In recent years, support for the sustainable fashion movement has skyrocketed. Among my social circles, thrift stores are the preferred shopping destination when it comes to finding new clothes for an event or a wardrobe renovation.
On the other hand, the brands also choose to produce fabrics with more ecological materials such as Tencel or lyocell, made with vegetable fibers.
Realizing the sustainable benefits of bamboo as a raw material for textiles, Ariff Faisal started entrepreneurship and founded his own clothing brand, Kualesa.
Looking for a purpose
Kualesa is a full-time concert for Ariff, who left his former engineering and consulting profession. After spending time in both camps, he shared with Vulcan Post that the work did not give him any meaning or purpose.
His turning point was stimulated by the WFH, when Ariff believes that many like him began to reflect internally on what they really wanted to do in life.
Remembering the dead coral reefs he saw while scuba diving in Indonesia a few years ago, he learned that one of the boxes to check to find his purpose was in something eco-conscious.
Using Google, she learned about bamboo fabrics and the benefits they bring, such as being refreshing, breathable, and comfortable to wear. After feeling the fabric for himself, he was totally convinced to do something with the idea.
“I’ve always dreamed of building a brand from scratch and this challenge moved me a lot,” Ariff shared. “As I was inspired by some global D2C (customer direct) brands that started somewhere but are now profitable businesses, I knew the business model could work.”
But why bamboo?
Named after fort i comfortable, Which means strong and comfortable in Malay, Kualesa wants to describe the attributes of the brand’s t-shirts.
Bamboo was chosen as the main fabric material for a number of reasons. On the one hand, it has the ability to regenerate rapidly, where certain species can grow up to 20 cm per day. As a result, 35% more oxygen is produced and 5 times more carbon dioxide is absorbed compared to other equivalent trees, according to Ariff.
In addition, the process of making bamboo textiles can be more environmentally friendly than cotton and synthetics.
“We use bamboo lyocell, [where] 99% of solvents and water are recovered and recycled through the process, greatly reducing water use and [it] means unwanted chemicals [won’t] they end up in the environment, ”Ariff explained.
As far as the consumer is concerned, bamboo as a textile has its own positive qualities, such as being soft to the touch, hypoallergenic, resistant to wrinkles and temperature regulator. This is because the fabric is made of natural fibers that are breathable and can keep the wearer cool, making them suitable for warm and humid countries.
From plant to fabric
These t-shirts are designed by Kualesa’s head of production and design, Niki, who has a background in textile design for fashion from London College of Fashion, where she specializes in printing.
The process of converting bamboo into clothing begins with the first harvesting and spraying (grinding) of the bamboo plant into pulp before it is dissolved with a solvent to produce a viscous liquid. It is then pushed through rows from which lyocell fibers are produced.
After washing and drying, the fibers are spun into yarn and passed through a mill to produce a fabric.
One of the main challenges facing Ariff was to establish relationships with manufacturers who could accept their initial quantities and take the environmental impact seriously. This became even more difficult, as R&D was at the heart of the pandemic.
“We started sampling in November 2020, so it took us 10 months to be satisfied with the launch of our products in the market,” Ariff said.
Finally, the Kualesa team passed the search for the right organic manufacturer by duplicating the selection process to ensure that the manufacturer has the right certifications.
Following the collection of advance orders in July 2021, Kulesa was officially launched in August 2021.
The high cost of sustainability
With the alarming threat of global warming, buying sustainable alternatives seems obvious to most of us. However, adoption can come at a high price.
Priced between 163 and 231 RM, Kualesa’s product range consists of round neck t-shirts, semi-formal polo shirts and its range of batik t-shirts. Quick-fashion products that retail with similar looks, though with materials like synthetics and cotton, can fetch a fraction of the price, so it’s understandable why most are hesitant to change.
When I raised this with Ariff, he agreed that fast fashion brands can offer cheaper prices. “[But] they promote a very fast use from a quantitative perspective and they do not necessarily promote quality and long-lasting pieces ”, he argued.
He explained that the fast fashion industry uses many cheaper synthetic textiles to make such as polyester which take 200 years to decompose and end up in landfills. When machine washed, these fabrics also push harmful microplastics into the oceans.
Thus, Kualesa is taking the approach of promoting high quality non-synthetic garments with which customers can feel comfortable and want to wear frequently.
“Instead of buying a 30 RM T-shirt that you can wear maybe 3 times, turn it off for the fit and design and then put it in the trash, we’d rather buy something you like with a higher quality and take it 100 or 200 times, “Ariff said.
But it looks like Kualesa is putting the price of its products a little higher than another brand I found that also uses bamboo fabrics called JBS a Zalora. Sells t-shirts in packs of 2 between RM197 and RM209 prices (no discounts). However, the product details indicate that the fabric is made of mixed materials, with 65% bamboo viscose, while 35% cotton.
Kualesa products, on the other hand, are made up of 95% bamboo lyocell, which points to a higher concentration of vegetable fibers, which justifies their more expensive price.
Another reality that the Kualesa team has to deal with is the fact that economies of scale are more difficult to achieve when producing a material as uncommon as bamboo lyocell. “Conscious materials just cost more to work with, so somehow we have to make a price accordingly,” Ariff explained.
Ultimately, Kualesa needs to become a sustainable business in terms of longevity to make a real impact, and it can’t do that by putting its products at too low a price.
While traction may be slower at first, those who find value in organic products would ultimately be willing to make a purchase. Later, once scaled up, there is potential to make Kualesa more affordable and therefore accessible to different groups of people.
Although it has not been able to disclose the business’s sales figures, Ariff could share that Kualesa has experienced 140% month-on-month growth.
It is already shipping to Malaysia, Singapore and the 6 major ASEAN countries, putting its eyes on the global market.
With the goal of launching new product collections every few months as it expands to serve more customer segments, it hopes to make a name for Kualesa as one of the largest D2C brands in the region.