A Journey From Luxury Fashion to Conscious Clothing

To consciously consume is a learned mindset, and it’s one that Alicia Tsi of conscious clothing label Esse adopted after working for one of Asia’s leading luxury brand retailers.

As is the norm in the fashion industry, with every season there is a new drop of trend-led clothes and accessories, and old styles are discarded. For Alicia, visiting the luxury company’s warehouse laden with dead-stock, she “felt that this notion of being “on trend” had cumulated into a vicious cycle”. 

Alicia eloquently explains the problem with the cyclic nature of fashion; “on one hand, companies are constantly over-producing causing excess inventory and lots of wastage and on the other, training consumers to have a disposable mindset”. 

She also feels a disconnect between the luxury fashion industry’s emphasis on “the beauty of each product from an aesthetic point of view”, instead of “the provenance of the garments, i.e. who made them and what they are made of”. 

Alicia’s insights have informed the way Esse is run. Instead of designing around seasons and collections, she produces small capsules of 2-3 designs that launch every second month.

Esse was first launched in Singapore, where sustainable fashion was still a new concept to Singaporeans. In the early days, Alicia was told by many people that she was not going to be successful because “nobody would care about the fact that the garments were made from sustainable materials or if they were ethically made”. 

Because Singaporeans are very much driven by price and trends, Alicia had to overcome this challenge. She ensures her brand and garment design adhere to a particular aesthetic so that customers are drawn to her clothes. Many customers who are initially drawn to the brand are now conscious shoppers after connecting with Esse’s ethos.  

Residing in New Zealand, Alicia runs her business from both New Zealand and Singapore and has built up a base of loyal customers around the world. When asked about the challenges she faces, her main pain point is designing while using limited types of fabrics. She took a large risk at the start by purchasing an entire batch of organic cotton textiles, but presently there are now more and more suppliers in Asia that produce in small batches. 

Alicia stays true to her values, deliberately keeping capsules small, even if it means missing out on potential purchases. She does this to ensure that her makers have sufficient time to produce garments that don’t compromise on quality. Innovative textiles are used, including Tencel™, lyocell, and ProViscose®, a regenerated cellulose fabric.

The most popular item in the Esse range at present is the Organic Cotton Maxi Dress and was well received at Esse’s New Zealand launch. 

Other popular styles are the Spaghetti Top with Elastic Waistband and the Elastic A-Line Skirt which can be worn separately and paired together to look like a dress. 

Last but not least, Alicia’s favourite pieces are the Cross Back Dress which is easy to slip on and dress up or down, and the Organic Cotton Double Layered Pants which are super comfortable to travel in. 

You can find out more about Alicia and Esse here.

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