To Inspire And Get Inspired - Ai-Ch'ng (Part 1)

I met Ai-Ch’ng over 10 years ago when she strolled in my little market store then full of batik and Ikat treasures from our beginnings with the team in Bali. We connected straight away over our passion for cultural diversity and heritage, for our families, our hopes for our children, the fun we have using fashion as a way to express our personalities. We both love life, people, laugh and...endless conversations as you will discover.

Who is Ai-Ch’ng? What do you do?

It is said: “There is who I think I am; who others think I am; and who I really am.” I used to think I was first a daughter, then student and teacher; later, a volunteer worker, wife and mother, followed by holistic health advisor, self-taught artist, singer, musician, and friend. My most recent discovery is, I am all of these - and more to come, all at once, and at different times.

Most of all, I am the essence of the name my grandmother gave me. “Ai”, means, love; and “Ch’ng”, means truth. So, the literal translation of my name is, “Love and Truth”. Discovering who I am, my love and truth, has been a journey of over fifty years. And I’m still learning! My realisation so far is that I love that inexplicable jolt you experience when you connect with your clarity, inner strength and potential - your truth. And to somehow facilitate that same realisation in others is what gets me up-and-going in the morning. Ai-Ch’ng is no different to anyone else - on an unending discovery of who she is and what she can and loves to do, then paying the joy and bravery forward. 

Two things have recently excited me: my first foray into submitting artwork (“Heart Work”) for, “Cut it Out” - an online collage exhibition run by Perth’s Kate Hulett; and being invited to be part of The Anjelms Project here! 

How did you meet Gaelle from The Anjelms Project and what aspects of the brand attract you?

Wandering through the iconic Fremantle Markets ten years ago, a full-hearted laugh rang out over the racket of the buskers and buzzing crowds surrounding me. Following that laughter, up tiny, wooden stairs to an even tinier stall, I tumbled into the world of Gaelle. At the time, there wasn’t anyone in Perth doing a lot of clothing that was bright, printed, let alone sustainable, or ethically sourced.

Yet here was Gaelle’s little wonderland of colourful, gorgeous prints on natural fabrics, with ethics and sustainability at its core, and a fascinating and generous creative at its helm. 

How important are the ethical values of a brand when you choose your clothes and which questions do you tend to ask yourself when choosing?

Growing up in the eighties and nineties, when disposable, cheap, flimsy fashion was peaking, I never considered the cost of my clothes to humankind and the environment - and I feel terrible about that. 

Only now, as I’ve grown older, “who made my clothes, and who and what gets hurt by my purchase” has become very important to me. I’m far from being an eco-expert, which is why I am still learning and consciously seeking ways and brands to help minimise my impact on the environment and society.

As well as the ethical and sustainable points of a garment, the other aspects I consider are:

  1. How easy is this to wash? - Can I just pop it in the machine on cold wash with other things, or quickly handwash to save a washing cycle?
  2. Is this colourfast? - So it can be washed with other items to save water and energy.
  3. Is the cut generous? - Because comfort and ease of movement in my clothes are paramount for me, enabling decent blood flow to my brain to boost creativity.
  4. Can I wear this sans ironing? - No brainer: saves time and energy.
  5. Is this one hundred per cent silk/cotton/linen/wool, or a mix of those natural fabrics? - Because, I’ve heard that our discarded synthetics take unimaginably long to degrade, forcing the earth to wear a heat-trapping polyester blanket. We also know synthetic fibres float into and pollute our waterways, endangering water-life. If an item is made purely from lightweight natural fibres, it works just as well in cold months with thin, warm under-layers or a jacket, making my wardrobe cost half as much because it’s working twice as hard.
  6. Is this fun and versatile? - Fashion is creative expression for me, so fun is important. Also, does it work for work, relaxing at home), and dressed-up for functions? 

“Who made your clothes” is a question that Fashion Revolution has raised since the Rana Plaza disaster. The pandemic has tested more than ever brands on their commitments to producer groups with a lot of large brands cancelling their orders and plunging factories, producer groups garment workers into financial ruin, poverty and starvation. What responsibilities do you think brands and consumers have to change this cycle?

To discover that I was partially responsible for tragedies like Rana Plaza with every purchase I made without knowing and asking “who made my clothes?”, was confronting. Knowing and helping my garment’s makers now concerns me greatly. I am still learning about this from very good interviews with Diarra Bousso, designer of Diarrablu and Suay, and having conversations about sustainable and ethical fashion practices with Gaelle of The Anjelms Project.

“Who made your clothes”, is a multi-pronged issue, requiring action from each of us, from all directions. The problem is, there are so many of us wearing so much. And there are the shockingly huge mountains of wasteful fall-out, when we discard clothes that fashion publications and It people deem as not cool, not current.


For me, a large part of the solution lies in one really simple thing I once heard: “Place a ceiling on your desires”. This places the important first step of problem-solving back in the hands of the consumer. If everyone were to place a ceiling on their desires, at the same time, and for the same length of time - a bit like this recent world-lockdown - this would dramatically slow things right down. Again, there’s the flip side: how feasible is this for those struggling in the very low-income bracket and whose job it is to make our clothes? 

For brands, they could pay their workers regardless of whether that company’s orders are cancelled. If companies ask themselves, “Are the factories that make our clothes places where we as CEO-s would feel happy and safe working alongside the workers? And, would we be comfortable publicising genuine photos of our workers’ working conditions? Would our consumers love or lynch us, if they saw the working conditions and knew the pay packet of the people who make their clothes?”  The result would be seismically different to what is now happening. When we as consumers can see the working conditions of the makers of our garments, we will see ourselves and our own shortcomings, and we can look for ways to help these makers. 

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Ai-Ch'ng

 

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