Have you noticed the rise of sustainable fashion and socially responsible businesses in Singapore? We’ve definitely felt the buzz, and now more of us are waking up to the reality of how our buying habits affect the environment. With the fashion industry being the second-most polluting next to oil, we all need to take little steps to learn to shop and live more consciously.
It’s something that Stephanie Crespin has been advocating for years through her business StyleTribute, a pre-loved luxury marketplace where you can buy and sell gently used designer shoes, bags and clothing. But how is buying second hand more eco-friendly, and how can we shop while respecting the environment? We caught up with the entrepreneur to find out all about it, and collaborated on a creative shoot that celebrates Singapore’s beautiful natural surrounds.
Tell us how your love for vintage inspired your business.
I’ve always been drawn in by the thrill of uncovering unique pieces at flea markets or hidden gems at boutiques on my travels. I’ve always been fascinated by the rare or unique story behind a product. Eventually, this interest is what drove me to pursue my passion for fashion, rather than an official ‘profession’.
My interest in second hand also stems from an interest in being eco-friendly. It started when I was studying the economic impact of environment policies at university. I was drawn to the sector’s economic inefficiencies and waste. I even ended up doing my thesis on REACH, a regulation addressing the production and use of chemical substances. That’s how much of a geek I am!
At the time, fast-fashion stores were flourishing everywhere and the pace of consumerism was on the rise, but I wasn’t conscious of just how much the industry was affecting the environment.
Was that your lightbulb moment for StyleTribute?
I initially wanted to build a business repurposing vintage finds in collaboration with artists and give each piece a contemporary feel. There are so many fashion pieces that have potential and yet get thrown away blindly. That idea gradually transformed into what StyleTribute is today, a marketplace where you can buy and sell pre-loved designer bags. Recycling used goods and encouraging a more circular economy.
We’ve been reading the term ‘circular’ all over the news recently. What does it mean in relation to sustainable fashion?
It’s a wide concept. In our current linear economy, our economic growth and GDP is fuelled by the consumption of raw materials and the manufacture of goods. In a typical linear model, a product’s life cycle ends with the conclusion of our customer journey. We get inspired, decide to purchase a product, own it and then when we get tired of it, we abandon or dispose of it. The end.
The circular economy, on the other hand, is an umbrella term for business models or industrial processes which reuse resources repeatedly, rather than disposing of them. These types of companies will integrate recycling, refurbishing or reuse into their business. This makes them more environmentally friendly as they are creating less waste.
So, by purchasing a second-hand piece, we’re actually extending its life and being more environmentally friendly?
Yes, exactly. And although business models like StyleTribute essentially ‘recycle’ a product back into the economy (and someone else’s wardrobe!) instead of it heading to landfill, we do it in a way that is free from the extra manufacturing and energy output that has to be used when breaking a product down to recycle.
Another interesting effect of the rise of second-hand marketplaces is the shift in focus from the customer journey to the product life cycle. The fashion product doesn’t ‘die’ anymore with the first customer’s journey, it lives on with a second customer. We also tend to pay more attention to the value a product retains when it’s resold. In turn, hopefully this will encourage brands to put more effort and investment into making more durable designs that can be passed on.
What tips would you have for buying pre-loved designer bags, clothes or shoes second hand?
The value an item is able to maintain is dependent on its category. Bags lose less value than clothing, for example. There is also a much bigger market for well-known international brands in comparison to more niche designers. For example, a Chanel bag will hold its value better than a less well-known designer.
I like to think that when someone starts selling or shopping at StyleTribute, they view their wardrobe in a whole new light. I want to inspire people to realise that by taking care of their products, certain pieces can retain their value and be sold on. We should already be thinking about that aspect before we make the first purchase. That once they don’t enjoy their item, they are able to recover some of that initial cost and let someone else enjoy that piece they once cherished.
So, for those of us that enjoy shopping, how can we buy more responsibly?
Overall, I’d say we need to all slow down the pace of our consumption. As much as I believe in Vivienne Westwood’s infamous saying “Buy less, choose well, make it last,” I get how difficult this can be for a real fashion enthusiast. I recommend purchasing higher quality items that retain their market value, instead of fast-fashion. Why? When you invest in a more expensive designer item, you’ll be able to resell it at a decent price. You can’t do the same for a jumpsuit from Zara that is going to cost $40 in their next season sale.
How do you feel the sustainable fashion scene has evolved in Singapore?
I’ve been chatting a lot to our customers recently to better understand their motivations behind selling with us. Many have admitted that the main barrier to buying isn’t their budget. In fact, it was the guilt they felt of making yet another new purchase, and a lack of space in their wardrobe. Slowly, I think this consumerism fatigue is creeping into each one of us, and our mindsets are slowly changing to become more receptive to reusing and doing our part to be more eco-friendly. It’s a frightening realisation for retailers, but businesses who embrace this will be the ones that come out as winners and trailblazers.
Recently, quite a few fast-fashion brands have been trying to improve their eco-friendly image. What’s your take on this?
Being more transparent about their supply chains, improving their production processes and working conditions is definitely an improvement, but it doesn’t solve the abundance of waste that they have created and is still being created. The fast-fashion cycle has made us think of clothes as a commodity that can easily be bought and thrown away. That’s why I advocate against it as a whole.
Collectively, I think we need to learn to buy less but buy better. With today’s level of technology and progress, how can a company reasonably and ethically manufacture a quality shirt for $14? Common sense tells you it’s not going to last you a long time. Ask questions. Also, learn to take care of what you already have in your wardrobe. Making the biggest change starts with how you handle your current possessions. Find a way to give the pieces you don’t use anymore a new home, either through swapping or reselling them on. Your wallet will definitely thank you!
Photography by Susannah Jaffer
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