How Mongolian cashmere is helping sustainable fashion

Ethical brand Maiyet teams up with Hong Kong’s Denise Ho and Chinese designers Helen Lee, Ziggy Chen and Daniel Chen of Xu Zhi to spread the word on socially responsible production

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2016, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2016, 6:03pm

A new collaboration between ethical luxury brand Maiyet and four Chinese designers aims to arouse interest in sustainability in fashion.

“It surprised me that sustainability is a relatively new topic in the marketplace beyond the US,” says Karen Wood, head of development at Maiyet. “It’s really about education in multiple markets, although I feel Hong Kong and China are at a tipping point as there is increasing awareness about ethical and environment issues in fashion such as transparency and sourcing,” she says.

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Maiyet launched in 2011 hoping to promote sustainability, self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship in developing economies.

Its commercially successful collections have straddled high fashion and social responsibility, while raising ethical issues in fashion production.

Maiyet has just partnered with local retailer Lane Crawford to create two capsule collections using the world’s only certified, ethical and environmentally sustainable cashmere yarn. The first features a series of limited editions by four Chinese designers - China-based Helen Lee, Ziggy Chen and Daniel Chen of Xu Zhi and Hong Kong stylist Denise Ho.

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“We decided to create a cashmere capsule collection over a year ago but the Chinese designer component came later,” says Wood. “We looked at a number of emerging designers through Lane Crawford’s ‘Created in China’ programme who had experience working in knits and decided to provide them with raw cashmere to spin into designs. It was important to give them full creative freedom,” she says.

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Menswear designer Ziggy Chen produced an oversized frayed sweater with colour blocks and a detachable scarf that can be styled into a myriad of looks, while Helen Lee’s sweater is decorated with intricate 3D appliqués, frayed stripes and tiered fringes. Zhi’s cardi coat comes with an ombré effect.

Ho, who has her own ethical fashion label, Knotti, continues to work with women knitters in Hong Kong. “When we teach our knitting classes, we usually create test squares for practice. Instead of unravelling them, we assemble them to form a sweater. Each sweater is hand knitted by eight different women so it’s a community effort,” she says.

Called Fair, the cashmere is sourced through a partnership with Mongolian-based NGO The Gobi Revival Fund which works directly with nomadic herders.

“Projects like this push us to make better quality designs and products so we can reduce fabric waste while ensuring our sell-through is high,” says Lee. “I love the fact that we can still be creative while reminding people to be more environmentally aware and helping them understand sustainable and ethical fashion.”

In addition to limited-edition designs, the second collection features 14 classic styles by Maiyet, including off-the-shoulder sweaters, a mid-length trench and a scarf with tassels.

“Everything you purchase has an impact. We want to teach people to keep things for the long term,” says Wood. “One of the biggest challenges in running a sustainable brand is educating people about building a wardrobe. We are the complete opposite of fast fashion in that we have an incredible story to tell while making a difference in the world.”