When I step into a clothes shop, beautiful bodies, bright lights and brilliant music do not mask the fashion industry’s underlying bad odour. Where others see alluring trends at affordable prices, I see devastating waste at astronomical cost.
Today, fashion is a resource-intensive, polluting and wasteful industry. Seven billion global ‘pushers’ have driven this industry into its current trailer-trash price point and junk-quality addiction, where buying a dress is like buying a Big Mac, minus the calories and cardiac attack.
If fashion suffered body odour, this is how bad it would smell.
With this repugnant smell as my guide and armed with a tonne of frightful information about the fashion industry’s negative environmental impacts, I established Redress (www.redress.com.hk) in 2007. Our mission was simple – to reduce textile waste in the fashion industry and thus reduce water and energy usage as well as chemical and carbon emissions – but our route was complex.
Six years, three kids and (still just) one husband later, Redress has grown from new-born to wobbly toddler to raging teenager in our aggressive quest to reduce textile waste. Like dependable Godparents, ADM Capital Foundation has guided us with strategic and in-kind support, without which we may never have recovered from our various cuts and bruises as we engaged in the NGO battlefield.
Redress’ three main projects tackling textile waste reduction along the supply chain, from farmer to fashionista, are The EcoChic Design Award, The R Cert and Consumer Campaigns. All of Redress’ work can be seen in this video summary.
Industry project: The EcoChic Design Award
The EcoChic Design Award (www.ecochicdesignaward.com) is a sustainable fashion design competition challenging emerging fashion designers to create mainstream clothing with minimal textile waste. This project addresses the findings that ‘Decisions made in design are responsible for 80-90% of a product’s environmental and economic costs.’
Our competition is now in its fourth cycle and covers Asian and European emerging fashion designers. Here is our current cycle’s video teaser. This competition lured hundreds of applicants to compete to break the pattern of fashion and win the chance to design a sustainable collection for Esprit’s global retail.
Although the competition attracts much media buzz, with coverage in many top publications, including ELLE Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Modern Weekly, China Daily, Taiwan Textile Monthly, Apple Daily, Ming Pao and Fashion United, we’re particularly passionate about educating emerging fashion designers.
To date, we have personally educated over 3,000 emerging fashion designers at our over 40 university partners in Asia, with the majority from Mainland China who have never whiffed the notion of sustainable fashion, and Europe. Our online educational videos have been viewed over 5,000 times and our call to entry was re-posted over 20,000 times just in Mainland China, where there exists a famine in sustainable fashion education.
Industry project: The R Cert
The R Cert (www.rcert.org) is a consumer-facing standard for recycled textile clothing that verifies a brand recycled their pre-consumer manufacturing waste into their own clothing.
The R Cert bridges a vital gap in driving sustainable fashion in the mainstream industry.
On the one industry side, it promotes pre-consumer textile waste recycling. On the consumer side, it educates consumers about the clothing recycling process, from factory to retail, and environmental benefits in digestible format. We do this through accessible animations in English and Chinese that track the supply chain of a consumer’s particular garments, presented through QR codes on the clothing hangtags.
Since launch in 2011, we have licensed the R Cert to various sustainable collections, including ‘Recycled Collection by Esprit’. This has helped to drive sustainable fashion options, at the same price point as Esprit’s conventional lines, for consumers in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
Perhaps more importantly, we also have ensured that these recycled textile clothes have a better environmental cv than their conventional cousins. Our partner, Reset Carbon, conducted a carbon, water and greenhouse gas audit on the recycled textile clothes to measure environmental performance.
The results demonstrate that pre-consumer textile recycling does yield impressive savings per garment. For example, a garment containing 43% recycled cotton from Esprit’s own textile waste gave estimated savings of 37% in greenhouse gases, 19% water, 17% electricity per garment, compared with a 96% virgin cotton and 4% spandex garment, from cradle to garment gate.
Consumer Campaigns: The 365 Challenge
This consumer project, and one that is most under my own skin, moves away from designers and factories to the true heart and pulse of the fashion industry – consumers. In The 365 Challenge I am only wearing dumped second-hand clothes for one year in an effort to promote the “Redress it – Don’t Bin it’ concept to keep clothing in the fashion loop and out of landfill.
The project addresses the estimated 7.5 billion clothes that enter landfills every year, many of which are in fine, fashionable function.
Since launch in January 2013, the challenge has exploded in terms of followers and media impact, as well as having personally gained an entirely new perspective and sense of style of my own. We have catalysed media discussion into second-hand clothing waste in media platforms, including The Guardian, Grazia, ELLE and SCMP amongst many more.
Whilst we at Redress continue our hard work to deodorise the fashion industry’s bad odour, the inevitable truth is that the smell is going to get worse. As the global population of fashion consumers rises, there seems no end to the fashion industry’s problems.
Its time to wake up and take action.
Written by Christina Dean, Founder and CEO Redress