Interview with Christina Dean

8 October 2017

WHO ARE YOU?

CD: I am the Founder of Redress, the NGO with a mission to reduce waste in the fashion industry that has championed sustainable fashion for over a decade, and I’m more recently the Co-founder of BYT, the upcycled social impact fashion brand that was born from Redress, which is heart-set on proving that fashion can be a force for good.  Through my work with Redress, I also presented Frontline Fashion, the documentary about the role that designers have in changing the way we make fashion, and I co-authored the consumer guide, ‘Dress [with] Sense’.

I have an inherent interest in environmental, health and development issues from before founding Redress, in part developed by having previously been a dental surgeon (with a love of public health) and a journalist (with a love of writing about environmental issues).

When not thinking or talking about textile waste, I am a mother to three children – with another baby on the way quite soon – and so I’m to be found running (and always a little late) around sports field, gymnastics halls, doctors, dentists, my husbands work events, nagging about spelling homework, or otherwise I’m munching on my vegetarian diet and trying to keep the home life running smoothly!

WHAT IS REDRESS?

CD: I started Redress after investigating the impact that China’s fashion industry – as the garment and textile manufacturer to the world – has on the environment for a story I was writing as a journalist. As part of my research and admittedly 12 years ago being a little fresh to Asia, it was obscene to me that 16 out of the world’s top 20 most air polluted cities were in China, my new home. My journalist findings were so shocking that I went through a huge personal and professional change and I became hell-bent on wanting to know what could be done to make the fashion industry more sustainable. So Redress was founded.

Now in our tenth year, Redress’ mission is to promote environmental sustainability and reduce waste in the fashion industry – currently one of the most polluting industries. So our progammes – which are fundamentally educational at their core – specifically, target stakeholders along the supply chain, from production to consumer use, where we believe we can catalyse positive change to reduce waste.

For example, we educate the fashion supply chain about how to change practically, through more sustainable design, sourcing and business. Our EcoChic Design Award, the world’s largest educational sustainable fashion design competition, is positively influencing emerging fashion designers around the world. Through our educational programmes, conducted online and in person, we are contributing to a more sustainable fashion industry for tomorrow. We also work with brands and drive huge consumer awareness, so it’s never, ever a dull moment!

HOW HAS THE FASHION INDUSTRY CHANGE OVER THE PAST 2 DECADES?

CD: The fashion industry may have witnessed many changes in hemlines and hues over the last 150 years or so, but the industry itself has only been through a small handful of seismic changes itself.

The fashion industry has completely changed – turning itself inside out and back to front in the process.

If you take a big picture look, the big changes we’ve witnessed are mainly related to globalisation, which enticed ready-to-wear’s supply chains to pack its bags from the West to move to developing countries. Asia, the honey-pot of cheap labour and where most of our clothes today continue to be manufactured, became an apparel hotspot. With this, we saw a new model for fashion born; cue fast and mass produced, high quantity and low price point clothes became the norm. Ever since then, fast fashion and high consumption rates have continued to grow.

HOW DO THESE CHANGES INFLUENCE SUSTAINABILITY IN THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY?

CD: But along with this seismic change in fashion, we’ve seen huge changes in consumption and waste. Annual global apparel production doubled between 2000-2014 to 100 billion apparel pieces. During this same time, consumers changed their behaviour so much that they kept their clothes for half the time as they did 15 years ago. Globally, the fashion industry is now thought to generate 92 billion tons of textile waste every year. These numbers are baffling enough as it is. But this is likely to get worse; if the global population rises as expected to 8.5 billion people by 2030, overall apparel consumption is predicted to rise by 63 percent, from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons 
in 2030.

We’re living in a fashion industry that is smacking us back in the face with a wall of waste.

