by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

Alyssa Lau on Slow Fashion & Sustainable Beauty

New Classics founder and photographer Alyssa Lau shows us how we can incorporate sustainability in our wardrobes and vanity tables.

Alyssa Lau (@imalyssalau) wants to change the way you shop. Making slow fashion more accessible is something that she has been working on since launching her online retail store New Classics in 2014. With a roster of Canadian and international brands devoted to different aspects of sustainable and ethically-made fashion, lifestyle and beauty, Alyssa is at the forefront of what we hope is the future of fashion.

We speak to the 28-year-old Chinese-Canadian on her beginnings in slow fashion, how people can incorporate sustainability in their wardrobes and vanity tables, and her own beauty routine.

Tell us your story.

I’m a photographer, creator and small business owner firmly rooted in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

I started a fashion blog with my cousin Kurtis in 2011 and posted outfit photos we’d take in our backyards online. At the time, I was a 19-year-old student majoring in Chemistry at the University of Alberta, who was desperately in need of something else to do other than study.

Fast forward a few years later, I was spending half of my time working as a research assistant in a biochemistry lab, and the other half working as a sales associate and eventually, public relations coordinator at a local contemporary womenswear boutique. After a year of working these seemingly polar jobs, I was offered a chance to pursue my postgraduate degree in Biochemistry. I decided to chase something fashion-related instead (much to the dismay of my parents at the time). So in 2014, with the support of my then-boyfriend, Eric, I launched an e-commerce platform called New Classics Studios that was dedicated to: a) promoting sustainable fashion brands and independent designers, and b) educating others about the slow fashion movement and how it can provide a solution to the destructive and exploitative nature of the mainstream fashion industry.

Almost six years later, my husband, Eric, and I are still running New Classics full-time while juggling a neglected YouTube channel and blog, photography and creative work, and another small business we just co-founded with my mother-in-law called Omma’s Kimchi. And if you couldn’t tell from the name, we sell kimchi. 

How did you get interested in slow fashion?

My segway into sustainable and slow fashion was truly an “a-ha” moment; it happened after I read a book called “Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution”. It steered me towards intense Google searches about sustainable fashion and taught me to be more conscious about the things I bought, and consequently the choices I made in my life in order to limit my carbon footprint.

Some might not know what slow fashion is, would you be able to explain it for us? How does New Classics fit in?

To understand what slow fashion is, it’s important to first understand what fast fashion is. Fast fashion is a term used to describe inexpensive garments designed and manufactured quickly in order to capture current fashion trends. Fast fashion retailers produce new styles in “micro-seasons” every week of the year where traditionally, fashion brands produce two to four seasons per year (although now many brands have been releasing more and more clothing to keep up with fast fashion companies). This means that fast-fashion retailers actively produce hundreds of millions of garments annually, and are often sitting on billions of dollars worth of unsold clothing. This isn’t exclusive to fast fashion brands either. As consumer culture has transformed for the worse, we’ve seen many brands destroy their unsold merchandise due to overproduction.

“But what we as consumers don’t see is that fast fashion has an extremely high hidden cost; it’s the environment and garment workers involved in the fashion industry’s supply chain that have to pay it.”

As a result of the mass production and over-consumption of clothing, the fashion industry has an unbelievably large carbon footprint. More than 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the fashion industry. And if this wasn’t bad enough, the mainstream fashion industry has a terrible track record when it comes to human rights. It is common for garment workers in developing countries to experience sweatshop working conditions, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, and unreasonably long hours of work while only being paid around 4% of the price of an article of clothing they produce. 

Now let’s chat about slow fashion. The slow fashion movement is about creating fashion consciously and with integrity while consuming less and consuming better. It encourages consumers to support local and small businesses, donate, sell or re-purpose unwanted garments, shop secondhand, sustainable or artisanal, and invest in versatile, high-quality clothing that will both last longer and transcend fashion fads. 

Where does New Classics fit into all this? I started New Classics partly because there weren’t many online destinations for sustainable fashion brands and designers. There was little sustainability awareness in Canada. So while we’ve always strived to use New Classics as a platform to pave the way for the slow fashion movement, we also strive to educate others so they can start making better choices.

Do you have certain rules or standards for your own personal style?

I like to stay open-minded when it comes to the clothes I wear, but I do have rules for myself whenever I purchase something.

I start by asking myself “Who made my clothes?”. This prompts me to research the piece in question, to remind myself that each piece of clothing is more than just a t-shirt on a clothing rack. Every piece of clothing ever made was touched by many hands and has an extensive environmental footprint of their own, starting from how and where the fabric was sourced to how they’re eventually disposed of. Then, I rate it on a scale of 1-10 and only consider pieces that are a 9/10 or 10/10. It forces me to consider how much I actually like or want it. I think about all the ways that it fits into my closet and whether it’s high quality, versatile or timeless enough to keep for years to come or re-sell in the future. And I always sleep on my purchases; if I’m not thinking of it the next morning, then chances are it was more of an impulse buy. 

What can people do to incorporate sustainability in their wardrobes and beauty routines? 

For your wardrobe, the most sustainable thing we can all do is simply wear the clothes we already have. But if you’re really looking for something “new”, I always recommend thrifting or shopping secondhand. It’s an affordable way to freshen up your wardrobe while also preventing something from heading to the landfill. Otherwise, there are a plethora of sustainable fashion brands and designers who are working side by side with incredible communities in order to produce beautiful clothes.

As for beauty, I recommend cutting out waste and disposable products like cotton pads, simplifying your beauty routine, trying zero-waste products or products with minimal packaging. I personally love shampoo and conditioner bars since they cut out the packaging and also last longer. Recycle your containers (check first if they are recyclable!) and look for refillable products.

What is your approach to beauty and wellness?

For me, my approach to beauty and wellness is holistic in the sense that beauty for me is more than skin deep. It’s deeply intertwined with things like my mental wellbeing, the amount of exercise or sleep I get, the food I ingest and the amount of water I drink. 

How do you look after your skin?

I generally get at least 8 hours of sleep a night, drink lots of water, try to eat a balanced diet, exercise at least twice a week, and take care of my mental wellbeing by making sure my physical spaces are relatively organized and talking to my therapist. Aside from this, I’ve been lucky that my skin isn’t that picky when it comes to products.

Lately, I’ve been rotating Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex Serum (SGD130) and Kara Maree’s The Renewal Facial Serum (USD47) followed by a moisturizer. I’ve been using Starface’s Moisture On Mars (USD12.99) or Estee Lauder’s Revitalizing Supreme+ Night Intensive Restorative Crème (SGD172) and SPF in the mornings. At least once a week I’ll try to use a mask; I love Kara Maree’s Revival Clay Mask, Eluo Beauty’s Forma Viridi Clay Mask, Summer Fridays’ R+R Mask (SGD70) and Evio’s Rejuvenating Mask (SGD22).

Alyssa’s Beauty Picks
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex Serum, SGD130
Estée Lauder Revitalizing Supreme+ Night Intensive Restorative Crème, SGD172
Summer Fridays R+R Mask, SGD70
Evio Rejuvenating Mask, SGD22

What’s your most important beauty rule?

Less is more.

What are your hopes for the year ahead?

I hope that we as a global community can finally start prioritising the climate crisis and the needs of marginalised communities

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