Sustainable chic: How this country coordinator uses fashion to elicit change

Xingyun Shen is a country coordinator for Fashion Revolution Singapore. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)
Xingyun Shen is a country coordinator for Fashion Revolution Singapore. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)

By Susanah Cheok

SINGAPORE – Xingyun Shen, 25, does not see herself as a consumer of fashion or trends. Instead, she is fundamentally a wearer of clothes. It's as simple as that. And this progressive view she holds does not stem from fickle pretentions, but from a true calling and vocation.

The country coordinator for Fashion Revolution Singapore, the Singaporean chapter of a global movement that campaigns for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry, asserts matter-of-factly that, "Through my work, I wish to use fashion as a medium for systems and social and environmental change. I believe that these solutions are community-centred un- and re-learning, and about systems regeneration" – a massive change in mindset and practice, in other words.

In terms of getting the job done and being effective, don't also talk to her about productivity. "I no longer want to associate myself with being a productive person—because what does that mean beyond hitting societal milestones?" she challenges, preferring to take on a friend's thoughtful suggestion about replacing productivity with contribution, and concedes that "I would like to live by this."

The impetus for sustainable fashion shouldn't be to create new collections made with 'recycled' plastic or feminist slogans. It should be telling the truth about overproduction and simple action centred around reparation and systems rebuilding.

Thrifted: Xingyun picked up this floral reversible gilet from Oxfam in London. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)
Thrifted: Xingyun picked up this floral reversible gilet from Oxfam in London. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)

Eco-Politico-Eclectic

She who dons togs out of necessity claims not to have a specific style, but lets her situational needs dictate her sartorial choices. She says, "I have the same few pieces I wear on rotation or reach out to when I want to blend in and feel safe in my body. More often than not, my clothing choices change with my state of mind, and how I feel depending on the time of the day or day of the week."

Fashion followers committed to the green cause have found Xingyun to be a provocative millennial voice that transcends generations. Thinking out of the box, the profound advocate for a real fashion revolution – change in the form of policy, industry, cultural modifications in fashion's supply chain and production systems – believes that "my values system influences my wardrobe on rotation. We don't speak about this enough in mainstream media, but what we wear is political and the voice of our culture—how I choose to dress, armour, and present myself in my clothes is tied intrinsically to my belief system and how I see the world. Like many, my sense of style is a combination of what I think, feel, do and represent at any given moment."

This includes the clothes in her wardrobe that are not currently on rotation. "I'd like to think that the clothes I no longer wear but keep around are equally representative of my style. These pieces are not forgotten—just kept aside for new seasons and phases of my life, when I'd find use in them in the future and bring them back into my cycle of wear. I think it is more than asking if these pieces still "spark joy"—but knowing that they represent my past and future self," says the champion for true and concrete change in the rag trade.

Xingyun swapped this beautiful tie-dye jumpsuit at The Fashion Pulpit. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)
Xingyun swapped this beautiful tie-dye jumpsuit at The Fashion Pulpit. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)

Strong Green Roots

Xingyun's thoughtful fashion philosophy "happened when I started recognising that I have the agency to choose what I wear, buy and keep in my life. Unlearning that my relationship with clothing and fashion shouldn't be disposable became crucial to my advocacy for greater care—not just for my clothes but for the community and the environment."

This need for more people to adopt a circular fashion lifestyle is an old refrain, but urgently necessary, and Xingyun will not stop being one of the voices of reason that sing it.

She says, "Sustainability in fashion, despite mainstream narratives, isn't a new trend or phenomenon." Co-Founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsola de Castro says, "Sustainability has been trending for billions of years, or we wouldn't be alive. It's excess that is the trend, and we need to make it firmly out of fashion.' I think this speaks at length of how 'sustainability in fashion', or 'sustainable fashion' have been watered down to buzzwords and marketing language by large fashion corporations."

"The impetus for sustainable fashion shouldn't be to create new collections made with 'recycled' plastic or feminist slogans. It should be telling the truth about overproduction and simple action centred around reparation and systems rebuilding. Looking to replace conventional supply chain processes should not be an option—it should be a top of the list priority right now," Xingyun adds.

Xingyun swapped the green dress at The Fashion Pulpit. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)
Xingyun swapped the green dress at The Fashion Pulpit. (PHOTO: Xingyun Shen)

A Meaningful Collection

Aptly, she says, "I have not bought new clothes in a long time. A good majority of my wardrobe is inspired by the people I meet, love and spend time with. Some of my most worn pieces are given to me by my mum and my best friends. Working at The Fashion Pulpit – Singapore's first and largest swapping platform – also means that most of the pieces in my wardrobe are swapped."

Xingyun is a puritan when it comes to working for a kinder fashion industry. She is inclusive and non-judgmental. "To me, part of unlearning productivity is recognising that everyone practices Sustainability at their own pace and that no one is doing it the wrong way. Swapping might be my way of being more sustainable in acquiring new pieces. Others might sew, mend, upcycle, support local independent designers, or (re)wear their clothes (either out of necessity or by choice). It is essential to acknowledge that there is no 'exemplary' way of being sustainable with one's fashion habits—and failing to recognise that Sustainability looks different for everyone is an unsustainable way of living and using our clothes."

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