But amongst this bad news, there is some good news. Over the last 10 years, we’ve witnessed an awakening in the limits of our planetary boundaries. You’d have to be living under a rock to not appreciate that the fashion industry, as one of the world’s largest polluters, can’t carry on churning out clothes and sourcing raw materials in the same business as usual approach. As this reality dawns, so too do most forward thinking fashion businesses know that they have to change their business approach. This will also keep them clean in the eyes of the all important – and ever increasingly sceptical and demanding – customer! So the biggest development has the realization that sustainability is not an option, it’s a must!
Some fashion commentators are now predicting that the new frontier for fashion, which will represent fashion’s next big shift in the future, will be how fashion integrates ethics and environmentally more sustainable practices into its core. The fashion industry and environment is in crisis; and creativity and innovation will get us out of it.

WHAT ADVICE COULD YOU GIVE TO BRANDS THAT WANT TO REDUCE WASTE?

CD: The first piece of advice would be to take a reality check. I think sustainability used to be a ‘moral’ decision and now I’d say it’s a money decision. Fashion industry professionals that don’t look at sustainability as a real business driver have, in my view, their head in the sand. Next, I would up the value of creativity in the supply chain to problem solve – whether this means creativity in design, production, supply chain or logistics. There are better ways of doing things all around us. And of course, I would search for ‘waste’ within a brand’s own supply chains – they may be surprised at how much there is and how easy it is to reduce. ‘Waste’ materials come in many shapes and sizes that could include end-of-rolls from manufacturers, brands or fabric markets, damaged fabrics, factory overruns, or sampling wastage or yarn waste. China is estimated to generate 26 million tonnes of textile waste, from industry and consumers, every year, with an estimated value of a staggering RMB60 billion, so there must be room for many players to find and cash in on waste. One guiding principle that we should all have tattooed on our foreheads is that ‘waste is not waste until it is wasted’.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT SUSTAINABLE ACTION OR COLLECTION OF BIG RETAILERS?
IS IT REALLY POSSIBLE FOR THEM TO COMBINE FAST FASHION AND SUSTAINABILITY?

CD: Overall, we are certainly seeing more commitment from all brands on making their businesses and products more sustainable, from luxury to fast fashion. No fashion business can work in silo of the screaming planetary boundaries and so all businesses are tightening up. Some brands highlight their progress through more ‘sustainable’ capsule collections. Whilst these may be small in comparison to the lion share of their business or the market, these capsule collections bring consumers more sustainable choices; push the rest of the industry to change; allow brands to dip their toes into better processes to try. Moving away from capsules, many brands, including the fast fashion brands, are bringing improvements into the supply chain – from more efficient logistics, better chemicals to improved consumer care instructions. These steps may not scream ‘sustainable fashion’ but increasingly all efficiencies in the supply chain is vital for a more harmonious system. While there is a huge mismatch with the concept of sustainable fashion in a fashion system that promotes fast fashion – and of course you do sometimes come across green-washing – we see it all as progress, and continue to work to educate consumers so they can spot green-washing when they see it!

One big real challenge, though, is that the steps that fast-fashion companies are making are somewhat negated by the consumer if the consumer treats clothes as they would a Big Mac or a packet of crisps. The real elephant in the room is the need to promote more responsible consumption patterns, so that we can create a more healthy fashion system.

WHAT IS THE KEY TO SHIFT TODAY’S TEXTILE INDUSTRY TO A MORE ENVIRONMENTAL FRIENDLY INDUSTRY?

CD: I believe that although there are multiple keys to moving towards a more sustainable industry, such as factories and machinery, transportation and working conditions, moving towards a circular economy is vital. Particularly here in Asia; as the production powerhouse making the clothes for the world and increasingly the powerhouse of consuming the world’s clothes. Asia will be wallowing in textile waste unless we find urgent solutions to the circular fashion system, and essentially this means unlocking the technology to recycled fibers at large scale..

 

WHAT ROLE CAN DESIGNER SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION PLAY IN ORDER TO HAVE A MORE SUSTAINABLE FASHION?

CD: Education is essential for change, so planting the seed with fresh-faced fashion students is vital before they enter the industry and become fully-fledged fashion industry professionals. It’s estimated that 80% of a product’s environmental impact is locked in at the design stage. That’s why through the EcoChic Design Award, our educational sustainable fashion design competition, we educate as many designers as possible! Over the years, we discovered that sustainable fashion design education is only just creeping into the lecture halls across Asia, which is generally true of Europe and USA also, except for a small handful of leading universities that have been working as long as we have to integrate into curriculums. This is way too late! We must inject sustainable design education right into the heart of fashion design.

