With the hopes of redefining the fashion industry in China, Dr. Christina Dean set up environmental NGO Redress, championing sustainable innovations and designs. Raia Gomez spoke to Dr. Dean about how it all began.
I have to admit, when I think of ‘Made in China,’ sustainable fashion isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. We all know that many fashion designers produce their collections in factories all over the country. What we may not know, however, is that there are a number of fashion brands and organizations in China that are putting sustainability at the forefront of their agenda. Redress, the first environmental NGO in Asia that focuses on the fashion industry, was in fact founded in Hong Kong over a decade ago in 2007.
Dr. Christina Dean began her career as a dentist and then became a journalist when she moved to Hong Kong. The two paths led her to founding Redress and becoming a staunch advocate for sustainability in the fashion industry. For many of us who find ourselves deeply passionate about sustainable fashion, it was an unexpected and unintended result of experiences that opened our eyes. They made us aware of the devastating social and environmental consequences from much of what we simply wear. Christina tells me that even now, her journey into sustainability surprises her, and she was the one who lived it.
As a dentist, Dean travelled to far flung areas in Asia, providing care to those who would have otherwise been unable to afford it. It was then that she saw with her own eyes the poor public health and environmental destruction including the polluted rivers that had been largely caused by the textile industry. As a journalist focused on the environment, she realised that no one was really talking about it and she was horrified by the fact that there was no counter argument for what was going on. What she learned for herself was enough motivation to start the non-profit Redress.
During the infancy of Redress, sustainability wasn’t the buzzword that it has now become. While things have been slowly changing, back then there was even more confusion about what sustainable fashion is exactly. From raising awareness about sustainable fashion, Redress’s mission has evolved over the years to take on an even bigger role by providing solutions to concretely make fashion more sustainable. They’re not only talking about reducing waste, they’re actively finding and redistributing it. By collecting deadstock and textile waste from brands, manufacturers and consumers, they’re able to redistribute them for upcycling, as well as use them for The R Collective, a brand of upcycled luxury fashion inspired by Redress. Instead of the unwanted textiles ending up in a landfill, they have the potential of ending up back in our closets. It’s safe to say that true to its name, Redress has embarked on a mission of actually getting people redressed: I met with Dean to find out more.
What were the early days of Redress like?
13 years ago, one of my biggest challenges was that people didn’t understand what sustainable fashion was at all. Was it upcycled? Was it organic? What was it? A lot of people thought it was very niche, kind of tree hugger-y. I would almost be embarrassed to have to explain what I did to people. Even I didn’t really understand the importance of what I was doing.
Fast forward to now, with the climate crisis, the waste crisis, the fashion crisis, what we see in the news, the planet is finally waking up. It’s really different to talk about sustainability in fashion these days. I can look economists in the eye and talk about it. I can talk about the consequences of not doing anything, the cost of our bad choices, and the burden of greed.
How has Redress evolved?
How we started was not where we’re at right now. How we started was a lot of elbow grease and a lot of connecting with friends. I had a clear vision but didn’t really know how to achieve that back then, even if the vision itself was very important. The first mission was to promote sustainable fashion. The second mission was to reduce waste in the fashion industry, to which a few years ago we tagged along, by promoting the circular economy.
There are two pillars under Redress. The first pillar is to prevent waste from being generated, which is an educational program focused on targeting designers and consumers. The second pillar is to transform waste that has already been created by using the circular economy to redistribute textile waste materials.
Image: Tianna Kotti Photography
What is The R Collective and why did you decide to launch your own brand?
The R Collective was formed two years ago. The reality is, we’re going to be buying more and more clothes and we’re going to be producing more and more clothes. I’ve seen a lot of waste over the years from having been working in the industry. I’ve also seen a lot of passionate designers and people who want to buy sustainable fashion. That was kind of the fertile ground for the brand.
We upcycle right from the waste of premium brands and manufacturers. We then collaborate with award-winning sustainable fashion designers, who are the winners of our Redress Design Awards, to create The R Collective. We sell the collection directly to consumers through our website and select retailers. We then inject 25% of our profits back into Redress.
People may think that Redress is at odds with the brand but after 13 years, I can say that people are going to shop and people are going to buy regardless. What’s important to us is that we don’t want to push products down people’s throats. We feel very strongly about selling to and inspiring mindful fashion consumers who are starting to become aware and who love fashion. By upcycling materials we are satisfying customers, we’re creating jobs and we’re able to create very low impact products. It’s about reducing what we’re buying, wearing what we’ve got for as long as possible and having some fun along the way. I know categorically I can go to sleep at night knowing that I’ve done the right thing.
Can you tell me more about the Redress Design Awards?
The Redress Design Awards is on its tenth cycle and it’s always about waste reduction through sustainable design and upcycling garments. It’s open to designers from all over the world who have less than four years of experience. We’re currently accepting applications until March 18th. What we’re looking for are designers who can reduce waste but also think about circular fashion. It’s a competition but at its core, it’s an educational campaign and conversation. We have tools on our website for online learning. We also have a four-week webinar course on circularity. So, designers don’t need to go out and look for the information, it’s already there and available to them. It’s so much more than a competition. It’s really about the next generation of designers and also fashion instructors.
How does Frontline Fashion fit into all of this?
Frontline Fashion is a much-loved docuseries. It’s about translating what the designers experience in the competition to something that a wider audience can enjoy watching. We see the changes that are happening in the design level but it can be a little difficult for anybody else to understand. This makes it easy and entertaining for viewers to understand and access. We’re on season four right now and anyone can watch it on our YouTube channel.
With all that Christina has achieved, all the initiatives and milestones with Redress, The R Collective, Redress Design Awards, and Frontline Fashion, when I ask her about what she’s most proud of, she immediately tells me that it’s her team. She humbly says that Redress and The R Collective would be nothing without their teams.
Christina founded Redress after having just moved to Hong Kong. Although she had no prior experience in the fashion industry or even in the nonprofit sector, she has sure taken her team on an incredible journey, making the world better and inspiring us along the way. Talk about Made in China.
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