Disclosure: I stalked Esse The Label for a while on Instagram. We had similar morals and I decided to reach out to her. She sent me a beautiful dress with no commitment or payment and I chose to feature her and her brand. Please read my disclaimer.
Welcome The Sunny Spot - a monthly spotlight of my favorite brands that will keep you looking cute and saving the world! Of course, it's important to shop your closet, buy secondhand or borrow from a friend, buy things with longevity in mind, buy only if you NEED it, and if you *do* have to buy something new consider purchasing from an ethical and sustainable business!
What’s an ethical business? Welp lemme tell you - An ethical business is a business that has all individuals involved in the manufacturing of the product (in the field, factories, transportation chain, and stores) in proper and ethical working conditions. It basically means facilities are clean, the employees earn a livable wage, and they have proper breaks and working hours.
What's a sustainable business? Is a business that strives to have a positive impact on the environment and community. These businesses produce products that are manufactured and marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible”. Which means these companies use natural resources (water, energy, land soil, animals, plants, etc…) carefully and efficiently, use renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc), and remake, reuse, and recycle product.
Esse - pronounced "S-C" is a women’s clothing brand started by Alicia Tsi. She grew tired of having to throw out clothes that fell apart after a few washes. After quitting her full time job to pursue fashion she found the fashion world conditions the consumer to adopt a very disposable mindset.
Before we used to only have two seasons - summer/spring and fall/winter. Did you know the fast fashion industry creates up to 11 or more a year? Some brands release up to 52 “micro-seasons” annually. The goal is for people to buy as many pieces as possible as often as possible (read more here). You got clothes for tax season, hoodie szn, festival season, mid-life crisis season... SO MANY SEASONS!
In the end the consumer ends up paying more when they buy from fast fashion (f21, h&m, zara, Target, Amazon, etc) because these companies create lots and lots of low quality clothes. That kind of mindset worked when you were writing college papers, but NOT HERE HONEY.
According to a 2017 (that’s only 2 years ago) report of the Pulse Of the Fashion Industry Report, fashion generates 92 million tons of waste.
92 MILLION TONS OF WASTE. in 2017. can you imagine how much waste in 2019!?
Esse wanted to redefine the way consumers approach fashion. Esse is is derived fro the medieval Latin word “existence” or “to be”. They merged classic and timeless designs with “social responsibility and environmental awareness to create investment pieces that are thoughtfully-made”.
Esse the label creates classic and sophisticated staples are that you can wear all 52 micro seasons a year. They use sustainable material like Tencel, Bamboo, and 100% organic cotton. They KNOW each adult person in their supply chain. You’ll be rest assured that Alicia knows and has met each person making your clothes. No forced labor or child labor happening here, my friends.
Esse the Label T Back Maxi dress styled two ways:
top // as a duster over a white t, distressed jeans, and suede booties ; bottom // sundress with a bralette
I had the honor of interviewing Alicia!
Describe yourself in three words/phrases.
Tree-hugger, Trailblazer on a mission to change the world, Passionate
Do you have any hobbies?
I practice Lyengar Yoga - a type of yoga that focuses on aligning and centering oneself. When I’m in need of a cardio boost, I head to the tennis courts and I love hiking/ tramping and being out in nature.
Was being in fashion always your career path? What did you do/study before this?
I’ve dreamt of starting my own fashion label ever since I was a child. I used to sketch my designs on little fashion figures and cut up scrap cloth to make clothes for my dolls. I took up dressmaking night-classes from a local seamstress for a number of years (when I was studying in university) and fell in love with the mastery that goes into creating a piece of garment. This led me to pursue a career in the fashion industry at luxury fashion retailer, Club 21.
Championing for sustainability in the fashion industry has been a calling since 2016. Three years ago, I decided to embark on a personal journey to understand the impact of the fashion supply chain on the environment. I’ve learnt so much about the impact of fashion on the environment and what we can do to make the fashion industry a cleaner one. This journey ultimately led to the inception of Esse, one of Singapore’s first sustainable fashion labels.
Why did you start Esse?
The sustainability route was not something I gravitated towards initially – it came about through a culmination of experiences. I used to be quite the fashion victim and chase trends mindlessly. Over time, I became quite dismayed at the quality of fast fashion brands. I felt like I was devoting way too much space in my wardrobe to purchases that left me feeling empty and I wanted to develop more of a relationship with the things I was wearing.
This also fueled my interest in the fashion supply chain and led me to research on the impact of it. What I found totally changed my perspective of the fashion industry as I knew it – learning about the negative social and environmental impact that the fashion industry has (it’s one of the most polluting industries next to oil), I decided that I wanted to take a more transparent approach and relook at all the processes of the fashion supply chain with Esse.