Over the past year, we’ve held various roundtables with fashion educators to explore the problems in integrating sustainability education into the higher education. We discovered – through hearing the moans and groans from really overwhelmed lecturers who truly wanted to teach the topic but didn’t have the resources to implement it or the time to learn the topic themselves – that there is a real need for sustainable training for teachers and for more support for them to drive this topic onwards. In response, we developed the EcoChic Design Award Educator Pack, in four languages, so that teachers can simply download our packs and deliver it to their students.

As an NGO, we saw this gap in the market, and we have filled it with the EcoChic Design Award Educator Pack. The response has been incredible; so we know we are catering to a need for knowledge that will accelerate our educational impact and empower the fashion professionals entering the industry with sustainability knowledge to create much needed change.

 

WHAT CAN WE DO AS FINAL CUSTOMERS TO REDUCE TEXTILE WASTE?
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR PEOPLE THAT WANT TO CHANGE THEIR BUYING HABITS?

CD: Inspiring change within the final customer is one mega key towards unlocking this new fashion system. Fashion and clothes are personal and emotive for many of us, at quite a deep level if you peel back the meaning of fashion. So to inspire change – which essentially boils down to engaging in a more considerate, conscious and caring approach to our closets that will inherently result in less waste – requires us to look beyond our basic reflection as humans and into our inner belief systems. But nailing this more inspired heart and soul feeling in consumers is quite a big task! We addressed this inspiration in our consumer campaigns, and some simple topics and highlights include:

1. Do a ‘wardrobe edit’.

The first step to reducing your waste is to remember what clothes you already have. A wardrobe edit is a must for anyone trying to manage his or her closet more consciously. This means about 3 hours of careful re-organising – and flirting with new clothing combinations – with your closet, to remember what you have! You’ll probably be able to ‘shop’ from your own closet for months to come.

2. Buy less and buy better.

Buying more consciously typically means buying better quality clothes that you’ll love and wear more. But you can ‘buy’ better in other ways, too, that reduce waste: consider buying secondhand clothes; or DIYing or altering your ‘unwanted’ clothes back into ‘new’ again (some may prefer the help of a tailor); or ‘buying’ into clothing rental services, which are great ways to get the look you love without consumption.

3. Get clever at caring.

Many clothes get damaged through poor consumer care: think colour runs, shrinking or misshapen clothes. It pays, literally, to get better at cleaning our clothes so that we don’t destroy – and waste – them.

WHERE DO YOU SHOP?

CD: I’m not a typical fashion consumer anymore; mainly because I have not bought any new clothes made with virgin materials since 2013, except for underwear and shoes. Instead I love finding ‘new’ pieces at secondhand clothing platforms, swaps, charity shops, or finding up-cycled or recycled clothes from sustainable fashion brands. Curating a conscious closet – formed only of ‘waste’ is like a fashion treasure hunt. You get the thrill of the chase and you can sure that no one else is wearing the same thing and you can really reflect your personality in your outfits.

WHAT IS THE GET REDRESSED CHALLENGE?

CD: In our 10 years of engaging with consumers and industry alike, we have always talked about the fact that all fashion consumers – from the trend loving fashionista to everyday folks for whom fashion equals function – are a crucial part of making fashion more sustainable. So we’ve developed our consumer-campaigns, under the ‘Get Redressed’ umbrella to inspire consumers to love and wear their clothes in new ways.

We wrote Dress [with] Sense, the Consumer Guide to a conscious Closet, which I wrote with Hannah Lane and Sofia Tärneberg. As three very different women, with different lifestyles, bodies, ages and backgrounds, we represented different walks of fashion life, and yet we all wanted an ethical closet.So together, we wrote the book as an easy-to-read guide, giving fashion facts and practical tips for readers to enjoy on their lifelong journey towards developing a more conscious closet. It includes four chapters: Buy, Wear, Care and Dispose
providing tips from inspiring people from around the world, from models to bloggers to activists, who champion sustainable wardrobe ethics and aesthetics.
As part of our journey to this book, I spent one year wearing Hong Kong’s dumped clothes in what became the ‘365 Challenge’. In this, with the team, we explored why people threw their clothes away and instead brought dumped clothes back to life, using simple repair, care, DIY and styling tricks. From this, we launched the Get Redressed Challenge, which informed consumers about the positive impacts their clothing choices, consumer care and wardrobe management can have on the environment and we promoted the ‘Redress it, don’t bin it’ concept, featuring inspiring sustainable fashion outfits worn by people around the world. Ultimately, we wanted to awaken consumers to the fact that their seemingly unwanted clothes still do have a lot of love to give!

