Fashion Forward Bruneians
Bespoke. Environment. Community. Would you believe it if we told you that these three words hold the key to the future of fashion and clothing?
You’ve probably heard of the word ‘fast fashion’. Not too long ago, it was used to describe designs that moved quickly from the catwalk and then to the consumer. But now, fast fashion usually means clothing that moves swiftly from the runway to the store to the consumer and then to the garbage dump.
According to the World Resources Institute, fast fashion is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, water pollution and landfill waste. And that raises an important question.
Does fashion have to come at the expense of the environment?
It turns out that the antidote to fast is slow. But what does this look like on the ground? We spoke to four Bruneians who are in the business of fashion which is paired with a cause for sustainability.
All of our participants in the story are also calling for a ‘coming together’ of the designers and fashion producers here locally to build a better sense of community, collaboration and economic benefit from strength in numbers.
Nabeela Fadzil, Fashion blogger @lipstickmyname
Nabeela was originally drawn to fashion during her stint at university in London and did her master’s thesis on the sustainability of fast fashion. Since returning to Brunei she has gained a strong following as a fashion blogger with over 20,000 followers on Instagram.
In addition to developing her own line, Element, Nabeela believes in putting her influence behind projects and designers she believes in — those who are raising the bar in terms of more socially and environmentally conscious production.
[caption id="attachment_5356" align="aligncenter" width="850"] LMN’s first capsule collection, called Elements, is made up of 10 designs. It’s inspired by architectural elements of spirals and stairs and embodies both the strength and fragility of women.[/caption]
She also believes that there’s more to personalised fashion than just looking good.
“More hand-made or slow fashion pieces tell stories on their own, but they can also raise awareness and inspire people to get into the habit of buying clothes, accessories, and makeup products that incorporate more responsible practices for people who make them, animals and the environment,” she said.
“Additionally, there is a movement toward more personalized pieces designed with a longer shelf life in mind. Clothes that don’t just get worn for a season and get discarded.”
With respect to the progress of the fashion industry in Brunei, “year on year we are seeing more up-and-coming designers here in Brunei, including artists, like [IRANA??], UPSYKL and Etah Studio, taking more responsible handmade approach to what they create, and to me that shows a lot of progress for the fashion community here. It’s inspiring to see.”
[caption id="attachment_5362" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Nabeela’s followup collection, Lemon, debuted in 2019.[/caption]
Nabila Jeffery, Founder of @upsyklco
UPSYKL (pronounced upcycle) makes no second guesses on what they’re on about. Before buying a piece, it pays to know what happens behind the scenes to make that piece of clothing appear on a rack in a retail store.
“It is about making a conscious choice when it comes to the clothes that we buy and wear,” she said.
Nabila has seen it with her own eyes—a factory lined up with workers who didn’t even talk to their visitors in fear of a scolding by bosses and probably to meet the high production targets demanded by the fast fashion industry.
After that experience, Nabila decided to do something about it. And that’s how UPSYKL began, with its unique approach of repurposing “pre-loved clothes” into new, reinvented design pieces.
[caption id="attachment_5359" align="aligncenter" width="864"] UPSYKL’s designs were featured on the runway at the Council of Asean Fashion Designers (CAFD) launch event and fashion show in Kuala Lumpur which touted the hashtag #wearwhatsfair.[/caption]
To Nabila, a more ethical approach also means transparency—from the origin of materials to how they came to be garments. She encourages their designers to not only be interactive with clients on the design but also more transparent with their clients on the journey to make the clothes.
“We really adhere to the principle of buy less, chose well, and make it last. Which is why we promote the designers under UPSYKL to make something more personal and sentimental to our customers versus something that’s just on trend for a short season.”
[caption id="attachment_5358" align="aligncenter" width="2400"] Brunei’s first ever recycled clothing line, made purely from an inventory of donated clothes, take re-use and recycling to a whole new level with “pre-loved” clothes being given a rebirth through adventurous, contemporary designs that defy the fast fashion clothing giants.[/caption]
Maricel didn’t always want to do design. In fact, her first choice was architecture. But halfway through, she decided to listen to her heart and pursue fashion. That decision would subsequently take her to the US and London, KL and now Perth, Australia.
In terms of global trends, Maricel highlights the growing importance of influencers, or KOLs, who have emerged with greater influence in promoting and selling fashion. “Even larger brands are partnering with influencers – like LVMH (Louis Vuitton) recently signing with Rhianna – as a new way to connect with their customers and influence their buying decisions.”
[caption id="attachment_5361" align="aligncenter" width="640"] The Tranquil Serenity line reflects upon the colours of Brunei’s pristine forests and the national flower, the Simpur. Vibrant, yet soft hues of green and yellow highlight the contentment in living within the boundaries of ample peace.[/caption]
“Another trend, in targeting millennials – specifically millennial women — we see a trend toward more personalized or customized pieces because it feels more special. People are more willing to invest in a personalized piece because it feels more special than something you can find anywhere. Even big fashion houses are looking for ways for their customers to participate in customizing items, from bags to shoes, etc.”
For all Maricel’s achievements, she always considered Brunei as a starting point. She mentioned that designers getting a start in the industry here can actually use that to their advantage. “People outside of Brunei are curious about the country, and what it has to offer in terms of fashion,” she said.
[caption id="attachment_5360" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Maricel’s Shadow Play collection takes inspiration from Impressionist painters like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.[/caption]
Aisyah Azlan • ÉTAH STUDIO • firstname.lastname@example.org | IG @etahstudio
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose approach to fashion more fully embodies this movement toward more responsible practices. Her own brand of slow fashion lifestyle starts in one of the most creative ways—by creating her own fabrics for her designs, using natural dyes to colour her fabric —even using actual produce to achieve her vibrant colours.
Everything from dyeing and silkscreening fabrics, to designing, cutting and assembling her Étah line of clothes happen right here in her humble but bustling studio.
“As a part of the Council of ASEAN Fashion Designers, I believe in people getting fair wages when they make clothes — and clothes that don’t taint the environment in the process of being manufactured.”
[caption id="attachment_5363" align="aligncenter" width="640"] The Étah line of clothing incorporates hand-dyed fabrics from all natural produce-based dyes and is created with a strong commitment to developing creative, inclusive designs while promoting a more conscientious approach to clothing production.[/caption]
“I believe in making clothes that make you feel special. These are clothes you wouldn’t want to throw away just after a couple of years,” says Aisyah, “and while we don’t create bespoke clothes per se, in our approach to ready-to-wear clothes we are achieving a similar level of quality, made in small quantities and with care – utilizing organic and certified safe fabrics, hand-dyed, hand-printed and sometimes even hand-sewn.”
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