> Artwork (cotton 40%, polyester 60%), Handle (artificial leather 100%)
> Lining (polyester 100%)
A lot of room is left for imagination in terms of material. For example, I wish there was a more detailed explanation as to how the canvas fabric is upcycled into tote bags. Perhaps a video that succinctly goes over this process could be uploaded to their website.
I am assuming that the cotton is derived from the canvas material, which leaves the origin and manufacturing of the polyester, the remaining 60%, unaccounted for. While the potential elimination of cotton production and manufacturing (assuming the entirety of cotton is derived from the donated artworks) makes this list of materials favorable, it is still important to acknowledge that polyester, due to its dependency on fossil fuel extraction as well as its non-biodegradability, produces a significant environmental impact. Similar concerns can be raised about the use of artificial leather. I have no idea whether the leather used is made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a non-biodegradable petroleum-based plastic, or of other, plastic-free vegan alternatives. Furthermore, if polyurethane has been used in the production of artificial leather, it can reduce the lifespan of the product as such items lack durability and decrease in quality over time (especially when exposed to humidity). As such, considering the fact that the majority of its materials are non-cotton, I think it is reasonable to make the claim that UL:KIN’s products still have a long way to go with respect to sourcing sustainable materials.
While the description below the product on the website states that “UL:KIN supports domestic manufacturing,” I can’t decipher whether that’s an immediate goal or a reality; therefore, I can’t make conclusions about the environmental cost of shipping and delivery. Overall, much more transparency is needed with respect to where and how UL:KIN sources its materials and manufactures its products.
This brand caught my attention because it is perhaps one of a kind in the type of material it upcycles. It creates fashion items out of the used canvas fabric from up-and-coming (and often nameless) artists’ finished art pieces. The creative visionary behind UL:KIN, designer Lee Seong Dong, describes it as a “talent cycle process,” in which the sales of upcycled products made from young artists’ paintings and artworks are then used to sponsor and support their growing artistic endeavors in the forms of royalty fees, art supplies, exhibition opportunities, and public exposure. This system of sustainable talent outreach is all the more pertinent given the fact that in 2018, according to the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, a non-famous artist earned a meager average of 720,000 won (approximately $585) monthly. This translates to a yearly earning of around $7,045. I find this model of talent outreach very creative and I applaud Lee for broadening the definition of sustainability in the K-fashion world in a way that promotes inclusivity for struggling artists.
The brand seeks to minimize the use of plastic packaging by opting instead to use paper packaging “to the best of their ability”. While I appreciate the commitment to eco-friendly packaging, such a statement is a quick-win solution that is surface-level at best. Lee has stated that he is in the process of envisioning a more sustainable form of packaging. It is unclear whether such packaging guidelines still apply to purchases made through the more general e-commerce sites mentioned below.
While Lee has discussed how he had initiated the brand with four other colleagues at a space barely over 700 square feet, not much information is available about the size and the personnel of the company behind the brand, Omniart, as of now, other than the fact that they have 8 employees. According to an article published by the Industrial Bank of Korea, which sponsors the venture, UL:KIN contracts its initial orders from countries such as France, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia. In order for the company to proudly brand itself as a sustainable venture, more information seems necessary about its supply chain performances specifically concerning the contract manufacturers’ adherence to labor standards as well as general business and environmental ethics. A third-party verification would be a great way to demonstrate this.
UL:KIN sells its products through select shops, boutiques, and e-commerce sites such as the online select shop 29cm and the more general browsing platform the MUSINSA store. It is important to note that both 29cm and the MUSINSA store carry items from some of Korea’s best-selling fash fashion brands, such as 8seconds, SPAO, Topten, and Mixxo, as well as those from American fash fashion brands such as GAP. This makes me wonder whether the same guidelines for packaging apply to purchases made through such websites; it also raises a question about the total environmental impact from their shipping and delivery. However, considering that the room for exposure in sustainable fashion still remains significantly limited in Korea, I understand why such partnerships with huge e-commerce platforms would be necessary.