It’s a known fact that China’s clothing and apparel sectors are doing exceptionally well. A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council indicates that China currently produces over 50% of the world’s fabric – some 80 billion meters a year.
Alongside such mammoth manufacturing activity, there is a small but growing cluster of young designers, labels and apparel manufacturing enterprises in China that are embracing a more ethical business model. They are endeavouring to make sustainable fashion the foundation for their business.
One such great example is The Squirrelz, China’s first upcycling and eco-wholesaler. Founded in 2013 by Bunny Yan, American-born Shanghai-based entrepreneur, the company started as a brick-and-mortar store selling sustainably produced goods by local designers. In 2015, it branched online and became China’s first eco-friendly e-commerce platform – a marketplace with a resemblance to American peer-to-peer retail website Etsy.
Recently Yan expanded the concept yet again, with the debut of an eco-wholesaler site aiming to provide designers and brands in China and abroad with eco-sustainable textiles and defective materials from overstocked Chinese factories. It currently features over 1,200 different items.
“We source mainly from high quality, environmentally aware apparel manufacturers in the outskirts of Shanghai and Zhejiang province,” says Yan. “There aren’t many at the moment, but those existing are a good starting point for what we want to do.”
Prices for overstocked items – which, if unused, end up destroyed or stored away indefinitely – are far below market price, which implies The Squirrelz has been easily able to purchase in bulk and acts as a bridge between brands and suppliers.
“Factories are more than eager to get money for their overstock. And labels, particularly up-and-coming ones, are increasingly interested in using sustainably sourced fabrics,” she explains.
Import-export agents, mostly from the US and a few South American countries, have so far responded well to The Squirrelz’s wholesale project, Yan shares.
“I thought niche designers and crafters would come to the site first – we offer ‘Inspiration Packs’, which are basically a selection of various fabrics and accessories put together with the specific purpose of inspiring creative spirits and letting designers know the wide range of high-quality materials available as overstock. But it’s reassuring to know bigger industry insiders are paying attention.”
“The idea behind sustainable materials is that they are less damaging to the environment to produce, consuming fewer natural resources and creating less pollution. I can’t see anyone not getting on board with that, particularly now,” she signs off.