 

CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUR FRONTLINE FASHION? WHAT ARE THE ECOCHIC DESIGN AWARDS?

CD: Frontline Fashion is series of documentaries that follow talented emerging designers who are determined to change the future of fashion – currently one of the most polluting industries – for the better. The documentaries provide a bridge for consumers to see into the world of sustainable fashion design, shot through the lens of finalists fashion designers in our flagship project, The EcoChic Design Award, which is the world’s biggest sustainable fashion design competition. The result is an passionate, emotional and visual journey that fashion consumers are invited to join as designers put their heart and soul into proving that they can change the fashion industry – forever we hope! (Frontline Fashion Season 1 is available in many languages through iTunes) as well as having broadcast with many of the world’s top networks.

WATCH THE TRAILER

The EcoChic Design Award competition educates the next generation of fashion designers, who are so powerful at making the fashion industry less polluting, by using more sustainable design, raw materials and construction. We’ve witnessed seismic change at the designer level; there’s a new army of designer out there that wants to change the world, and we provide them the competition platform to show this to the world.

We’ve found that designers want to be more informed about sustainable fashion, however there is a huge lack in educational awareness at the moment, and designers are unaware of how they can make their products more sustainable, which means that these terrible environmental problems continue. So one of the main objectives for the EcoChic Design Award is 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. Within this project we organise lectures, academies, workshops and a huge fashion show finale at Hong Kong Fashion Week!

Kate Morris winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2017

WHAT IS BYT?

CD: Redress has given rise to a new social impact business, the up-cycled fashion brand BYT, of which I am co-founder. BYT, and everything that we stand for, is fundamentally based on the principles that fashion can be a force for good. BYT is out to prove that we can create a financially sustainable fashion business that provides affordable luxury up-cycled fashion that is made with socially sustainable supply chains.

The brand enjoyed its runway debut this month in Hong Kong before hitting Lane Crawford’s prestigious retail store and global online platform. BYT is passionate about providing opportunities for Bold Young Talents and this first up-cycled collection was designed by EcoChic Design Award Alumni, Kévin Germanier and Victor Chu, and hopes to catch the attention of Asia’s increasingly ethical consumers. An exclusive line of BYT x Barneys New York up-cycled jackets will also be hitting the US market soon… and what’s more – Redress will receive 10% of BYTs profits!
How Haute-couture and Luxury clothing have a future in sustainable fashion?

Luxury for me is craftsmanship, beauty and investment in innovative creative masterpieces. Luxury should be built to last, since there is no luxury in vacuous and meaningless consumption. The vintage market of durable, quality and crafted products is so alluring because it offers a nugget of beauty and history in a fashion world today that has so widely been replaced with tatty rags. To love vintage is to respect creativity.
Haute couture is not only eye-wateringly expensive, but it is designed to fit the (rich!) owner, who one hopes will treasure it for years to come.
Perhaps the greatest beauty of these two areas of the fashion industry is that they celebrate creativity, craftsmanship, excellence and innovation down to every stitch. That’s a wonderful thing to celebrate.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTS YOU ARE WORKING ON WITH REDRESS?

CD: After just celebrating the winners of the EcoChic Design Award 2017, we are already gearing up to the 2018 cycle, which will be our biggest yet! Our Frontline Fashion Series 2 documentary is now in the editing suite and due to launch in early 2018 on Lifetime Asia. In addition, our annual clothing drive is around the corner, which will follow with a pop up shop of gorgeous pre-loved clothing that helps us fundraise to support our projects.

 

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