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Celebrating Diversity: 15 Sustainable & Ethical Asian-Owned Fashion Brands

CEO Tinh Phung
Professionals in the fashion industry have long been fighting against racist bullying targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Unfortunately, even the sustainable fashion movement often overlooks inclusivity. Although Asia is a powerhouse in fashion...

Professionals in the fashion industry have long been fighting against racist bullying targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Unfortunately, even the sustainable fashion movement often overlooks inclusivity. Although Asia is a powerhouse in fashion production, Asian faces are severely underrepresented in design studios, runways, magazine covers, and ad campaigns. People of color are usually confined to sewing machines, without a seat at the board table. Many Asian designers have had to downplay their cultural heritage to fit into the industry's mold.

As someone born and raised in China, I have cherished memories of visiting Suzhou, the silk hub, to select fabric for a custom-made qipao, a flattering Chinese dress. I loved the texture of the silk and admired the talented artisans creating delicate "Su embroidery" with silk thread. However, I became disheartened as I witnessed traditional craftsmanship being overshadowed by multinational companies outsourcing mass production to Asian countries. Moving to the U.S., I realized the consequences of cheap products made in China, ranging from health issues and labor abuses to environmental pollution on the other side of the globe.

I wanted to be part of the solution. Despite fashion and sustainability not being typical career paths for immigrants like myself, my American liberal arts education instilled in me the courage to carve my own niche at the intersection of these two passions. While navigating a world dominated by privileged, affluent, mostly-white peers, I have both personally experienced and witnessed the invisibility and stereotyping of other Asian friends.

Thankfully, a new generation of emerging Asian designers is rewriting the narrative by celebrating their heritage and reinterpreting traditional garments through a modern lens. Many leverage their cultural and linguistic backgrounds to partner with artisans and ethical manufacturers in Asia, combining Eastern techniques with Western aesthetics.

Interestingly, the rich legacy of Asian fashion and textiles may hold the key to a more sustainable fashion future. With thousands of years of expertise, the Asian continent is home to diverse ethnic groups that have mastered fine techniques in weaving, knitting, embroidery, natural dyeing, and plant-based treatments. Traditional textiles are often crafted using minimally-processed natural fibers like cotton, linen, silk, hemp, and wild grasses.

To promote cultural appreciation rather than appropriation, it is important to prioritize brands that can share the stories behind their craft. Who made the product? How was it made? Do the creators benefit from equitable partnerships? Does the design symbolize anything? By understanding, respecting, and honoring the human experience, ingenuity, and craftsmanship, we develop a deeper appreciation for our purchases.

Below, we have curated a list of ethical and sustainable Asian fashion brands for you to support. Not only do these brands provide an opportunity to explore the fascinating union of fashion and nature, but they also stand at the forefront of celebrating Asian-American experiences.

Valani

Valani is a biodegradable fashion brand founded by lifelong vegan and philanthropist Vanni Leung. Each piece is crafted using plant-based materials like Tencel, banana silk, and hemp. Valani works with GOTS certified production partners in Tamil Nadu, India, ensuring fair wages and working hours. The brand also focuses on minimizing waste by repurposing fabric scraps.

Valani Valani's sustainable fashion pieces.

WWAKE

WWAKE is a 100% women-run jewelry brand founded by Wing Yau. Each piece is handcrafted in its New York City studio using quality materials and conflict-free diamonds. WWAKE prioritizes recycled gold and silver when possible and collaborates with local and family-owned businesses in New York.

Kayu

Kayu is a Californian brand that collaborates with women cooperatives in the Philippines to produce bags woven from seagrass straw. The brand also partners with immigrant women in San Francisco who hand embroider monograms onto each Kayu bag. Kayu's focus on social impact and sustainability extends throughout the design and manufacturing process.

Angel Chang

Angel Chang launched her luxury womenswear brand to preserve ancient techniques in rural China. Her collection showcases elegant palazzo pants and cotton button-down shirts made using traditional weaving and dyeing techniques. All pieces are handcrafted without the use of electricity, allowing for a harmonious blend of ancient craftsmanship and modern design.

