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Featured Shop | EARTH.er

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Today we sat down with Benny, the founder of outdoors clothing brand EARTH.er, to talk about his brand. Hailing from Hong Kong, Benny aspires to make eco-consciousness a fashion norm, and design a social responsibility.

Natural "Check Check" Swedish Long Skirt by EARTH.er

1. Why are fairtrade and eco-friendly important to you?

An art teacher changed my life with these words:

We make art because we believe art can change the world. Ask yourself this: given the gift of artistic talents, are you taking it to where the world needs it most?

And I thought art classes are about techniques and history! I’ve been involved in social activism ever since, and later on chose to support fair trade and sustainability in the fashion industry.

 

2. You once said, “Fashion is the most wicked industry.” Then why did you become a part of it?

I hate fashion. I studied fashion because I hated it and wanted to disrupt it. Many years ago, I came across a ridiculously long line somewhere in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, and there were even police keeping everyone in order. Apparently, HK superstar Edison Chen was launching a pop-up store and people went crazy over things like a $170 T-shirt. So I started thinking if there’s a way to hack the fashion industry, so that each component—the consumers, the money, the buying, and the manufacturing—would benefit the world instead of damaging it.

Since fashion is all about making statements—sometimes political statements—and has a quick turnaround, I started a fashion brand to build a community that identifies with core values like fair trade and environmentalism. I named the brand EARTH.er because

adding “-er” to “Earth” reminds us of the many roles each of us play in this world. We could be designers, teachers etc., and therein lies our responsibilities to contribute to a better earth.

3. Many fashion designers find crafters and producers through fair trade organizations. Why did you choose to seek them out yourself?

I did not set out to create the most fashion-forward designs; I set out to build a fair-trade, environment-friendly process that is also sustainable as an ideal industry. Therefore, I need to keep exploring how to maintain that balance between fashion and its consequences. To build a strong customer base and community, we need to hold on to both.

 

4. How challenging is it to manufacture clothing this way?

Through this approach, working with the local conditions becomes the priority. For example, due to climate conditions, the natural dye in northern Thailand and in Nepal cannot be produced in black, red and light green. Since we cannot predict the fabric colors before they are made, we won’t start designing until we’ve seen the dye results.

 

5. Why did you change from working with Thai makers to Nepalese?

When I first started, I worked with a craftsman living in a Thai highlands village, who is the remaining craftsman producing natural dye, whereas all the others moved on to chemical dyes. Worried about the shifting trend, I went to Nepal to seek out other linen sources. Nepal produces lots of linen, which is made from flax fibers and is more sustainable than cotton because flax can grow in a dry climate and doesn’t require a fallow period.

As it turns out, natural dye is also uncommon in Nepal. Working with the local fair trade organizations, I realized that most local weaving work are controlled and distributed by some dominant family businesses. So I needed to consider finding even more upstream and independent family workers. I plan to go to Nepal later this year, but we’ll have to see if the aftermath of the earthquake will allow it.

 

6. We understand that you have a 16-year old coworker in Nepal; what is the story?

A friend introduced me to a bed and breakfast staff in Nepal, who was fluent in English and had worked for the US army in Iraq. He brought up his two daughters often in our conversation, so when we visited, we met his eldest daughter who was sixteen. She’s very hardworking, and we left them a couple thousand dollars as scholarship. Upon returning to Hong Kong, I couldn’t help but think there must be a better way to help. During my second visit, I offered her a job instead of money, and she gladly accepted. They are not in need of donation, it’s mutual respect and collaboration that would benefit us all in the long run.

 

Here are some photos of Benny’s visit to Nepal!

A little piece of bark goes a long way in producing natural dye. Handled properly, they can return safely to the grounds as composts.

Natural dye colors vary based on different humidity levels and PH properties.

Benny would stick to his original plans to visit friends and coworkers in Nepal later this year.

 

Benny’s story really sheds light on how fashion choices can be eco-conscious. Do you have earth-friendly fashion tips to share? Comment below!

 

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Category: Get Inspired

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