It’s no secret that fashion is a highly pollutive industry. With increasing awareness of its environmental costs, consumers are becoming more conscious when it comes to their purchases, while brands have launched initiatives and programmes that advocate transparency across their production stages.
Enter Tove & Libra, set up by Christine Chow and Ivan Tang in 2018, with the aim of making fashion better for both our wardrobe and our planet. Taking a multi-faceted approach to sustainability, the fashion label focuses on thoughtful design, carefully-selected materials, and fair practices.
Here, Christine shares the brand’s backstory and sustainability journey, how they upcycle deadstock fabrics, and her tips on building a mindful closet—especially apt for the holiday season.
How did Tove & Libra come into being and how has it evolved? Where does the name come from?
Having taken over the reins of our families’ heritage garment manufacturing businesses (two separate businesses), my business partner Ivan and I observed how fashion was becoming cheap and disposable with the rise of fast fashion, with quality and function taking a backseat. It felt like the market was awash with a lot of… just stuff, and really needed re-calibration. We wanted to usher in change, and advocate for fashion to be produced and consumed responsibly. As manufacturers, you’re in a pretty passive background role without direct power to sway the marketplace. Our brand is a way for us to have this voice to share our ideas directly with consumers.
From the beginning, we took inspiration from Scandinavian design—in particular its fusing of simple, clean lines with the warmth of natural materials and textures. As a womenswear brand, we decided to look to Scandinavian female names, and decided on the Danish name “Tove” (though originally read as Taw-veh, we go by its anglicised pronunciation “Tove”, like “wove”). Most of all, we loved that “Tove” means “a strong and beautiful woman,” expressing our commitment to empower modern women through making and wearing our clothes. And while none of our team was born under the sign of Libra, we chose it to represent balance. Fun fact: Libra also happens to be the most fashionable sign of the zodiac!
As a working mum, I’m always juggling between work, family and quality me-time. I look for transitional clothes that can take me from one occasion to another—clothes that are not only comfortable, stylish and high-quality, but also responsibly produced. With our designs, I strive to strike the perfect balance between form and function, style and sustainability.
What is your brand ethos?
Our motto is “Fashion Made Better”. We put our expertise fully behind sustainable sourcing, thoughtful design and fair practices. We also invite our customers to help us make the fashion industry better, by choosing quality over quantity.
Related article: 9 Places To Shop For Sustainable Fashion In Singapore
Take us through your creative process. What factors do you consider when designing your pieces?
When I design a new piece, I review the existing collection with our team and assess any gaps or requests from customers. We consider what would be useful and yet hard-to-find for the modern, professional woman. As a slow fashion brand, we don’t toss out pieces from past seasons—they have to co-exist alongside new pieces. This is what we consider a waste-minimising approach, similar to how we encourage consumers to streamline their closet: Update what you already have by adding select new pieces to mix and refresh.
About half our collection makes use of deadstock fabrics and yarns. I’m tasked to pull together something beautiful and consistent from whatever is left over from other designers’ production. This takes more effort and ingenuity than the typical commercial process, where brands custom order whatever they wish on demand. We usually start from colour, then select fabrics that are suitable for our warm and humid climate.
We have our own experienced fit technician, so in terms of constructing the garment, the measurements are carefully inspected for consistency across our collection. Early samples will then be made to test for fit and comfort. While we do have a business schedule, we can be fluid as a small brand and not pressure ourselves to follow a commercial fashion timeline—we only drop our new pieces when they’re good and ready, so we can stand behind our message of fewer but better.
Why is sustainability important to Tove & Libra? How do you communicate sustainability through different aspects of your business?
As third-generation manufacturers we want to help protect and revitalise our industry, as we believe the fast fashion model is proving to be untenable for both people and the planet.
We make use of the deadstock fabrics discarded by other designers, and offer information on the sustainability of various fibers through blogs on our website. We have undertaken a pledge of no single-use plastics—which is really prevalent in fashion packaging—from little things like plastic cords to garment pouches. In terms of our slow fashion message, we often share styling ideas using our capsule pieces, so customers can dress more with less. We are also rolling out more multi-way designs to achieve this.
We are also open to sharing our behind-the-scenes insights with customers, especially with regard to greenwashing practices, so that conscious consumers can be more informed about how to support better brands.
What are your tips on building a mindful closet, now that people are becoming more conscious about their purchases?
No one can be perfect, but each of us can commit to really thinking about our own priorities and doing a bit more research into areas that matter to us. For example, do you want to put your support behind sustainably produced fabrics, upcycled fabrics, or multi-way garments where you can dress more while buying less? Could you overcome impulsive consumption and make careful purchase decisions? A small step forward is better than nothing at all.
It’s also important to realise that you really get what you pay for. Of course, we sometimes meet customers who say, “I can get a similar looking blouse from Zara that costs half the price.” It may appear to be cheaper, but there’s definitely an added social and environmental cost! We hope for consumers to look past just a product, and think about whether they care where their money is going to. We’re big believers in supporting small and local businesses!
What do you hope to achieve with Tove & Libra?
It may sound a bit ambitious, but we really hope to help move the needle towards more responsible production and consumption in the fashion industry overall, at least in Asia. So much manufacturing actually happens here, so we believe we should take pride in protecting and elevating this industry. We’re excited to see a new wave of sustainable innovation, and want to be part of small but significant changemakers.
What’s next for the brand?
There are so many other sustainable ideas and processes we’re excited to explore. On the production side, we’re looking at how we can incorporate made-to-order at our price point; on the other hand, we’re rethinking what fashion businesses can do with overstock, rather than just having a fire sale (or in some cases actual fires).
We also love connecting with other sustainable brands in Hong Kong and Singapore. We have some exciting collaborations in the works that we hope will amplify what we’re all trying to do.
This interview has been edited for clarity.