Icicle

Icicle, a high-end fashion brand based in China, has been a leader in sustainable and ethical fashion for decades. The brand combines urban luxury with traditional Chinese techniques and materials, such as undyed cashmere, organic linen, and Chinese silk crepe. Icicle selects suppliers who meet stringent environmental and ethical standards and uses natural dyes like cedar wood and pomegranate.

R Collective

The R Collective is a Hong Kong-based sustainable luxury fashion brand founded by Christina Dean. The brand collaborates with winners of the Redress Design Award to launch unique upcycled collections. By sourcing deadstock from luxury brands and reputable manufacturers, R Collective minimizes waste in its own production. The brand's design method generates only 1% fabric waste compared to the traditional 16% from pattern cutting.

Esse

Esse is a conscious womenswear label focused on classic, timeless staples. The brand utilizes eco-friendly materials and partners with ethical factories. From GOTS organic cotton to LENZING tencel and OEKO-TEX certified linen, Esse ensures its designs are made from sustainable and responsible fibers. Even the trims are responsibly sourced, with over 90% of garments featuring natural shell buttons.

Ziran

Ziran is a sustainable and ethical silk fashion brand that exclusively uses Xiang yun sha silk, known as "perfumed cloud clothing," made with techniques passed down for over 500 years. The silk is naturally dyed using Chinese yam juice and iron-rich mud, resulting in a wrinkle-resistant, antimicrobial fabric.

Boma Jewelry

Boma Jewelry, established by a Japanese-Thai American family, has been producing accessible and sustainable handmade jewelry since 1981. The brand ensures all metals used are conflict-free and aims to be more circular by reusing and sourcing recycled materials. Boma also prioritizes fair wages, offering 90-day maternity leave and scholarships for workers' children.

Lidia May

Lidia May is an artisan luxury handbag brand that collaborates with underprivileged women in the urban slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The brand trains these women in traditional embroidery skills and sources leather from Europe or Korea, which is then vegetable-tanned in Bangladesh.

SiiZu

SiiZu is an eco-friendly fashion label that designs clothes using 100% organic and eco-friendly fabrics. By keeping fabric manufacturers and garment factories close to each other, SiiZu minimizes its carbon footprint. From merino wool to silk, SiiZu ensures its materials are sourced and manufactured sustainably.

Pause

Pause, founded by Hoa Huynh and Sezin Calikoglu, prioritizes sustainability and ethics without compromising on quality or design. The brand merges classic silhouettes with modern architectural influences and follows a seasonless calendar. Pause pieces are designed and manufactured in New York City, using 100% ethically sourced cotton.

AKASHI-KAMA

AKASHI-KAMA, started by Alec Nakashima, specializes in classic Japanese workwear, particularly noragis. The brand uses Japanese cotton and manufactures responsibly in Oakland, CA. Versatile and stylish, AKASHI-KAMA's noragis offer a versatile alternative for any wardrobe.

Par en Par

Par en Par, founded by Laura Choi, is a modern resort wear brand that embodies elegance, simplicity, and effortlessness. The brand's versatile pieces are made in Los Angeles or India using sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, lyocell, and linen. Par en Par's organic cotton is sourced and handspun by rural artisans in Kerala, India.

All The Wild Roses

All The Wild Roses, founded by Hang Osment-Le, creates sustainable fashion pieces using upcycled sources, such as deadstock and surplus fabric. The brand also repurposes vintage pieces through repairing, recutting, and hand-dyeing. Trims and accessories are either upcycled or created in-house using offcut fabrics.

By supporting these ethical and sustainable Asian-owned fashion brands, we not only embrace diversity but also contribute to a more inclusive and eco-friendly fashion industry. Let's celebrate the fascinating connection between fashion and nature while empowering these talented designers and artisans. Together, we can make a difference.

Featured image courtesy of Mr. Katin Vietnam.

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