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Is that Eco-Craft you bought truly sustainable?

Updated: Oct 8, 2018

Handmade crafts have been around almost as long as mankind. In Singapore, there has been a growing appreciation of handmade crafts, evidenced by the increasing number of products being made by local crafters, as well as artisanal products being sold here.

While the handmade aspect is truly appreciable, the number of materials needed to create a craft puts a spotlight on the sustainability of it. This article, with input from a variety of crafters and craft traders, looks at “what makes a craft, eco-friendly”. The objective is to create awareness amongst crafters, and to enable consumers to learn to identify eco-friendly crafts.


The very basics of any product are the raw materials. You start with raw materials to build something beautiful, creative and inspired. But where does this raw material come from, and how was is it produced? This can make the world of a difference between sustainable and un-sustainable.

Is your raw material from a sustainable source?
Is your raw material from a sustainable source?

Option 1 – Natural Materials

Materials produced in a sustainable manner, for example, sustainably produced organic cotton or jute which are dyed using natural plant dyes, and made into tote bags, pouches, or accessories represent an eco-friendly product. The making of the product and its raw materials do limited damage to the natural environment.

Mayur Singh of Coopita, a platform offering handcrafted items made by Asian artisans, offers a definition of an eco-friendly craft, “An eco-friendly craft should be done in small batches, using mostly natural materials with minimal to no use of fossil fuel powered machinery. ” He adds that, “… increasingly sourcing raw materials is becoming a challenge for most communities due to deforestation, illegal land acquisitions or activities of resource centric companies. This sometimes poses a huge challenge for some of our communities who struggle to source their raw materials sustainably.” Visit Coopita.

Option 2 – Re-use or Upcycle.

Re-using or Upcycling materials to make a craft is definitely an eco-friendly option. When materials (plastics, fabric, metals, wood etc) are re-used or upcycled into new products, waste is reduced as it is being re-purposed into a new product. In addition, natural resources are conserved by reducing the need for them – an all around win-win situation. Adeline of Taiken Sonzai uses carefully selected new, but unwanted textiles, (e.g. offcuts/remnants/scraps/deadstock) to create renewed, one-of-a-kind wearables.

When asked about the benefits of up-cycling leftover fabric, Adel says, “Cutting down on waste is an act of thrift, frugality, resourcefulness and gives a sense of virtuousness, and satisfaction. It also forces more creativity. Usually every item will be one of a kind, so absolutely no boredom and repetition. Usually it will also be very colourful, with interesting textures and contrasts.” Woolandthegang is an online marketplace where you can purchase yarn from fashion waste. Visit Taiken Sonzai.

Designs by Taiken Sonzai made with leftover yarn (top).

Tools or Aids to create a Craft

Depending on the type of craft, a whole slew of tools or aids maybe used. What needs to be considered in using these tools/aids? I cover a few commonly used items here:

1. Glue, a common aid, does come in eco-friendly varieties.

  • Low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) – this is the strong smell that may contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde

  • Naturally derived adhesives e.g. vegetable sources (e.g. dextrins, starches), protein sources (soybean)>

  • Solvent-free water based adhesives

  • Recycled or recyclable packaging

2. Resin is another common aid used in making crafts. Eco-friendly resins do exist in the market for crafts and jewellery making.

  • No toxic chemicals of heavy metals

  • Low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) – this is the strong smell that can contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde

  • Made from soy, pine oil or other kinds on bio-renewable sources

Elaine Tan of Amado Gudek, which produces sustainable jewellery, uses an friendly bioresin in her jewellery making. When asked if there was any quality difference, she shares, “It is almost the same. I just have yet to find one which does not yellow permanently. “ She adds that while the cost is almost twice (due to freight costs), that it is sustainable is an advantage.” The bio-resin is sold in 300ml, 750ml and 1.5 liter kits – contact Elaine if you are interested in using bio-resin

3. Plastics

A variety of plastics in general are used to create crafts. Plastics are petroleum-derived products – in a nutshell not good. But this not good aspect can be countered by sourcing for used plastic materials and re-using or upcycling them into crafts. Get creative and start sourcing.

Two wallets made from unwanted jeans shorts (right) and from cement packets (left).

4. Wood

Wood is another commonly used product that has a significant environmental impact, if not sourced responsibly. For instance, any wood derived products ranging from paper to furniture can originate from illegal logging – a problem that causes biodiversity loss. Therefore, using only wood products that are sourced responsibly (FSC certified) is the environmentally responsible way. Look for the FSC label or ask for it when purchasing wood or wood based products like paper. As consumers, we should decide to place our money with products that safeguard our environment.

5. Metals & such

Arty8Gallery by Pi Kuan, uses bottle caps to create beautiful crafts. Some of his bottle caps originate from Thailand and have journeyed all the way to Singapore, and been given a new lease of life as a beautiful craft. Pi Kuan shares, “The reception and responses that I receive from viewers is quite overwhelming.  Most people are just so intrigued that you can get something so pretty from an item that is bound for the bins or incinerators.  No one in this region have been able to make this bottle cap art to this level of finish.  And I do have quite a few fervent followers of my Bottle Cap Art.” Visit Arty8Gallery.

Bottle caps turned into artwork by Arty8Gallery (bottom).

The next time you set out to buy a craft, ASK – if it is made from upcycled materials or sustainably sourced raw materials or if there are eco-elements to it. By choosing to purchase eco-friendly crafts we are not only practicing environmentally responsible consumerism, we are also gently nudging the crafts industry towards a more sustainable approach by spending our money selectively.

Have something to share?

If you are a crafter and have insights on how to source for sustainable materials, do share it with us at xhebit. We would be happy to add it to this article so it reaches others. Alternatively, if you produce eco-friendly crafts that can be offered as corporate gifts or wedding tokens, get in touch with us here.

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