Sustainability: the word is so frequently trotted out by brands, ambassadors, campaigns and countless initiatives that we start zoning out whenever someone attempts to preach on the subject. Instead of talking the talk, Natalie Chow is here to make a difference with her brand KIBO.
A decade-and-a-half of working in fashion marketing demonstrated to Natalie Chow the industry’s inability to see beyond short-term commercial goals. With a passion for raising social awareness on climate change and labour exploitation, she decided to leave her cushy job to start KIBO in 2020 with her partner Simon Chow. The brand, named after the Japanese word for “hope”, uses repurposed materials such as leather trimmings from factories and recycled plastic waste to produce sneakers with minimal environmental impact. A portion of the profit on every pair sold goes to Compassion First, which fights human-trafficking in Indonesia.
How do you ensure your brand runs sustainably?
We try our best to source materials that are certified and traceable. For example, our Apple Leather is PETA approved and complies with REACH standards, while our recycled leather is GRS certified. We also ensure factories are audited properly and workers are treated right. Most of all, we don’t communicate messages that aren’t true to our practices. To avoid greenwashing, which sadly is very common in the industry, we educate customers on how to consciously choose what they buy.
Are there any difficulties with sustainable practices that are unique to Hong Kong?
Although awareness of sustainability is growing, it still lags far behind compared to other countries. Quite often the value of a sustainable product isn’t well perceived – we’re often met with scepticism because our materials are upcycled.
Are there any areas of improvement that could make your brand more sustainable?
We’re working on end-of-life solutions for shoes, which is extremely difficult – and especially so in Hong Kong. There are more than 40 components in just one pair of sneakers – recycled leather, recycled rubber, recycled plastics, algae … it’s complicated to dissemble them for upcycling processes. We’re looking hard for facilities that’ll improve the quality and efficiency of the production process, and hope to find solutions soon.