FOUNDER - REDRESS & CO-FOUNDER - R COLLECTIVE
Christina Dean is the Founder of non-profit Redress and Co-Founder of upcycled fashion brand The R Collective
"100% I think that circularity is the way forward for the fashion industry. There is more than enough in the waste stream for us to deal with. "
Waste is one of the most critical issues facing fashion right now. An estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually by the fashion industry and this is estimated to increase by about 60 percent between 2015 and 2030. (Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 2017, Pulse of the Fashion Industry.) According to Ellen MacArthur Foundations New Textiles Economy 2015, every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned, while less than 1 percent of textiles are recycled globally.
Leading the charge to find solutions is Redress. Founded in 2007, Redress is a pioneering Hong Kong based NGO working to reduce textile waste and promote environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. It works directly with designers, brands, manufacturers, industry professionals, educational organisations and shoppers to promote innovative new models and drive growth towards a new circular economy for fashion. Through its work Redress runs consumer education workshops, clothing drives, industry engagement and educates and inspires the next wave of designers coming through with the global Redress Design Awards.
You have been working to cut textile waste out of the fashion industry since 2007. Can you tell us how you got started?
I was previously a journalist writing about issues in Asia, from pollution to prostitution, and I became increasingly concerned about fashion's impacts on the environment and more shocked when I discovered that back in 2007 very little was being done to address this. So it was in absence of awareness and action to tackle fashion's textile waste and pollution that served as an enormous catalyst to start Redress.
What is the core focus for Redress now, how has it evolved?
Our mission is to promote environmental sustainability and reduce waste in the fashion industry – currently one of the most polluting industries. So our programmes – 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.
CHRISTINA DEAN | IMAGE: REDRESS
We have grown a lot over the last 12 years and we have recently completed a strategic review to really hone our mission and our core pillars of work. Our mission is to reduce waste in the fashion industry by promoting circularity, in order to protect the environment. We have two core pillars which direct how we achieve this.
The first is to stop waste from being created, and we do this through education. We educate designers with sustainable design techniques and we educate consumers with messaging such as buy less and better, dispose better, care better, and end of life. We use our platforms such as Frontline Fashion, book Dress with Sense, and our consumer workshops, events, exhibitions to all hit this message home.
The second is transforming waste, essentially dealing with waste that has already been generated. It’s a circular economy programme. We have a warehouse where we collect, sort and distribute different waste streams in order to facilitate reuse within the circular economy. The waste we are dealing with is post consumer and pre consumer, for example brands’ excess unsold inventory, and end of roll fabric waste which we redistribute to emerging designers, brands, startups, and The R Collective.
"The competition works to educate emerging fashion designers about fashion’s negative environmental impacts, whilst inspiring them to use sustainable design techniques to cut waste out of fashion."
Can you tell us more about the work Redress does to educate the next generation of emerging designers?
We do this through the Redress Design Award. The competition works to educate emerging fashion designers around the world about fashion’s negative environmental impacts, whilst inspiring them to use the core sustainable design techniques of zero-waste, up-cycling and reconstruction to cut waste out of fashion and drive growth towards a circular fashion system.
We run lectures, academies, have online LEARN platform and educational work in partnership with more than 110 universities around the world, so emerging designers can understand the new circular economy and capitalise on its global potential for the fashion industry. We challenge designers to be creative and prove that they have the ingenuity to transform textile waste into scalable and commercially viable collections that will inspire and redress the world. The top ten finalists are selected to come to Hong Kong to take part in sustainable fashion educational activities and showcase their collections at HKTDC Hong Kong’s Fashion Week Centrestage.
REDRESS DESIGN AWARD WINNER 2108 TESS WHITFORT | IMAGE: REDRESS
How does The R Collective fit in?
