WHAT do Solange Knowles, Aimee Song, Livia Firth, AnnaSophia Robb and most notably Meghan Markle all have in common? Their love for Kayu Design!
If you didn’t know already, Kayu means ‘wood’ in Malay, the pragmatism of using the exact meaning as the name for a fashion brand perfectly portrays the design ethos of the sunny Californian-based accessories label. While other international contemporaries have in one way or another progressed into the slick and sleek minimalist allure or hippie kitsch maximalist appeal, Kayu has endured.
Enter Kayu, a label founded by Jamie Lim is an ode to her vivid cultural heritage stemming from her native country Malaysia. She gives unequivocal support and staunch commitment towards using eco-friendly materials including natural straw, sustainably sourced shell and recycled wood – all of which are by-products of the furniture and food industries – to find new life in Kayu’s pieces.
The conscientious brand eschewed the mass-produced, and instead, celebrates the age-old indigenous techniques mastered by Southeast Asian artisans in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines as a means to preserve and cultivate their time-tested traditions. Each bag is rendered entirely by the skilful deft hands of the artisans with impeccable attention to details and modern design sensibilities to exude a cool, paradisical vibe synonymous to the scintillating Californian-spirit.
Growing up in Malaysia and currently residing in the golden state of California, Lim has become familiar with how different ethical and sustainable fashion is being perceived and consumed by the society.
She shares: “California is definitely on the forefront of sustainability and has made great strides in reducing greenhouse gas emission, mandating an increase in zero-emission vehicles and investing in renewable energy. Californians on a whole are concerned with where their clothes are made and what type of materials are used. The image of crunchy, granola green fashion no longer exists here.
“I think Malaysians are also increasingly searching for fashion that is sustainable and made in an ethical way. When I was back in KL recently, I was heartened to see many independent stores selling batik shirts and kaftans, and bags handmade by the Orang Asli were all the rage.”
Ethical fashion has never been more prevalent, but can fashion ever truly be sustainable? At the root, people are frustrated by the impact of fast fashion consumption resulting in the unfathomable amount of waste even beyond one’s imagination, while others argue about ethical fashion being an oxymoron, simply because we can’t shop our way to ethical fashion.
“The whole purpose of fast fashion is to create something quickly and cheaply to be thrown away after a few uses. The energy required to do this is staggering,” says Lim.
“People are starting to come to their senses and turning away from fast fashion. We’ve seen this happen with plastic packaging, it will only be a matter of time before people demand that their clothes to be sustainably made.”
Take water consumption for example, a pair of cotton jeans takes up to 2,000 gallons of water to make and this has left the Aral Sea in Central Asia completely dried up due to cotton production. However, the fashion industry is quick to find innovative ways to reduce water footprint or adopt alternatives such as retailoring and reconstructing discarded textiles to turn old into new.
Lim shares: “We recently embarked on a zero-waste initiative, where we are re-purposing up-cycled material scraps including disposed raffia and leather to make small charm accessories, where 100% of sales proceeds will be donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank.”
Times are tough, fashion is in complete turmoil and the world is “burning”. The eternal debate of fair trade in the fashion industry never seems to resolve, and it’s difficult to find a balance between environmentally sustainable production and profitable business growth. Laudable efforts by Kayu Design alone can’t tip the scale for the better, but it’s able to make small changes to wait it out.