By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
The EcoChic Design Award presents emerging fashion designers who create garments with minimal textile waste and a focus on sustainability. One of the main partners in this endeavour is ReDress, a Hong Kong based NGO that promotes environmental sustainability in Asia’s fashion industry by reducing textile waste, pollution, water and energy consumption.
Formerly known as Green2Greener, Redress was founded in 2007 by Christina Dean, who is still CEO and has chosen Eluxe Magazine to give an exclusive interview about her exceptional rise to the world of eco-chic spokesperson.
On Being Green
It may come as a surprise but I don’t consider myself to be a resoundingly green person. I am highly motivated towards personal responsibility and I feel great commitment in life towards creating positive value. In my case, I am drawn towards environmental sustainability. I call this my ‘soul equity’ although it’s also my ‘sweat equity’!
But on a personal level, if you scrutinised my living you could certainly find areas where I could lessen my own impact on this Earth. I have three kids – so there’s one of my greatest (but loveliest) indulgences!
That said, I naturally live by perhaps what could be considered a more astute attention to sustainability. This means that I do what I can throughout my life streams, from the values I teach my children about not wasting resources and about caring about what happens to our future world to the consumption choices I make on a daily basis. Ultimately, my choice of career reflects how I feel about the world, but I’m always cautious to claim to be too green because everyone can always do more.
On Changing Her Career as a Dental Surgeon to Founder of Redress
After retraining as a journalist and moving to Hong Kong, I began looking more into the city’s crazy pollution problem, then at the excesses of its fashion industry, and realised how the two were closely connected. I found myself thinking “What can be done to make the industry more sustainable?” In 2007, I launched Redress.
I have always been environmentally conscious but after retraining as a journalist in the UK and then moving to Hong Kong in 2007, my interest in environmental sustainability took a huge spike and turned into an unstoppable passion. This is because I began researching what contributes to China’s worrying pollution problems. My eyes were eager and as a fresh journalist I had the conviction to ask the most obvious questions to understand my new and unknown topic of interest – China’s pollution. It wasn’t too long into my research before I looked into the impact that China’s fashion industry – as the garment manufacturer to the world – was having in this region. The results were so shocking that this triggered a huge life and career change to follow my passion to realise a less damaging fashion industry.
On Conceiving the Eco Chic Design Award
A few years ago, we came across a report that estimated that fashion designers influence an estimated 80-90 percent of the environmental and economic impact of a product. (Graedel et al, 1995). This means that educating fashion designers is an important step towards making the fashion industry sustainable from the source. With this in mind, we decided to launch The EcoChic Design Award in 2011 to get closer to the point of influence and to combat the serious problems of the fashion industries’ pollution and waste and the lack of education available for emerging fashion designers.
On Eco-Attitudes in Asia
In this part of the world, new people are becoming consumers every day as disposable income rates rise. When it comes to fashion, people want to look good and they certainly don’t understand the negative environmental impacts embedded in their new reflection. They are already overwhelmed by the vast quantities of fashion brands and designers and so the concept of sustainable fashion is as alien to them as some of the new names.
Economically, people still expect sustainable fashion to be more expensive, but because sustainable fashion doesn’t have the kudos that ostentatious brands do, fewer consumers will want to pay more if this doesn’t translate into higher status.
It’s not rocket science then that as result of this ravenous hunger for cheap and fast clothes that the amount of textiles consumed and the amount of textile manufacturing waste generated has risen its ugly head. In doing so, we’re seeing extreme pressure put on the environment because textiles are greedy when it comes to water, energy and raw material consumption.
Bringing these horrible environmental outcomes much closer to home here in Asia is the fact that China and Southeast Asia are the textile and garment manufacturers of the world. So, we’re left to wallow in most of the devastation resulting from dressing the rest of the world.
Looking at the all important fashion consumer, we’re sadly light-years off achieving a mass Asian consumer-consensus when it comes to consuming sustainable fashion. This is simply because there is no typical Asian consumer and so it is impossible to hope for a unanimous approach to sustainable fashion consumption.
But we mustn’t be disheartened. We must still try to educate these new consumers, ignoring the sweat, blood and tears that inevitably goes into this. This new and hungry Asian consumer is very important to capture. When you consider the rapidly expanding middle classes, particularly in China, who don’t just want fridges but now also fashion, you can imagine the shopping binge that is soon to kick off and the resulting waste that spills from this.
On Moving Fashion Forward and the Future
This is why I think it is particularly important that the industry acts responsibly in these new emerging markets in Asia. Retailers should quickly innovate the retail sector with sustainable fashion options here to allow Asian consumers the chance to access a wider selection of better-performing clothing to purchase at whatever their price point. If Asian consumers are offered a wider selection of style-driven, sustainable garments and they don’t cough up and buy it, then we have another problem on our hands.
We all know that the fashion industry must change. To achieve this, we must engage with the wider audience today and tomorrow. It is vital to educate the next generation of fashion industry professionals so that the next wave of industry talent has sustainability sewn into their blood. These new soldiers of sustainable fashion will ultimately be the ones to drive lasting change within the industry so that along the entire fashion supply chain there is commitment and collaboration.
Having lived in Hong Kong for 8 years now, I have seen the pollution issues growing worse as consumption levels have continued to rise, while natural resources are becoming more scarce. Until we start to see more of a difference in the current system I know that there is still a lot of work to be done!