Get To Know: Little Islanders

Grounded on the kinship of sustainability, we created these limited edition pieces together with Little Islanders, a small mum-owned ethical clothing label that creates contemporary childrenswear inspired by the roots of her Filipino heritage. The idea, beyond minimizing waste, is to give new life to the offcut fabrics of our signature prints.

Here are 6 questions asked, and answered by Gwen Vetuz of Little Islanders.

How did Little Islanders start? What did the journey look like to get you where you are now?

Little Islanders was created after my elder daughter was born, out of a desire to connect with my Filipino heritage in a contemporary and relevant way. At the time, there was a growing movement in the Philippines where efforts were being made to preserve and promote artisanal hand-looming traditions and to make them sustainable for the future. Sadly, many weavers in the last 20-30 years had stopped weaving in favour of more profitable work and the craft was in danger of being slowly lost. This movement aimed to revive the art of hand-looming and ensure its survival through finding modern uses for the traditional weaves, so that the skills of the artisans (now mostly grannies!) could be passed down to a younger generation who would be interested in learning it. I chanced upon this movement and discovered how beautiful and amazing these handloomed fabrics were – the colours were vibrant, and the fabric itself was so strong, comfortable and durable (in fact, this sort of hand-loomed cloth was used for trade from the Northern Philippines in the days of the Spanish Galleon!), perfect for making clothes for active toddlers! So I decided to use the fabric to make some dresses for my daughter and that’s how Little Islanders started.

The journey so far has been enjoyable although relatively slow, mainly because I have a day job! But also because I wanted to proceed with intent. Aside from sourcing the weaves from a proper sustainable and ethical source, it took me over a year to find a suitable sewing workshop to produce the clothes. I was looking for a small sewing workshop that could produce in small quantities, treated their workers well and which had a social enterprise element to it. At the time, it felt like looking for a needle in a haystack but I’m glad to say that persistence pays and eventually, I found my current sewing workshop.

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How did you decide on social entrepreneurship as a way of creating impact?

As cliché as it may sound, after having my elder daughter, I felt that I wanted to do something meaningful. I didn’t want to change the world, I just wanted to do something small wherever I was, as many small things eventually add up to a big difference. So when I was planning for Little Islanders, I wanted every stage of the process to benefit somebody, whether in supporting Filipino artisan weavers or in the production process.

Your fabrics are sourced from the Philippines and produced in HK by a small sewing workshop, can you tell us more about that? What is the impact you’ve seen from the profits on grassroots community work?

The sewing workshop is a social enterprise/for-profit arm of a local Hong Kong social service. The people working there have a lot of experience in the garment manufacturing industry, and one of the aims of their setting up was to promote the development of the local  fashion industry. In fact they are very supportive of local designers and also do a bit of teaching with the local design school students. There are maybe 20+ people working there, from the master pattern cutters to the seamstresses and the managers, and I have been working with them since Little Islanders started, for about 2 years now.

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The work the social service does is extensive, including:

– They run a community canteen for low income and economically disadvantaged households in need in the Kowloon East area
– They have established a food bank at a community center in the New Territories to assist social workers and relevant government departments to provide temporary food support to those who are not officially on benefits and who are facing financial hardship
– They provide counselling services to new arrivals, women and children in Hong Kong who may be in need of assistance to adjust or to find employment
– They run a volunteer service and also run community activities and courses.

The contribution we make towards all this work is small and humble, but we are proud to be able to support this in our own small way.

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What would you like to see change in the industry in the next 10 years?

No more fast fashion and no more plastic.

What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

Sustainable fashion, to me, means good quality, long lasting clothes which are ethically produced and made in a process involving minimal damage to the environment.

#ChangeBeyondTextiles is…

A respect for and appreciation of heritage, craftsmanship and provenance.

Shop the #MATTERmini range here.


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