alyssa lau: sustainability and creativity

alyssa lau educates us on sustainable fashion and gives us a glimpse into her vision as a content creator, photographer, and creative director.

Give us a little background on Alyssa Lau and what aspires her sustainable outlook on life?

I’m a 27-year-old photographer and founder of the slow fashion online marketplace, New Classics. My introduction to sustainable and slow fashion was very much so an “A-ha” moment brought about by a book called "Naked Fashion: The Sustainable Fashion Revolution". It was the impetus behind my transition to a more sustainable lifestyle, in which I started to be more mindful about the things I purchased, consumed less frequently, began composting and eating significantly less meat, and started investing my money in better quality things that would last me a long time.

You have your very own sustainable e-commerce shop, New Classics - when did this begin and what was the inspiration behind it?

New Classics launched in 2014 out of a desire to bring sustainable fashion to Canadians and: a) expose them to the designers and labels who are paving the way for sustainable fashion, and b) to educate them about the nuances of the present fashion industry and how it exploits both the environment and humans around the world in the name of cheap tees and expiring trends.

Could you tell us more about sustainable fashion for those who may not know enough? How can one participate in building a more ethical approach to their day to day life?

To first understand sustainable fashion, we need to understand fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term used to describe businesses that sell inexpensive garments designed and manufactured in a matter of weeks in order to capture current fashion trends. This business model was developed in the late 1990s and depends on: a) selling trend-based pieces that encourage consumers to continuously consume, and b) the Quick Response Manufacturing model of production, which prioritizes timeliness in order to generate the mass manufacture and scale of profits necessary for fast fashion to work.

This means that fast fashion companies actively produce hundreds of millions of garments annually, and are often sitting on billions of dollars worth of unsold clothing. And while fast fashion allows us to buy the latest it-piece for the same price as an overpriced cup of coffee, what we don’t see as consumers is that fast fashion has an extremely high hidden cost, and it’s the environment and garment workers involved that have to pay it.

Consider these facts:

1) As clothing has become more inexpensive, throwing away clothing and buying new is more convenient than paying for repairs. North America alone produces 12 million tons of waste in textiles (68 lbs per household), accounting for 5% of all landfill production.

2) The fashion industry in general is a massive consumer and polluter of our limited fresh water supply. In fact, it requires 2720 L of water to make a simple cotton T-shirt (that’s how much we drink over a 3 year period).

3) In order to increase profits, fast fashion retailers have moved their production factory to developing countries where garment workers commonly experience sweatshop working conditions, unreasonably long hours of work (anywhere between 60 and 140 hours a week), and even more unreasonable pay (on average, garment workers are paid 4% of the price of an article of clothing they produce).

4) More than 8% of global greenhouse-gas emissions are produced by the apparel and footwear industries. Plus, every year, the global consumption and usage of clothing leads to the release of more than 1.26 billion tons of greenhouse emissions, which is more than the amount generated by international shipping and flights combined.

And lastly 5) garment workers are disproportionately female, which means that women are disproportionately feeling the burden of the fast fashion industry. Garment factory owners and managers often fire pregnant women or deny maternity leave, physically, verbally and sexually abuse women, and threaten non-renewal of work contracts. The exploitation of female workers and their unequal position in their societies has allowed fast fashion companies to make huge profits while denying workers who produce their clothes the most basic rights. And that’s not even the whole picture.

So let’s get back to sustainable fashion - it is as an umbrella term and movement that encompasses all the green and eco-fashion movements into one. For me, sustainable fashion has become synonymous with slow fashion, which is about creating fashion consciously and with integrity while consuming less and consuming better. This movement is a solution to the fast fashion industry that instead encourages consumers to support local and small businesses, resell, donate or re-purpose garments, shop secondhand, sustainable or artisanal, and invest in versatile and high quality clothing that will both last longer and transcend fashion fads. Ultimately, the goal of sustainable and slow fashion is to push the current fashion system towards greater social justice and ecological integrity.

Apart from being an ethical entrepreneur, you are also a blogger with a beautiful vision. What do you aspire to do with the voice you have and who do you want to inspire?

You are too kind - thank you! More than anything, I want to use whatever platform I have to help educate people about issues that are close to my heart, such as sustainability in fashion. Most of the time that means sharing information from other accounts run by people who know much more than me! As for who I want to inspire – I never post anything with the intention of inspiring anyone. I simply take photos or make videos because I want to, and if that happens to inspire anyone, then that’s a huuuuuuge bonus!

As a content creator, photographer, and creative director, you have a very glossy, clean, and dreamlike mood. Who/what are the inspirations behind your work? Was it difficult to find your vision?

Again, thank you! Most of my inspiration comes from my own lived experiences. Nostalgia often plays a big role, as well as my travel experiences and other creatives and films as well. Also, I wasn’t really aware that I had a vision because it’s always a work in progress for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be quite content with the work I put out, but that’s what drives me to keep taking photos and making videos!

What has been the most surreal part of your entire journey?

The most surreal part of my journey was probably when we received our first few orders on New Classics - there was so much self-doubt during our first year of operation, but it meant so much to us whenever we received (and still receive) orders from customers around the world!

Finally, what’s your favourite type of cake?

Carrot cake, hands down.

shop: new classics

blog: ordinary people

instagram: iamalyssalau

youtube: alyssa lau

all images/videos used are courtesy of alyssa lau