With The R Collective we take the star designers from the Redress Design Award Alumni pool of talents, use waste materials from luxury brands, mills and manufacturers, as well as from Redress’ textile bank, and we put these together into collections that educate all along the process, including the consumers. We have recently launched our Main Collection, Start From Zero, created using rescued fabrics from luxury mills in Italy and Japan and made using waste-reducing techniques. Coming up soon is Tess Whitfort’s Avoidance Collection, which she designed as her prize for winning The Redress Design Award 2018. As a luxury upcycled brand, our unique access to waste and talent allows us to create quality, upcycled fashion-forward pieces that represent the circular fashion system in action.
Tell us about the work you do with brands, how have you seen that have an impact?
Most people are wonderful who work for brands and no-one really wants to see their fabrics go to waste. If you look at finished garment or textile waste, many brands lack access to a trusted service for their excess, that they can work with collaboratively on reputable and scalable options for their excess that will also help the broader community in a positive way. So when we work with brands, we don't shun them for having waste, we actively want to work with them to reduce it.
The ultimate would be for brands to manage their own excess inventory in such a way that they don't end up with such excess stock. Mishaps in buying and inventory management seems to be where there is a real bottleneck in the industry. Having said that, all the brands we work with tend to have a unique situation as to why they have excess, so it’s not a simple case of making one particular change that can solve it all.
Is it a challenge to find solutions for the textile waste you collect, can you give us any examples of how you reuse and redistribute it?
Yes, finding a new home for textile waste can be a challenge, in light of the sad fact that there is so much! Redress is scaling it up what and how much textile waste they can take at the moment, and we are about to take in more and so we also need to have more solutions for the waste. At the moment, we can effectively deal with it all – with a huge amount of manual work, including with countless volunteers. To give one example, Redress collects post consumer clothes through Zara’s take back programme in Hong Kong and Macau. This post consumer waste, which is formed of all types of unwanted clothes, has to be pre-sorted thoroughly which is a big job. We then classify the clothes into multiple categories, so that we resell the best quality, and then work with many other charities, even vet charities for blankets, to ensure that we find the best possible use for that ‘waste’. We then work with HKRITA and Novotex to utilize their textiles recycling plant in Hong Kong for the lowest graded clothes that we can’t otherwise re-use, which is then recycled into yarns. Ideally, we do everything within our power to deal with all the textile waste locally in Hong Kong so as to stop exporting waste.
IMAGE | THE R COLLECTIVE
Do you think circularity is the way forward for the fashion industry?
100 percent I think that circularity is the way forward for the fashion industry. There is more than enough in the waste stream for us to deal with. But we’re a long way off achieving this. I think recycling needs to pull its socks up and get cracking.
Do you think there is a place for government regulation?
I think governments can set the tone, such as has happened in China with tightened environmental policies, which has lead to more textile mills, for example, shutting down. But policies need to be implementable, monitor-able and accountable, otherwise it’s pointless. What concerns me, though, is where China is doing well to clean up its act, the problems are just going somewhere else – and to weaker countries who are picking up the business.
Is there any technology or innovation that you think has the potential to really reduce the impact of fashion on the environment?
Washing machines! With advances in technology and filters, they will play a big role in with reducing environmental impacts and preventing microfibre release once we get our clothes home. The second thing is changing consumer sentiment. Paul Dillinger (VP Product Innovation at Levis) said to me, if you want to focus on changing consumers focus on the ones who are already switched on and who already care, and the rest will follow.
Do you have a key word of advice for young designers starting out?
Just do it! Don't be put off by trying to be perfect, just boldly try to integrate some sustainable/ethical practices into your work. Despite the many ways to make fashion more sustainable, from fair trade to take back, always try to integrate waste-reducing methods into your product and operations, which will not only be good for the planet but also your bottom line.
Do you have a piece of advice for active citizens who want to have a more sustainable wardrobe?
"Fall in love with fashion!
Love its creativity and its ability to reflect who you are."
For me, this means injecting my ethics into my closet so that all of my clothes are consciously and purposefully curated. There are so many ways to do this (all beginning with s!); from shopping better, seeking secondhand clothes, supporting sustainable fashion brands to swapping! Just have some sincere fun in your closet.