Fashion appetite vs the environment

FILIPINOS’ appetite for fashion grows as rapidly as the weather in the Philippines change. With the fashion industry mainly dependent on the consumers’ demand and the trend, there is also a fast pace on production and individual’s fashion preferences. But apart from this, fashion is art. It allows to mix and match, to be resourceful, to be creative, and to express oneself and one’s choices through garments.

In the Philippines, the attitude of Filipinos towards new clothes is almost always associated with celebrations or a reward. When in Western countries, consumers can afford change of clothes as abruptly as fashion trends change, here in the Philippines, the middle class Filipino rarely buys signature clothes in malls but instead opt to shop in ukay-ukay stalls. For as low as P5 and lots of patience, one can actually score a decent blouse or a skirt.

Ukay-ukays are used clothes from first-world countries sent to the Philippines as relief goods or donations. But business-minded Filipinos find opportunities in the oddest of things. Business thrives because there is a demand. The market digs cheap and relatively decent clothes and shoes.

Jenny Cameros Canoy is a mom now based abroad. But back when she was still in Davao City, she would frequent her favourite ukay-ukay hub in the city – the Roxas Night Market. The night market is about 680 meters and about have of that stretch is of used clothes, bags, and shoes displayed from 4:30 p.m. to around midnight every single day.

“I grew up rummaging through thrift clothes, shoes, bags, and just anything that I think useful. I find ukay-ukay affordable and trendy. The fashionista in me suits better at the thrift store without ripping me off,” she shared in the article Fashionable with “ukay” published by SunStar Davao on July 15, 2019.

Iris Mae Ferraris, also a mom, is very fond of looking for more affordable clothes in ukay-ukay. For her, clothes from these stalls are “inexpensive, stylish, one-of-a-kind. Plus rare finds give a sense of achievement and satisfaction each time,” she shared in the same article.

Despite green lifestyle campaigns, not a lot are aware of the impact that the ever-changing fashion appetite has for the environment.

Dabawenyo Fashion designer and professor Emi Englis said fashion waste is one of the last things Filipinos shopping for clothes are concerned of.

“Fashion waste is just like any other concern. Ours would be a micro-reflection of a bigger concern. People kasi, even in the Philippines and Davao City, are not really conscious of recycling and repurposing our wardrobe. ‘Yun pa ‘yung isang factor. Yung maturity ng awareness in terms of that. ‘Yun ‘yung hindi pa talaga nakikita especially here in Davao,” he said.

“One of the biggest aspects that would contribute to the growing pollution attributed to fashion is the tendency of hoarding plus the proliferation of ukay-ukay would really contribute a lot as well. Kasi syempre it’s cheap, you can have as many as you can but sometimes you end up not using everything, right? And it’s just there and when it’s about time to unload it, you have volumes of items that were never used. Good if it’s distributed to people who can still use that but more often than not, hindi naman. Eventually, it is being dumped for having no use at all,” added Englis.

Unknown to many, ukay-ukay buying and selling is illegal and a violation of Republic Act 4653 or “An Act to Safeguard the Health of the People and maintain the Dignity of the Nation by declaring it a National Policy to Prohibit the Commercial Importation of Textile articles commonly known as Clothing and Rags.” This act was enacted in 1966, years before ukay-ukay became a thing in the 1980s starting in Baguio City. And yet despite the law, Bureau of Customs (BOC) constantly confiscate millions of pesos worth of illegally imported ukay-ukay items while it is rampant and widely available almost anywhere nationwide.

On July 19, 2018, per article published by SunStar Davao, the BOC Davao City seized 11 container vans 10 of which containing undeclared ukay-ukay items amounting to P17.8 million.

“We would want to also secure the safety of Filipinos. We do not know where these clothing came from. We do not know what diseases they bring. And we don’t want that for our Filipino consumers,” BOC Commissioner Isidro Lapeña said.

But again, business thrives when there is demand. In a data provided by the Davao City Investment Promotion Center, there is an 18.21 percent growth for the number of registered ready-to-wear (RTW) businesses in the city at 649 businesses in 2017 from 549 in 2016. On the other hand, a 6.16 percent increase was recorded for RTW businesses from 649 in 2017 to 689 in 2018. Most of these are importers.

“The problem with our ‘fashion industry’ is we don’t have an industry. If we say an industry kasi, we have the manufacturers of materials and other components being used by fashion. Most of these components or materials are being sourced out or imported from outside the country. We don’t have an industry that would provide the facility to produce all of these for our local consumption,” said Englis.

Most of the clothes being sold here in Davao City, whether brand new or ukay-ukay, are made of synthetic fibers that takes 20 to 200 years to biodegrade, depending on the type. This means that the clothes worn for a couple of years may stay on the Earth’s surface far longer than its owner’s life – same principle with single use plastic. Synthetic fibers include polyester, spandex, nylon, and rayon.

As an alternative, fashion designers and fashion students in Davao Region have started exploring the possibility of using natural fibers in their design. This is in the hope of discovering the many more uses of natural fibers the region is rich with. According to Englis, banana plantations Tadeco and Marsman Estate Plantation have started exploring and studying the use of banana trunks to extract fibers to make banana cloth. Englis was one of the consultants in this endeavour and highlighted that this was in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry. Although the materials were still up for testing in terms of performance, Englis commended the companies for taking this step.

He also mentioned some of his students in Philippine Women’s College (PWC) who explored fiber alternatives for their thesis. A student studied color extraction from cacao shells to color textile while another made pouches and handbags from retaso of old clothes. Englis also shared how Compostela Valley is currently studying bamboo fiber as an alternative.

“This sounds appropriate especially for Davao because we are rich in natural resources, we are agricultural-based,” he said.

Just April this year, the Global Shapers Davao (GSD) staged the Unstitch: A Fashion & Sustainability Fair at PWC. The discourse on fashion to be “a force for good” was talked about particularly on fair wages of workers, green wardrobe, and sustainability.

“We’re using fashion and design as a tool to address the local issues related to sustainability, cultural preservation, and community building,” said Yana Santiago, Unstitch co-Creator, in their previously released video after the event.

“We are being proactive in the community by putting forward already existing sustainable practices among artisans and academes so that we can grow as an industry where we put equal value to the planet, people, and profit,” Jesse Boga Madriaga, Co-creator of Unstitch, said in the same video.

As organizations start with campaigns for green wardrobe and responsible fashion, Englis urged individual Dabawenyos to do “investment dressing”.

“You invest for a few with good quality that you can mix and match, rather than buy a lot na hindi mo naman magagamit eventually ang iba. Of course, quality wise, pag madali masira, itapon mo na siya kaagad. But if we invest in a good quality clothing even if it’s expensive, you’re looking into the long-term impact,” he suggested.


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