Eco-consciousness is beginning to awaken in Shanghai. An increasing number of Shanghai designers have been adopting sustainable practices into their manufacturing process. I asked Heather Kaye and Itee Soni, the two designers behind FINCH Shanghai, who aims to introduce sustainability and social consciousness into their design process to the Chinese market.
Shanghaiist: Tell me more about Finch.
Heather: Our name comes from the little birds hopping around in cages all over the parks and homes of Shanghai. FINCH seemed to capture our ‘small but mighty’ mojo.
FINCH is all about our team tackling the daily challenges of sustainable apparel design and manufacturing here in China. It’s not easy!
We use organic and sustainable fabrics, dyes and printing techniques for our original styles and textile designs, and focus on the lifecycle of the item we are making – and how we are making it – so that our customers know the piece they own from FINCH is totally original and responsibly produced.
Design-wise, we are known for our retro-vintage vibe and one-of-a-kind prints. We love coming up with all kinds of new textile designs! We are now printing 100% waterproof cotton rain ponchos for the bicyclists of the world who want to be both safe and funky.
How did you ladies come up with the idea to start FINCH?
Itee: Heather and I launched FINCH together, after discussing it over a hundreds of lunches together.
Heather: We met at our last company here in Shanghai, where we designed garments and textiles for international brands together. Over time, we decided we wanted to be an active part of a small-scale local design movement and get out of the poly pants export business!
Becoming entrepreneurs has been a radical shift, not least of which because of the steep learning curve of doing every part of the process ourselves. Where did the IT team go?? Now we have to fix the printer and do waterproof testing on our own fabrics…it has been crazy.
What is the brand philosophy?
Itee: FINCH started off as a brand dedicated to create environmentally and socially responsible apparel and accessories and maintaining complete supply chain transparency in the manufacturing process from the sourcing of the yarn to recycled hangtags on the finished garment. We eventually aim to build a design and manufacturing collective just outside of Shanghai, bringing together designers, suppliers, artisans and consumers dedicated to small-scale, sustainable apparel, home and accessory production.
Heather: We have a combined 22 years of apparel design and manufacturing experience, and really felt committed to start a business based on our core values of original design, social and environmental responsibility, and a desire to connect, grow and invigorate independent design communities in China and back home. That’s a mouthful!
I heard your clothes are all organically made! Tell me more about your production process.
Heather: Here’s the scoop. When people say ‘organic’ fabric, they’re talking about the raw fiber being grown without petrochemical input. No pesticides, toxic chemicals, or even machinery requiring gas or oil. What they’re referring to is handpicked organic cotton. Bamboo and hemp grow naturally without pesticides or chemicals, but are technically considered ‘sustainable’ fabrics rather than organic because they require chemical processing and a large amount of water and heat to process into fiber.
Silk is naturally ‘organic’ as long as the mulberry trees aren’t sprayed and the cocoons are processed without chemicals; ‘peace silk’ means that the silkworm is allowed to complete its natural lifecycle.
We import our organic cotton from Turkey. The fiber is spun and woven in Shandong province by our main mill, Hempfortex which is one of the market leaders in organic and sustainable fabrics. We also purchase silk, hemp, bamboo, soy, yak wool, and PET (recycled poly – from plastic bottles) fabrics from them.
Unfortunately, the beautiful raw, organic fiber goes on quite a journey – after it has been woven or knit into fabric, it gets bleached so that it can be dyed or printed on. This is true even with our fabrics. We use low-impact dyes and digitally print our fabrics to lessen the environmental impact. Although each situation and fiber is different, after years of research into every available alternative, we feel our fabric processes are the very least impactful — even less so than using vegetable or mineral dyes.
Who is the FINCH lady?
Itee: The true FINCHette is urban, independent and whimsical. Ranging from late 20’s to the late 50’s, she has a taste for unique prints and patterns in vivid colors, which she mixes with some solid staples from her own wardrobe for the perfect balance. And she definitely loves dresses!
How would you like to see FINCH grow in the near future?
Itee: We are working towards adding more product categories to our apparel line, such as our rain ponchos at the end of December. We’re working on our first range of Jacquard sweaters in wool and cashmere blends. These will hit stores in January, with any luck.
We’re also developing a bamboo and organic cotton blend fleecy knit line, FINCH 24×7, aimed at comfortable round-the-clock pieces that can take you from home, to coffee with friends, to an evening out, with just a change in accessories, all the while keeping you perfectly toasty!
Looking forward to 2013, FINCH will open the doors of China’s first eco-conscious, small-scale manufacturing and textile printing facility just outside of Shanghai. This hub will be opened to independent designers seeking the high-caliber talent and efficiency of China along with complete social and environmental transparency.
Any plans to expand outside of China?
Itee: Absolutely! Our first steps out of Shanghai are naturally in Asia. We’ve just begun an exciting partnership with nana & bird in Singapore starting last December. We love their pop-up concept store where every piece is handpicked by the partners and represents their love for unique product and design.
We intend to follow this up with expanding to Hong Kong in February, and eventually take it global. With our waterproof bike ponchos, we are definitely targeting bike-friendly cities like NYC, Copenhagen, Berlin and Amsterdam.
You can find out more about FINCH Shanghai on http://www.finchdesigns.com
Chiew Ling Tan is Shanghaiist’s resident fashion columnist and purveyor of all things beautiful. The creative services director at advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty by day, she’s also the co-owner of a multi-label fashion boutique nana & bird and an accomplished jewellery designer. Reach her at [email protected] with your story ideas.