A couple of years ago at Eco Fashion Week Australia in Fremantle, Kristen Leo, a popular ethical fashion advocate and YouTube vlogger stepped out in a fantastic pair of black and white printed wrap-style trousers. Her ensemble was striking and naturally she was quizzed about where her pants were from; she responded, “They’re from MATTER.”
Fast forward to today and Singapore-based MATTER has achieved a kind of cult following within the niche community of ethical fashion, and it’s easy to understand why. While other conscious labels are accused of bringing the usual to ethical fashion – beige, bland, basic ranges or linen-infested collections – MATTER has found a winning fashion formula; carving a unique identity with its interesting designs and accessories, heritage prints, distinctive use of traditional artisan textiles and reinterpreting it for the modern, globetrotting consumer.
“Ethical textile was at the core of our beliefs,” says Renyung Ho, MATTER’s co-founder shares, “we were passionate about sharing traditional textile techniques as well as the stories of people who made them and the culture they live in.”
The seeds of MATTER were discovered in 2009 when Ren and co-founder Yvonne met working together in Mexico. The business idea would remain on the back burner for years as each worked full-time jobs whilst regularly meeting to embark on sourcing trips. However, the concept of MATTER crystallised after Ren’s tuk tuk trip from North to South India with her fiancé. “It was a domino effect of meeting the right people to work with and also having an experience that kickstarted me to take a leap and start MATTER.” It wouldn’t be until 2014 that the pair would launch their artisan-focussed brand, MATTER.
As Ren explains, MATTER’s focus on making rural artisan production sustainable is twofold: to champion production models for textile artisans that expand their economic opportunities, and enable the traditional textile craft to flourish as an viable industry. “Our hope for this in the long run is to connect artisans with designers and customers to make their work accessible to the larger market.”
The brand’s slogan ‘Change Beyond Textiles’ encapsulates its mission well. With five signature prints, eight techniques in use (including block printing, IKAT and handlooming), 13 artisan communities supported across Indonesia and India, and a total of 54,250 meters of fabric ordered, MATTER is indeed changing lives beyond the textiles – preserving traditional skills, celebrating culture, empowering artisans and creating sustainable livelihoods whilst minimising production environmental impact.
“The way we see it, sustainability is a journey with the actions taken shaping its impact,” says Ren. “It’s about the decisions we make everyday, as individuals and businesses, that come together to collectively affect greater change.
“Beyond our commitment to ethical production and eco-friendly materials, we’ve aligned ourselves with sustainable practices across our production and design process. For that reason, our practices have also included minimal waste design, hybrid production process, and a design approach rooted in seasonless styles.”
Aside from showcasing its fabulous apparel, the website pays homage to all that the brand holds dear; there are features of its makers like Master Ji, a fourth generation artisan, and a master block printer and dyer with 20 years experience, there are interviews with remarkable people whose values align with the brand, there are posts featuring members of its #MATTERTRIBE community (along with a sprinkling of photos of recognisable ethical fashion bloggers such as Natalie Kay from Sustainably Chic and Verena Erin of My Green Closet) and in-depth articles on topics ranging from traditional techniques to the benefits of social enterprises.
Jump on its Instagram feed, and the brand’s messaging continues, aided by the use of beautiful imagery, behind-the-scenes artisan shots and customers donning MATTER in stunning locations. Its clear in its using of branding that MATTER is people-centric and has found success by using positive storytelling, embracing community and collaboration and enabling a connection between the maker to the wearer to the world.
With a hybrid business model that includes developing fabrics for a growing list of independent designers and fashion brands, and with many moving parts to its business, the journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “The challenges have been quite a few but the most important thing that’s helped me is maintaining a growth mindset and a supportive community,” shares Ren.
“Having no background in design, fashion or production was immensely hard in meeting roadblocks in delivery timelines and quality control. That was overcome by seeing not what we didn’t have but what we did, and using that to our best advantage.”
In fact, it’s through these challenges that the brand stumbled across its unique production model; rather than producing seasonal styles and new styles, they’ve shifted their focus on producing new fabrics only. “Production timeliness and inventory management were definitely key challenges given our unique supply chain; but that’s also why our customers love the product too.”
Fashion is not an easy business by any stretch of the imagination and even more so with changing consumer needs on a changing planet, but the brand needn’t worry. Driven by purpose and provenance, MATTER is a catalyst for change, pioneering a way of doing fashion that inspires a whole new generation of consumers as well as artisan communities.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by MATTER. Facts and other specific product information is checked with the company. For more information about our policies, click here.