It is not a secret that fast fashion has been thriving in Myanmar for decades. Mass-produced clothes enter the market as fast as they go out of fashion. They are cheaply bought and tossed out later in favour of the next year’s trend.
Everything has its price, though. What we save at the counter is paid for by our planet. Estimates suggest that about a million tonnnes of microplastics find their way to the oceans each year and 35 per cent of them come from the laundry of synthetic textiles.
MYANMORE has supported local slow fashion brands for years. We identify and introduce fashion businesses with a sustainable approach so our readers have an alternative. Willow Clothing is one such brand. Here, we talked with two visionary women who believe that fashion and sustainability go hand in hand.
First, introduce us to your team and how Willow came to be.
I am Ni Ni Myint, CEO of Willow and this is Nandar Khin, Creative Director of the company. The idea of creating the Willow brand started back in 2021 when I came back from Sydney, Australia in late 2021. I couldn’t find affordable, simple and quality clothing for children and parents in the Myanmar market and that was when I discussed this challenge with Nandar. Nandar has been in the garment/ready-to-wear industry for a few years and agrees that there is a problem to be addressed. Our research and interviews with the parents also confirmed the problem statement.
We are not a fan of fast fashion trends and we do not want to create unnecessary waste for the environment. In general, we believe in quality over quantity. Moreover, we aim to go for simple and versatile designs so they can be reused for different occasions and never go out of style.
We then decided to create something for our customers that’s aligned with what we believe in and what our target market needs.
We saw the first collection and we were amazed by how simple yet stylish they looked. Who and what inspire you?
Our brand was born out of five main values: minimalism, simplicity, timelessness, versatility, and quality. These values are very dear to our hearts and we practise them daily.
We work hard to incorporate them into our products – starting with design and fabric selection. Our linen cotton fabric is very suitable for Myanmar weather and it is something we can wear regardless of the season. For example, our shirt dress is simple yet you can style it in many different ways depending on the occasion. You can roll up the sleeves, button down or wear sandals or heels to get a different outlook. Onesie is another product which we believe could be worn by both baby boys and girls.
Where do you source the materials?
We source our materials locally as much as possible. At the moment, since we are strict on the quality, we source the fabric from overseas. Some of the materials are directly ordered from a factory in Thailand. Most rest of the raw materials including packaging are sourced in Myanmar and made here with our local partners.
What challenges are you facing now?
Due to the Covid situation, logistics arrangement is a challenge at the moment. Also, the scarcity of technical talent to improve, maintain and govern the quality are the areas we are struggling with at the moment.
Moreover, the requirements of the market are always shifting and changing rapidly. We need to make sure we are listening to our customers every day.
Since Myanmar people are used to fast fashion, when it comes to clothing brands like Willow, most people think they are too expensive. What’s your strategy for maintaining an approachable price without compromising the materials’ quality?
I would say our brand is far from “too expensive”. If you analyse the market thoroughly, our sale prices are lower than average market prices. We source locally as much as possible to keep the cost down and develop local talent. We have also carefully priced our products based on the country’s income segment analysis made by professional firms such as Deloitte, for example. Considering the quality of the materials and design structure we invested in, our customers are getting a quality product at a very minimum price. Moreover, we are always innovating to be the market leader in both cost and differentiation models.
How do you think the consumers can help local businesses and shop sustainably?
Through our products, we aim to bring our brand values to the customers. Instead of purchasing foreign brands, the consumers can explore ways to use local products to promote the country’s economy and supplier landscape. Our packaging material does not include any plastic and is reusable for other purposes. For example, a customer can use our packaging box as a storage box or paper wrap to protect items from dust. Our tag can also be used as a bookmark.
Do you have a plan to take on customised orders in the future?
Rather than customisation, we plan to diversify our products in the future by bringing more sizes to suit different body types and product designs that are functional for various occasions.
Tell us about your goal for Willow.
Our mission is to be the market leader by delivering simple and quality products that can be accessed by customers from all income levels and that help strengthen family ties. One of our goals is to take Willow to a global market in the near future.