30 May 2018
As the second largest industrial polluter on the planet - second only to oil, the global fashion industry has much to do to clean up its act, from responsibly sourcing materials to encouraging consumers to recycle garments. Organisations such as Redress, a Hong Kong-based NGO, is working to reduce textile waste in the fashion industry in several ways including the Redress Design Award, currently the world’s largest sustainable design competition.
Open to emerging designers and students with less than three years’ professional experience, the award educates emerging fashion designers globally about sustainable design theories and techniques to drive growth towards a circular fashion system where resources are reused and, ideally, nothing is wasted. Past winners have received the opportunity to design upcycled collections for the likes of Esprit, Shanghai Tang and more recently, for The R Collective upcycled brand, whose collections have previously retailed at Barneys New York and Lane Crawford.
A can-do eco attitude
The winner of the Redress Design Award 2017 was Kate Morris, a UK-based designer who out-designed hundreds of other competitors from 46 countries with her upcycled knitwear collection.
According to Christina Dean, founder and CEO of Redress and The R Collective upcycled brand, Morris had the edge over the other entrants due to her sustainable design ethos, strong branding and the maturity showed in putting her collection together. “From a sustainability perspective, Kate thinks around the entire supply chain and had a breadth of knowledge that really surprised me. In the competition, she won the main runway show and the smaller design challenges [by highlighting] how to innovate in the supply chain,” she says.
Kate’s competition prize collection – called the ‘Pop Collection’ due to its inspiration from pop art and the Memphis Design Movement – was created exclusively for Lane Crawford and The R Collective. It comprises eight knitwear styles, including reversible coatigans, sweaters and turtle necks all created by upcycling luxury brands’ yarn waste in a design collaboration with local knitwear brand 22 Factor.
The Pop Collection’s production is limited and therefore exclusive because of the amount of yarn waste it can get its hands on. “We’re not looking for it to be all over high street, and it’s not designed to be so. It’s pitched as affordable luxury, and reflects the work that goes into it, and the quality of the garments and the unique nature of our waste-sourcing,” says Dean.
Since being established in 2011, the Redress Design Award has gone global and is now in its second global cycle. “Taking this competition from Hong Kong to the world is no mean feat, and I’m proud of that expansion, and that we’re the largest sustainable fashion competition in the world.” Dean was heartened to receive applications from 56 countries for its current 2018 competition cycle, which shows the breadth of emerging designers keen to pursue careers in sustainable fashion.
She would like to see more second hand clothes, sustainable pop ups, charity sales, student-led competitions as well as sustainable fashion start ups in Hong Kong. “There’s a lot of room to do good work; there are so many ways to make fashion less bad.”
Asked about how Hong Kong’s attitude to sustainable fashion have changed in the past few years, Dean says consumers have taken their blinkers off. “Women are more willing to buy second hand, which is reflected by the number of second hand start-up shops online like the Hula, designer outfit & accessory rental platforms such as Yeechoo, and the number of emerging sustainable brands.”
Redress is constantly knocking on doors of fashion designers and retailers to see how it can collaborate with them, says Dean, citing a partnership with Zara on a used clothing donation programme – involving all clothes customers donate to Zara stores in Hong Kong and Macau. It was a long process to set up the initiative but it proves that sustainability is on the agenda of the world’s biggest fashion retailers, says Dean, adding that it would like to work with other fashion brands in the future on similar recycling programmes.
A worthy winner
Current Redress Design Award champion, Kate Morris, holds a fine arts degree from the University of Brighton and a fashion knitwear MA from Nottingham Trent University, during which she focused on sustainable design research. Morris was also awarded the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)’s ‘Best Wool-Free Brand’ in 2017 for her own brand, CROP.
As one of ten finalists and the eventual 2017 cycle winner, Morris took part in an intense week of design challenges including developing an upcycled accessory from Cathay Pacific’s airline uniform waste. “Everything about the week in Hong Kong leading up to the final show was a complete life changing whirlwind… it was my first time in Asia and the first catwalk show I’d ever shown in,” she says.
Among the highlights was a visit to the one of the world’s largest shirt factories, TAL apparel, where she gained an idea of the impact of reducing waste at this scale, she adds.
Upcycling yarn waste from local fashion label 22 Factor was an eye-opening experience, she says. “Forming a coherent colour palette from surplus stock was an initial challenge but it ended up producing some combinations I wouldn’t have normally put together but really worked.”
The designer has previously said she felt like running away from the heavily polluting fashion industry and admits to still feeling overwhelmed by its problems. “But winning the Redress Design Award has given me the confidence that I have the right knowledge and drive to make a change and working with The R Collective has shown me that it’s possible to do so at industry level,” she adds.
How can the fashion industry take the issue of sustainability more seriously? “I think there’s been great progress with big brands becoming more transparent about their ethical practices. Many are sharing the factories they are using with audits confirming they are paying their workers a living wage and so on. I now think brands should be required to publish the amount of waste they are producing – especially in terms of surplus stock – and what they are doing with it.”
Redress Design Award
The R Collective