Photographs by Hannah Faith Lord, Noah Sahady, and Lukian Wiedie
When I moved to Tokyo from Singapore a few years ago, I had to do a major clear out of my belongings – mostly clothes, shoes, books, and beauty products. It doesn’t sound like much but the sheer quantity of what I had was overwhelming, due to the perks (?!) or rather, perils of my previous profession. I was a fashion journalist working as an editor-in-chief of several fashion titles; the by-product of which was getting sent products to wear, test, and write about.
Moving to Tokyo to be with my partner, it was only then I realized just how much I had accumulated. After packing everything in boxes, I ultimately decided to bring one suitcase of clothes. I gave most of my stuff away and was happy to leave what was left of it behind. The only thing I had shipped were boxes of magazines I edited – a body of work representing close to a decade of my life, which meant more to me than an excess of designer fashion. What little regard I must’ve held for the latter that it was so easy to leave it all behind!
Let’s be clear: I love nice things. I wouldn’t be doing what I did and do if I didn’t. But buying is one thing, excess is another. Abbreviated attention spans enabled by social media and the promise of an ever-growing billion-dollar industry has normalized a gargantuan demand for fashion consumerism. At the time, it was hard to get a semblance of distance or perspective being immersed in the industry and making a living from it as I was.
“The only thing I had shipped were the magazines I edited – a body of work representing close to a decade of my life, which meant more to me than an excess of designer fashion. What little regard I must’ve held for the latter that it was so easy to leave it all behind.”
Our idea of luxury is shifting now in so many ways. Designer bags, caviar glamour, logo-ed events held at hotel ballrooms is slowly showing its age, dating it to a time of excess that doesn’t look right in 2018 anymore. “Luxury” and fashion are among the most polluting industries in the world. Real luxury, of course, has nothing to do with the latest bag from an airport brand or what traditional media has been paid for by its advertisers to say to a dwindling audience.
In Tokyo, I had to rebuild my inventory of personal belongings. Since leaving the publishing industry, I had to re-learn what I love, not what I was conditioned to by the fashion industry. It was a funny moment – there I was paid to recommend products that I later realized I didn’t feel much of an affinity for once I was unchained from advertisers’ “promise list” and finally left to my own devices. Today, I prefer artisanal or vintage for homeware, independently made clothes (I love supporting friends so I buy from brands whose founders or designers I know personally – a few we’ve interviewed here), and daily skincare products we make at DAMDAM.
“So let’s start small: Open the conversation and talk to like-minded people. Ask questions, educate each other, buy less but better. No judgement or moral high ground – just a little nudge towards individual activism.”
These issues – overconsumption, excess, and an outdated idea of impersonal homogenized luxury – that I have long been uncomfortable with in my previous life are what we’re aiming to address at DAMDAM today. Damdam is a word that means “emotion” in my native tongue. Everything is made in Japan where we live. We want to minimize our carbon footprint as much as we can and that means producing everything locally. We want to respect the ingredients that will be absorbed by our bodies so we only use plant-based ones. We downsized to a minimal skincare routine instead of the excessive 10-12 steps. We’re still trying to find the best alternative to bottling (our current ones are made from recycled plastic and are recyclable but we’re on the hunt for a more sustainable solution) in Japan. We don’t use synthetic ingredients or animal products, and we don’t test on animals. We work with local artisans in Japan or social enterprises in the greater Asian region for our tote bags and gifts. We put a lot of focus on our direct-to-consumer business so we can have a personal interaction with our community. We know we’re not perfect and we still have much more to do.
So let’s start small: Let’s open the conversation and talk to like-minded people. Ask questions and educate each other. No judgement or moral high ground – just a gentle nudge towards individual activism. Independent brands with a purpose are rising like they haven’t before. When it comes to consuming goods, let’s start a tiny rebellion and put our money on the change we want to support. Buy less but better. Buy vintage, buy ethical, buy independent. Real luxury is when it has been touched by someone you know or even better, you love.
I put a couple of links to reading materials below and if you have similar recommendations, feel free to put it in the comments section below for us to explore! x
Some suggested reading on the human impact to our future:
Requiem for a Species by Clive Hamilton talks about the psychology of denial or resistance to the inconvenient truth about environmental demise.
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari charts how humans became the world’s singularly dominant species and its consequential impact on our future.