What motivated you to make a change towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle?
As I was researching on the impact of fashion supply chains, it also got me thinking about my footprint on the planet and my day-to-day consumption habits. Sustainability should be something that we look at holistically, so this whole journey that started with fashion naturally spilled over to the other aspects of my life.
Where do you get the inspiration for your pieces?
The fabrics that we use dictate my design process a lot. Since we only work with sustainable fabrics, I usually design around the properties of the fabric like their drape or thickness.
I also like to look at classics like shirt-dresses, sheath dresses and basic tops. I like to look at what can be improved or tweaked to cater to the lifestyles of women today. Our customers are a big part of our design process – we gather and listen to their feedback and then make incremental improvements to our designs in terms of finishing, comfort and functionality.
Nature is my biggest source of inspiration for the colour palettes that I work with. I often put together colour palettes based on what I see when I’m out on a hike or on the beach.
What is your favorite part about your job?
I absolutely love designing and being inspired by the fabrics I come across. I’m a very tactile person, so fabric sourcing gives me a lot of joy – especially when I come across a new sustainable textile or fabric weave.
I feel excited when I can share my experiences and I love that I can tell the stories of fabrics and makers through my designs. Ultimately, I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see the pieces on my customers, and watch them develop a relationship with each garment over time.
What is your biggest challenge?
We often get asked to produce more designs or launch more collections, but we have decided to keep capsules small and launch once a month, as we want to refine designs and give our seamstresses sufficient time to produce garments so it doesn’t compromise on quality. This might mean that we miss out on potential sales, but we also feel the need to stay true to our commitment to quality.
We have deliberately kept prices accessible, so we can introduce consciously stylish pieces to as many customers as possible. However, cost prices of our fabrics are substantially higher than most fast fashion labels since they are produced in a more sustainable way. This means smaller profit margins. This is why we mainly operate online.
Who is someone you look up to and why?
I know I should be citing a woman as my role model, but someone whom I really look up to is Roger Federer. He’s a true inspiration and the very best at what he does, and he possesses so much humility and class. He embodies the definition of a maestro, and he makes me strive for the highest level of perfection and be the best at what I do whilst still remaining grounded and humble.
What book are you currently reading? What podcast are you currently listening to?
I’m currently listen to Conscious Chatter by Kestrel Jenkins. Conscious Chatter is a podcast about our clothing, the stories and potential impact connected to what we wear.
I’ve also started listening to The S Word, a podcast started by my friend Laura Francois. The podcast covers a wide range of topics on what it actually means to be ‘sustainable’.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is never the same! I usually try to answer all my emails and get all the orders sorted in the morning before I’m out at a photoshoot, zipping off to Vietnam for a day trip to visit our suppliers, sourcing for fabrics or at the studio meeting customers.
What are some simple lifestyle changes we can do to be a little more eco-friendly?
Adopting a greener lifestyle is a journey (baby steps is the right approach!), so I’m still getting there, but I’ve set goals for myself to achieve.
One of them is to reduce waste – so bringing my own grocery bags, switching to bamboo straws and bringing my own cup and containers are some ways in which I help to cut down on packaging waste.
With regards to fashion, I’ve started buying better and lesser. I try to extend the lifespan of my garments by handwashing them, as well as mending them when needed. I also like shopping at vintage and thrift stores.
Name two or three of your favorite places to shop (can be fashion, lifestyle, furniture, stationary… whatever!)
I’m based between New Zealand and Singapore, so my top two places in Singapore are The Green Collective and Source Collections. The Green Collective carries a wide range of sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle products – from bamboo straws to skincare. That’s my go-to for all things sustainable. Source Collections is a great store for sustainable basics which I get for my husband and myself.
In New Zealand, I love to dine/ have coffee/ meet people at The Little Bird Cafe. The Little Bird Café has a plant-based menu that comprises of the most delicious vegan and organic treats. I shop for household products at Eco-store. They have a refillery which I visit to refill our laundry powder, dishwashing liquid and body care products.
What does your self-care routine look like?
Going for a session of reiki or tui na (Traditional Chinese therapeutic massage), taking time off for myself – that usually means going for a walk, reading a book or chilling out at the beach.
Last question – can you leave us some wise words of advice or your favorite quote or mantra?
It might sound cliché: DON'T BE AFRAID TO FAIL. My experiences with failure have taught me that failure is a stepping stone towards success. I think that there is so much experience and growth that one can glean from failing that it really is an essential part of one’s journey to finding success.
You can follow Alicia on Instagram at Esse The Label and on Facebook at Esse The Label. Make sure to browse the Esse Website if you’re in the market for some timeless and classic staples to add to your wardrobe.
You can view previous ethical and sustainable brands that I’m loving here in the Sunny Spot Archives.