Asha Tobing is a magnetic and creative force. She stands out in the crowd by wearing her art and her heart on her sleeve, vest, pant leg, bag and more. The founder of Lil Jax and resident artist at Tannery Arts CenterTobing professionally recycles salvaged textiles into functional, unique and stunning garments and statement pieces.
Garments are comfortable, fluid and whimsical with pockets and hoods, often adorned with salvaged screen prints, reaffirming positive messages like ‘I like myself’, ‘Freethinker’ and ‘Light up’. Her work was born out of a need for frugality and now serves as an example of what is possible in eco-conscious clothing and a counterpoint to environmentally destructive clothing consumption.
The excessive fashion industry, dubbed “fast fashion”, has been openly criticized in recent years as jaw-dropping images exposing mountains of unworn clothes in Chile’s Atacama Desert went viral in 2021. More than 85 million pounds of new clothes are thrown on the sands of Chile. dunes each year, leftovers that could not be sold in the United States and Europe. The problem has grown so gargantuan that the pile of clothes is now dubbed the “Great Fashion Garbage Patch”, reminiscent of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” which referred to plastic pollution swirling around in the ocean currents of the Pacific.
Fast fashion produces large volumes of clothing made of synthetic materials at low prices to advance new trends and encourage frequent shopping behavior. Synthetic fabrics contain chemicals that contaminate freshwater sources and pollute watersheds. Similar to others waste colonialism injustices, countries creating demand for these items do not allow unsold products into their landfills due to their toxicity.
Fast fashion is responsible for approximately 10% of total annual global carbon emissions. Synthetic materials never fully decompose and contribute to plastic pollution of microfiber oceans. Although the clothes are cheap, they are not durable and have become an iteration of single-use consumption patterns.
Tobing’s approach is entirely different. Born in Kuala Lumpur, she is half Indonesian and half Dutch with an international education, a multicultural background and a global perspective on justice and sustainability. Involved in local waste reduction and cleanup efforts, she places equal compassion for the planet and people at the forefront of her efforts.
“When my first son Jaxon was born 12 years ago, my mother gave me my first sewing machine and told me I had to know how to fix things and make things…and that’s how it all started. started,” says Tobing. “Being environmentally conscious, coming from a scarcity upbringing as the child of two wartime parents, and thrifty, I started designing basic pants and pieces for my son at from old t-shirts. It snowballed from there. I loved the idea of using reclaimed materials, like clothing or other already existing textiles that are soft, beloved, and tell stories. Not only does this reduce textile waste by using mass already in the world, but it models the values of what I want to uphold in my designs and as a mother, and it saves money – a winner -winner.
“Each room gets its own embellishments. Everything magically happens at the moment of creation,” says Tobing. “Most of my fabrics come from donations. Everyone has a pile or a bag of clothes or textiles at home that they no longer want. As a community of artists at the tannery, the opportunity to share and exchange materials is abundant. I have customers who sometimes ask me for custom parts. In this case, I can also source scraps from other designers, thrift stores, estate/garage sales, and non-profit reuse FabMo. Thanks to these practices, I never buy new fabrics.
Tobing intercepts the final fabric that was going to be discarded. “A year ago, I went to a die-cutting factory where they do large-scale die-cuts for a large clientele. Once they cut their patterns, all of the final fabric and unused pieces are put in bins to be transported to landfills. The cloth is new, but they can’t use it and they have to pay a fee to get rid of it. I can do mini-collections when I acquire a large tapestry or larger scraps, and I do a series of sizes of my spiritual vests, or ponchos, or pants.
Tobing’s design process is based on his experience and intuition. “When I see a fabric, I assess its durability, colors, quantity available, if there are any special textures or graphics, etc. I will have a transformative vision almost immediately. She continues, “I know that it will be awesome for that certain “spiritual vest” or bag or poncho, for example. If it’s small but has amazing graphics or has a special word in it, I’ll save it to use on celebratory flags or on my bandit caps. Every detail is recycled and scraps saved for future pieces. “Old shoelaces, for example, can be cut up to be used as button loops on a waistcoat or hung from a jacket.”
Tobing also creates custom pieces. “Sometimes people give me a cherished item that they can’t part with but no longer wear and realize it’s just gathering dust. I turn it into something new and special for them or a little loved one.
“To me, eco-conscious fashion means upcycling, recycling and swapping; have a conscience and a practice of not buying anything new. Tobing follows her speech and even recycles objects she has already transformed. She has noticed that with education and intention, her clients also get excited and committed to fashion sustainability. “As long as it’s not soiled and ragged, it feels like you can never stop recycling. Because these parts are made with so much love, quality, and intention, some loyal customers have passed down their purchased parts from brother to brother, and even returned their used parts to me once they were too big because they are so precious. I took these objects and either resold them if they are still intact, or I deconstructed them and used elements to recreate something new. It’s really exciting. I think, ‘How far can I go?’ “
“We can make a difference with every action we take. Why buy new? There are already a plethora of clothes and accessories out there that are in amazing shape or ready to be recycled. There’s magic in turning someone’s trash into the next person’s treasure. To purchase Asha’s art, donate unwanted textiles, or to make a special request, visit www.liljax.com and follow @liljaxcreations on Instagram. If you are local, visit The Felton Mercantile or find her at First Fridays at Tannery Arts Center.
Rachel Kippen is an ocean educator and sustainability advocate in Santa Cruz County and can be reached at [email protected]