For the Malaysian fashion industry, giving back to society is more than a trend


In general, fashion can help draw attention to charitable causes. Photo: Instagram/Carven Ong

Fashion is compelled, more than ever, to be socially responsible. Beyond just the environmental aspect, designers and brands are also giving back to society.

Perhaps the act came to light during the Covid-19 pandemic, when everyone in the industry banded together to help out those affected by lockdowns.

Yet, it is not a passing trend – and we are still seeing fashion campaigns that partner charity organisations being pushed out regularly.

Khoon Hooi says that the pandemic has made designers realise how important it is to look beyond the business aspect of fashion. Photo: The Star/ART CHENKhoon Hooi says that the pandemic has made designers realise how important it is to look beyond the business aspect of fashion. Photo: The Star/ART CHEN“For me, I’ve always been thinking about how to contribute back to society, even before the pandemic,” says Malaysian designer Khoon Hooi.

“It was always on my mind, but somehow, nothing was done in the past.”

Read more: Malaysian designer Khoon Hooi heads abroad: 'I want to dress more celebrities'

He goes on to say that when the lockdowns froze the fashion industry, it gave a lot of designers time to think and put into motion such plans.

“For the first charity campaign, I decided to create bags using upcycled (leftover) fabric. All the profit from the sales went to help a refugee school in Malaysia,” Khoon Hooi relates.

From then on, he started to come up with charity campaigns annually.

This year, he picked three local tastemakers – Marion Caunter, Ong Ming Yen (known as Yen), and Datin Shirieene Hajamaideen, who then designed two of the Khoon Hooi brand’s well-loved Chiasa bag each.

The sales benefitted organisations of their choosing.

Caunter picked Rumah Kita, an NGO that shelters single pregnant mothers by providing them with housing as well as maternity and baby care.

While Yen chose the Lost Animal Souls Shelter, a non- profit, no-kill, canine welfare organisation that rescues sick, abused or abandoned dogs, Shirieene selected Yayasan Chow Kit, an NGO that caters to the needs of children in and around Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur.

Another Malaysian designer, Carven Ong, has also actively worked with charity organisations. He says that fashion can play an important role in this regard, because the people in the industry move around in society a lot.

The Chiasa bag by Khoon Hooi is made from leftover fabric, with proceeds going to charity. Photo: Khoon HooiThe Chiasa bag by Khoon Hooi is made from leftover fabric, with proceeds going to charity. Photo: Khoon HooiAccording to him, designers can also help bring a wow factor to charity events.

For example, he says that he often gets called on to put up a fashion show during such dinners or galas.

He adds that designers have also held auctions of their most memorable designs or collections, and donated the proceeds to charity.

“They can sometimes help get the word out by just talking to their customers. A lot of them are in contact with large corporate companies too, especially the ones that run departmental stores and malls,” he says.

Ong recalls how he helped canvass for donations – both of monetary value and items – during the pandemic. He helped the orang asli community, as well as refugees.

“I remember calling up friends and anyone else I could think of to collect donations. At that time, what was needed was essential items like food, plus books,” he notes.

Ong is currently working with Living Hope, an organisation dedicated to be the voice for the unheard cries of the poor, needy and marginalised children living in Malaysia and internationally.

He is putting on a fashion show for the Living Hope anniversary dinner early next year.

The fashion industry’s pivot to focusing on giving back to society probably hinges on how shoppers are now socially aware.

The younger generation, more so, people of the Gen Z, expect designers and brands that they support to be championing causes too.

“Definitely, the young are very in tune with what they want, and this is not just about designs and such. They want to see issues like the environment and society’s marginalised being addressed through their purchases,” Khoon Hooi points out.

Read more: Thirty years on, Carven Ong still loves the challenge of couture

Ong says it is indeed a welcome change.

“If the younger consumers are becoming more socially responsible, then this can only be a good thing for everyone, right?” he ponders.

Ong agrees younger consumers are more socially conscious. Photo: The Star/AZLINA ABDULLAHOng agrees younger consumers are more socially conscious. Photo: The Star/AZLINA ABDULLAH

All that said, the designers supporting charities are doing so out of their hearts. It has never been about following a trend.

“I’m helping out as a compassionate person, not just a designer,” Ong quips.

Khoon Hooi adds that learning about the plight of certain communities has really touched his heart.

On the local front, designers doing their part for society is also in the spirit of Malaysia and its generous people.

“Proud to be Malaysian,” Khoon Hooi says.

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