Clothing With A Conscience

The Edge Malaysia, August 7, 2017

By Shalini Yeap

The ever-evolving world of fashion, coupled with the demands of consumerism, has led to the birth of fast fashion, offering endless choices of trend-based, affordable garments. On the flip side, it has also resulted in clothing being discarded almost as quickly as they are being bought off the racks - of ten ending up in landfills and contributing to the already massive amount of waste we produce.

Determined to put and end to this trend, four women - Ruth Yeoh, Rebekah Yeoh, Teo Yi Ping and Melissa Yang - who share not only a love for fashion but also a deep-rooted commitment to the environment and society, came together to found their passion project, Recyclothes.

It is a concept online boutique that sells curated second-hand clothes. Ninety per cent of its proceeds go to charities in Malaysia while the remaining 10% goes to cover laundry costs and maintenance of the website.

The accumulated profits are then distributed on a quarterly basis to a beneficiary, the current one being Dignity for Children Foundation, of which both Ruth and Rebekah are ambassadors. "The proceeds are used solely to purchase new uniforms for the children. We see it as recycling clothes for clothes," says Rebekah, who also founded Nimble Fingers, a project that improves underprivileged Cambodian children's access to business knowledge through creative enterprise. "We hope to do more impactful and niche channelling of proceeds rather than just giving the money away. We prefer that the impact can be monitored and there is an audit trail," she adds.

Ruth who heads sustainability at the YTL Group says, "The fashion industry has already grown too big to be resource-efficient. According to McKinsey, clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014 as consumers increased the purchase of garments 60% annually, yet kept their clothing for half the time they did 15 years ago. Up to 85% of the textiles go to landfills where they emit methane while they degrade - if they decompose at all."

The idea for Recyclothes came about in the middle of last year when the four women noticed that clothes that were no longer worn were either thrown out or dumped at welfare homes. Sisters Rebekah and Ruth caution against doing the latter. "Not all the clothing may be appropriate for the occupants of the homes. And I've never seen the children wear any of the clothes we donated to them," says Rebekah, who is corporate finance manager of YTL Corp Bhd.

"It is not well documented, but there are indeed various media outlets that have investigated this dilemma. Apparently, there is a 'hidden trade' in second-hand clothes donated directly to charity. They end up on the black market in certain developing countries, where informal traders sell all sorts of branded clothing for profit.

At the same time, people are constantly looking for an avenue to give away old clothes to make room for new ones. "These were actually nice, expensive clothes, so I thought to myself, why don't we sell them but at a massive discount?" explains Rebekah. The sentiment was shared by the other founders. Recyclothes was created to step in as an intermediary for this purpose and to disrupt wardrobe-to-landfill cycle.

"As apparel consumption is projected to rise by 63% in 2030, I believe the need to address its footprint now is essential. What we are doing with Recyclothes is not a drop in the ocean but more about creating ripples in both the online and ethical fashion industries. We believe every small action does make a difference and there are countless ways in which we can challenge ourselves to make conscious fashion choices. Recyclothes is a not-for-profit entity with a mission - to raise awareness on sustainable fashion and fund causes close to our hearts," shares Ruth.

Recyclothes currently offer women's-wear only, based on the donations it has received, but plans to include men's and children's clothing too. Rebekah describes this online boutique as a labour of love and labour indeed they do - sorting out and washing the donated clothes before putting them up for sale. Clothes that do not meet their stringent quality control requirements are returned to the donor.

The online concept was a well-thought-out decision on the part of the founders. Ruth explains: "We made an executive decision to ride the digital wave as this is not only a cost-friendly option but also one that casts a wider net. We are proud to be part of this digital revolution and have placed great emphasis on website aesthetics and user-friendliness, so that shoppers of all ages will have a pleasant online shopping experience."

The ladies' ultimate goal for the project is to have a global presence.

Ruth offers the inspiring quote by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead - "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has" - aptly summing up their journey, which is fuelled by a burning desire to make a difference.

Visit, or to find out how you can contribute to this cause.