Felicia Toh of NOST is on a mission. Not only is she determined to preserve artisanal craftsmanship such as weaving and batik printing, she’s using modern innovations to breathe new life into them by giving artisans access to sustainable materials and helping them meet current market demands.
By Justin Zhuang
After Felicia Toh met several struggling textile artisans across Asia while travelling, the architect decided to start NOST, a loungewear and home goods brand, to create fabrics with them and sustain their heritage crafts. The efforts to bridge these artisans to the market led to NOST’s latest project under the Good Design Research initiative to create a new kind of sustainable textile using pineapple leaf fibre (PALF) yarns and fabrics and in the process, realise NOST’s dreams of sustainability in textile production, heritage craftmanship and creating “pineapple pyjamas”.
Why did you decide to apply for the Good Design Research (GDR) initiative?
Fast fashion is notoriously pollutive as it generates a huge amount of waste and relies on fossil fuels in the production of synthetic fabrics. GDR gave us an opportunity to address this by creating a “cradle-to-cradle product”. Southeast Asia is one of the world’s leading producers of pineapples, and every kilogram of the fruit generates one to two kilograms of leaves that are commonly burnt or end up in a landfill. By converting this agricultural waste to usable fabrics, we can combat pollution and waste. The pineapple farmers are also remunerated for harvesting the leaves, leading to a 20 to 30 percent increase in their income.
My GDR project PALFCRAFT stemmed from seeing the potential to use such modern innovation to breathe new life into the heritage craft of the artisan families NOST works with. Many of them have difficulties competing with commercial producers due to the time-consuming nature of handcrafts. The prices of natural fibres have almost tripled for the artisans due to the pandemic. We hope that PALFCRAFT will help the artisans gain reliable access to sustainable pineapple leaf yarns at scale, and future-proof their craft through producing sustainable textiles for global markets. It is an attempt to build better ecosystems in the sphere of textile production.
This would also take our sustainability journey even deeper, allowing us to bridge our heritage artisan partners to modern markets that are increasingly looking for sustainable fabric alternatives.
Many of the artisanal craft families we work with have difficulties competing with commercial producers due to the time-consuming nature of handcrafts. The prices of natural fibres have almost tripled for the artisans due to the pandemic.
Tell us more about the research for PALFCRAFT and the insights you’ve garnered.
Our journey began as a collaboration with Nextevo, a Singapore-based fibres manufacturer that works with farmers and social cooperatives in Southeast Asia to convert natural fibres to sustainable yarns through innovative research. Pineapple-based fabrics are typically used in the heavy-weight fabric category due to the strength of the fibres. Our research focuses on creating light- to medium-weight pineapple fabrics by iterating weave structures and blend compositions. These are suitable for apparel and furnishing textiles and means that PALF fabrics can be a viable alternative to brands looking to source sustainably.
Nextevo shared their knowledge on pineapple fibre properties and production generously. They blended PALF with TENCEL and cotton at their mill in Thailand to achieve a range of yarns for our project. NOST then provided the design curation and fabric production network through our various artisan communities based in Indonesia.
The handloom artisans used the yarns we gave them to experiment with various weave structures, ply layers and weaving techniques to achieve the desired look and feel. Batik artisans welded stamps (known as batik caps) and imprinted our original designs onto the fabric by hand. The print motifs designed in-house were inspired by architectural landmarks in Singapore — such as Raffles Hotel, Parkroyal Pickering and the roofs of shophouses. Working with artisan families gives us the flexibility of testing in small batch quantities, which was perfect for this research project.
What is next for PALFCRAFT and NOST?
We are using PALF to develop a sustainable collection of resort wear, loungewear and home goods, which will be showcased at the National Design Centre in May 2022. We also hope to develop a line of fabrics in conjunction with other fashion, furnishing or hospitality companies who share an interest in sustainability and heritage. GDR has led me to meaningful collaborations and surprising new pathways to explore for the brand. The initiative is an amazing opportunity for anyone who has questions, and desires space to tinker with them — all with the support of mentors and funding. When we explored the feasibility of blockchain during the project, our mentor, Benoit Valin, connected us to his various contacts in manufacturing to find out more about i
The project has allowed us to deep dive into sustainable production in a meaningful and unprecedented way. Today, linen and hemp are better known sustainable alternatives, but could PALF fabrics be next?
We are thankful for the opportunity to develop new cutting-edge sustainable fabrics by partnering meaningfully with heritage artisans and Nextevo. It’s the best of both worlds for me and a new chapter for NOST. Maybe we will be known for pineapple pyjamas next, eh?