Christina Dean, founder of Redress and The R Collective used to think that fashion was a waste of time. In fact, she once laughed when she was told at a career fair that the fashion industry would be a good fit for her. At the time, she thought fashion was frivolous and did not realize what impact the fashion industry had on the world.
However, she did enter the fashion industry, albeit via a different route with her two companies. Redress is an environmental charity working to reduce global waste in the fashion industry. The R Collective is a sustainable fashion brand which designs clothes from rescued quality textiles.
Clothing and textile is the second most polluting industry after oil. Toxic chemicals from textile mills are a major contributor to water pollution. They produce soot linked to respiratory diseases. Textile manufacturing is responsible for 20 per cent of freshwater pollution and 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It uses large quantities of non-renewable resources like petroleum. Yet, up to 85 per cent of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated. That’s equivalent to one garbage truck per second! Less than 1 per cent is recycled into new clothes.
Moreover, synthetic fibres released into the environment during the manufacturing process pose health risks to textile factory workers. When incinerated, they end up in our soil, food and air we breathe.
Is cotton a better option? It takes 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilo of cotton (equivalent to one tee-shirt and a pair of jeans). Not only is it the largest water user of all agricultural commodities, but extensive use of insecticides and pesticides leads to water contamination.
The situation has been exacerbated by the growing trend of “fast fashion” in the last two decades.
Although abundant, cheap and trendy clothes have democratized fashion, it has caused devasting damage to the environment, public health and the welfare of garment workers. The demand for novelty and variety all year round means garments are manufactured in low wage countries exploiting labour and using cheap and synthetic materials. It is not necessarily better for our wallets neither as we tend to buy more and throw out more.
Is fashion a necessary evil?
“Celebrate the joy the fashion. Your closet should be a window into a world of craftsmanship, beauty, ethical business, fairness and value. It should make your heart flutter,” says Christina.
The Redress Design Award is in its’ 11th cycle. Its goal has been to reduce waste in the fashion industry by introducing emerging designers to ‘circular design’ strategies.
Redress wants to teach designers to be conscious of the environmental impact fashion has throughout the lifecycle of garments. From the sourcing of raw materials, production and manufacturing, to the disposal or recycling of the clothing. By ‘upcycling’, designers find and use old materials for their creations. What would otherwise be waste is designed back into fashion. This will keep garments circulating in the ecosystem for as long as possible with minimal waste.
By providing the information and tools, Christina hopes it will steer the younger generation towards a different path and make a shift of mindset in the fashion industry.
She says: “The current fashion business infrastructure is difficult to change. The young have so much energy. They have a joy of life. They will be the future designers, business owners and consumers of fashion.”
Christina always had a love of the environment. Even as a child she was intrigued by the problem of textile waste. She had two prior careers before launching Redress in 2007. As a dentist, she would travel to remote areas in Asia offering free dental services to needy communities. She moved to Hong Kong and wrote about environmental issues in Asia as a freelance journalist. When she saw the impact that the fashion industry had on pollution and public health in China, she realized that simply reducing pollution was not good enough.
Q and A with Christina Dean to give us insight into her vision
Q. What problem do you wish to solve?
The purpose of consumption.
Other than the fact the growth of GDP requires us to consume, what do people really ‘buy’ when they shop? So often, we shop out of boredom or to fill the gaps in our lives. We buy to compensate for whatever we may be lacking, trying to fulfil our innermost needs. How can we fill these gaps with meaning and joy instead?
When we shop more consciously and with a purpose, we can create more value in our lives and more meaningful relationships.
Q. You are a believer in “You are what you wear.” How do you choose what to wear?
I look for quality and durability. Those are two of the most important factors. The garments have to be recycled, upcycled or secondhand. Virgin materials are a no-no for me.
The clothes in my wardrobe have special significance to me because there is a story behind each item. They could be pieces I have bought off the beaten track in small charity shops, odd markets, to gorgeous luxury items I’ve swapped with girlfriends.
Fashion is about storytelling. It is emotional. At its best, it is a beautiful form of communication of beliefs, aspirations. It is the fabric of a global economy and it is incredibly powerful.
Do you need to be rich to afford sustainable fashion?
Absolutely not. It is about mindset and behaviour.
The most sustainable piece of clothing is the one you have in your closet. I believe swapping clothes is a good way to diversify your wardrobe. You can buy from charity shops and other secondhand markets. If you have a small budget and choose to buy from fast fashion brands, you can still prolong the lifespan of your garments by taking good care of them.
Make an effort to support sustainable brands and collections which value business ethics. I know it is not always easy to identify authentic brands. Something you could look out for is third-party certifications. External audits and verifications can help us to determine if a brand is greenwashing, or if it adheres to its professed values.
We have to be aware that external audits do introduce additional costs that will have to be included in the price of the garment. There is a price we should be willing to pay if we are serious about reducing pollution, waste and exploitation.