were looking for a solution to embroider our white T-shirts, we ran into an unexpected challenge: the embroidery machines of the workshop we had chosen to work with, were set up to only work with polyester yarn. As we want to avoid polyester, because it is one of the most toxic and polluting materials that exist—we needed to find an alternative.
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What is one thing you’ve learnt about setting up an ethical children’s fashion brand that you think most people would be surprised to learn about?
Sustainability does not limit style in fashion. Our designs are timeless with a twist, incorporate high-quality details and aren’t childish. Although it has taken time to piece everything together in the most sustainable way, it can be done.
Also, the ecosystem of ethical fashion is full of great and collaborative people; it’s a great niche to work in, as everyone puts purpose over profit, and, by consequence, there is always someone who wants to help in a friendly way.
What can we expect from The Extra Smile in the near future?
Since Singapore is a trend-setter in Asia with regards to a sustainable lifestyle as well as fashion, we plan to set up a retail presence in Singapore to offer additional services such as repairs and take-back programmes, where we buy back used garments, and offer them as a second-hand selection, or upcycle them in a new collection. We are starting small, but we are thinking big.
For colder climates, we will also offer garments made of Chilean sustainably sourced alpaca wool in the second half of next year. Apart from Singapore, The Extra Smile is available in Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom and soon, in Ireland.
For more information on The Extra Smile, visit their website.