Mabel Yee’s job as a fabric cutter and seamstress entails sourcing for materials for clients. Over the years, the Kuala Lumpur-based businesswoman has accumulated a fair share of remnant fabric in various hues and designs.
And she is well aware of the negative impact of textile waste.
Instead of tossing out the leftover fabric, she has chosen to breathe new life into the materials by stitching them into dresses, blouses and coin purses.
Yee was one of 69 vendors at Makers & Co’s Tukar Tangan (TT) community event held in Petaling Jaya recently. The regular event aims to inculcate the idea of re-loving, recycling and renewing old things.
“Some of the materials are beautiful and I didn’t have the heart to discard them. Instead, the remnant material pieces were stitched into easy-to-wear clothing.
“I’m happy that I’ve managed to repurpose the material and earn some extra pocket money along the way, ” says the 48-year-old, who priced her blouses and dresses between RM30 and RM50 at the bazaar.
Yee is among a growing number of tailors who are paving the way in sustainable entrepreneurship using discarded materials.
“The best part is the materials can be transformed into unique one-of-a-kind pieces. I’m happy to do my bit for Mother Earth, ” says Yee, who has been a seamstress for over 20 years.
The tailor is well aware of the environmental concerns that arise from fast fashion. Although her livelihood depends on custom-made outfits, she thinks Malaysians should consume fashion in a more sustainable manner.
“Although fast fashion is more affordable, a lot of material is wasted and it has a huge effect on the environment. People need to have the perception that there’s nothing wrong in upcycled fabric and buying pre-loved items, ” says Yee, who signed up for TT after reading about it on Instagram.
Makers & Co’s co-organiser Primila Ganash, 38, says TT was created due to an increasing number of public requests for a bazaar selling pre-loved goods.
“Many Malaysians have a fair share of pre-loved items and they are aware of eco-conscious movements to reduce wastage in landfills. Selling pre-loved items is a great way to be kinder to the environment while supporting local business communities.
“TT involves items moving from one hand to another using customers’ preferred method of transaction. It includes selling, exchanging or even giving out items for free, ” says Primila, who has organised four TT bazaars in the Klang Valley since last year.
Traders sell a variety of things, from secondhand clothes and fashion accessories, to old books, handcrafted art pieces and live plants.
While the idea of buying pre-loved goods may be all the rage now, it is far from being a new trend. Secondhand items have been sold for decades, commonly at charity outlets, pawn shops, car boot sales and flea markets.
In the past, buying secondhand was associated with being poor. But nowadays, consumers realise that secondhand doesn’t necessarily mean old or unwanted.And thanks to the Internet, many shoppers turn to e-commerce and social media platforms to buy pre-loved items, which include houses and cars.
Primila adds that these days, people are more receptive to the idea of repurposing things.
“At TT, we put in a lot of effort to raise awareness and promote the 3R lifestyle. We had over 500 visitors at our recent TT event.
“More and more Malaysians are moving towards a greener lifestyle, ” says Primila, adding that 200 sellers registered for a spot at the bazaar.
Vendors are welcomed to sell anything but there is one condition: “Everything is priced not more than RM50 to keep it affordable for the public. There are sellers who allow you to pay any amount you wish. We also encourage healthy bargaining between buyer and seller.”
For avid reader Lara Alisha Colin, TT was like a treasure trove. “I managed to buy a limited edition fantasy storybook at an affordable price. The book costs close to RM50 in most bookstores. Over here, I paid only RM12 for the book, ” says the Form Two student of SMK (P) Sri Aman in Petaling Jaya.
Among the booths there, one in particular stood out. Offering secondhand books and other knick knacks, it did not have anyone manning it.
Instead, there was a handwritten note and a coin box, indicating that buyers could pick up something and donate any sum of money for the items purchased.
Primila explains: “This seller is happy to give away her second-hand items for free. For the person, it’s not so much about making money, but enabling others to acquire knowledge through reading. It’s almost like giving away her pre-loved items to charity in a bazaar setting.”
So far, Primila has received positive feedback from the people who have frequented TT events.
The plus point about buying pre-loved items at such events is that customers can see, inspect and choose the stuff for themselves.
“Most buyers found that many items were almost brand new, still in good condition, and great value for money. Some of the sellers also raised money and donated part of the proceeds to old folks homes, orphanages and animal welfare groups, ” she adds.
Jass Kho was one of them. Proceeds from her sale of clothes were channelled towards a charity home in Petaling Jaya, and the Koala Hospital in New South Wales, Australia.
“I don’t mind participating in the bazaar as I want to clear the pre-loved dresses in my closet. And I want to make it more meaningful, especially for deserving charities, ” says Kho, who managed to raise RM350 during the two-day bazaar.
Makers & Co’s upcoming TT bazaar will be held sometime in May.
Though the event is a few months away, Primila has already received a fair share of enquiries from interested sellers.
“The response has been great and we are so happy. We want people to realise that what no longer serves them can serve others. Instead of throwing items away, it’s better to sell them and earn some money along the way, ” says Primila, who hopes that more corporations, shopping malls and event spaces will be open to hosting TT events.
Gallery: Tukar Tangan community event
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