Christina Dean: 'There is real demand for learning about sustainable fashion'

Christina Dean, the founder and president of Redress (an environmental NGO based in Hong Kong) took on the mission to reduce the impact of textiles on the environment. En route to Paris, Christina Dean took a moment to talk Fashionunited about their sustainable goals, Redress and the EcoChic Design Award.

FashionUnited: When did you first start working in fashion and how did Redress come to be?

Christina Dean: "I was brought up in South Africa and later grew up in the United Kingdom, where I earned my degree in dental surgery. You could say I was following in the family tradition. But I was caught by my passion for journalism! I then moved to Hong Kong (that was 11 years ago) where my second child was born. There, I worked for various magazines on environmental and health subjects. But it was my research into pollution that really changed my life. I was horrified by the level of pollution in China and especially the pollution caused by the fashion industry. And since China is the main producer of clothing and textiles in the world, I saw what I had to do. I wanted to raise maximum awareness concerning the subject and decided to launch Redress. Hong Kong is the ideal place. It is my home but it is also a wealth hub where numerous companies and groups are based that own fashion companies and factories. But Hong Kong is also full of positive influences, which proves that we can also have a positive influence on China!

Christina Dean: 'There is real demand for learning about sustainable fashion'

Redress is now 10 years old. How has the organisation changed?

"I am very positive as changes happen. Consumers are holding the trade names to account and are increasingly asking questions; laws on pollution and human rights are improving and the trade names are looking at their supply chains more closely. But I think that the movement still needs to be accelerated! At Redress, our work is aimed at educating the fashion supply chains. We give them advice and tell them how they can develop their sustainable goals. But we also try to persuade consumers to participate actively in the solution."

What is the EcoChic Design Award?

"Today, it is the largest educational fashion competition dedicated to sustainable design! Launched in 2011, it now has more than 80 fashion universities as partners. We continue to receive an increasing number of candidate applications. There is real demand for learning about sustainable fashion and we believe that designers must be able to have access to this information. To meet the demand, we have developed educational training packs. The traffic on our educational platform is constantly increasing and is read by more than 5,000 designers, mainly from China and India. Up-cycling is a real market. The proof of this is that we are working with numerous trade names such as Esprit or Shanghai Tang. Our work is having an effect on more and more people. I am encouraged and affected by this and it shows that change is within reach. Selection for the 7th Edition of the Award is under way and is open to designers living in Asia, Europe and, for the first time, the United States."

Christina Dean: 'There is real demand for learning about sustainable fashion'

What are your thoughts about fashion schools? What is their place in this industry?

"Fashion schools have an essential role to play as they form the future of the industry. They must provide innovation to meet the coming challenges. Therefore, we cannot afford not to educate young people! Some play their full role, but for the great majority there is a wide chasm in the education given to fashion students. What we have discovered over the years is that despite their desire to learn about more sustainable fashion, the teachers do not have the time or access to resources or to the training necessary to acquire the skills. This is also why we created our training packs which are already being downloaded in 55 countries."

What do you think of so-called “sustainable” collections launched by the giants of fast fashion? Do you think that it is nothing but greenwashing?

"Overall, there is increasing commitment from all the fashion trade names to make their companies and their products more sustainable, from the luxury market to the mass market. Some of them are producing capsule collections, which I think are a way of giving consumers more sustainable choices. As a result they are pushing the rest of the industry to change whilst opening the rest of their production up to more detailed examination. It is clear that there is great disagreement between the concept of sustainable fashion and the industry that promotes fashion that is quicker and more disposable. Some of them talk about greenwashing. I see this as progress and I am continuing to work to educate consumers so that they can identify greenwashing when they see it!"

What is 365 Challenge about?

"It was a challenge we launched which ran for one year, from January to December 2013, during which I only wore used or charity clothes. I wanted to show a positive fashion and the environmental potential that it represents to wear clothes from rubbish sites and keeping within the fashion loop. I had access to a vast clothing recycling centre in Hong Kong and every day I chose a different outfit. Every month, I dressed with a different theme. I came out of the experience with 12 tips and techniques (repairs, DIY, maintenance of textiles) that everyone can use to prolong the life of an item of clothing."

Christina Dean: 'There is real demand for learning about sustainable fashion'

You just brought out a book called Dress [With] Sense. What story does it tell?

"The idea was to create an easy-to-read guide giving fashion tips and practical advice to revive the wardrobe and make it more sustainable. It gives ideas to inspire people worldwide (models, bloggers, as well as militants) who defend the ethics and aesthetics of a new sustainable wardrobe. The guide is presented in four chapters: BUY better and make more responsible choices in shops; WEAR clothes in a more creative way and rediscover the treasures hidden away in the back of wardrobes; MAINTAIN clothes by learning about ways that respect the environment in washing and storing them; MANAGE by exchanging, giving or recycling them; in fact anything except chucking them in the dustbin!"

"I really hope that it can inspire even the greatest shopping junkies so that they can use fashion in a more positive way. "

Photos: Courtesy of Redress
 

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