The founder of the eco-conscious fashion NGO, Redress, explains why we need to look back to move forward


Photo by Michaela Giles

 Christina Dean, founder and strategist for Redress, is on the warpath:  she wants to make fashion eco-conscious. After she quit her job as a dental surgeon back in 2007 and turned to journalism, she founded the NGO, which focuses on revolutionising the fashion industry for a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly future. Christina tells us about the real dangers of fast fashion, and why we can look to the past to fix the future. 

What motivated you to found your NGO, Redress?

I moved to Hong Kong about 11 years ago and I started writing for various publications about environmental and health issues, both of which are my passion areas. When I discovered that 16 out of the world's 20 top air-polluted cities in the world were located in China, my new 'doorstep', I was appalled. China makes most of the world's textiles and clothes, which is the world’s second biggest polluting industry. I had to do something about that, and that's how Redress was born.

How has the fashion industry changed in the past 20 years?

The biggest change we’ve witnessed is the move from haute couture, because of the industrial revolution that allowed ready-to-wear clothes to be produced. Globalisation produced a new model for fashion; fast and mass produced, high quantity and low prices. It’s now estimated that around 100 billion new pieces of clothing are produced every year, double the amount of 2000. Not surprisingly, this has caused in increase in pollution and violations in human rights issues, specifically in Asia and China where many are capitalising on the cheap labour and resources. 

What impact have those changes had on the environment?

The fashion and textile industry is one of the most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil, and the textile industry is the second biggest polluter of clean water globally. Huge amounts of natural resources are invested into clothes: about 28 billion kilogrammes of textiles are dyed per year in the apparel industry using over five trillion litres of water. The challenge we face is satisfying the excessive lust for more clothes, using an environment and communities that simply cannot sustain this demand. This is particularly pertinent in  Asia, where we are both producing the clothes and increasingly consuming them. Recent studies suggest that as consumer spending increases, especially in emerging economies, the clothing industry's environmental impact could expand greatly. If 80% emerging markets achieve Western per capita consumption levels, this could lead to 77% increase in C02 emissions, 20% increase in water usage, and 7% in land usage. 


Photo by Michaela Giles

What is your strategy for reducing fashion waste?

Our mission is to promote environmental sustainability and reduce waste in the fashion industry. Our programmes aim to educate the supply chain from production to consumer use, where we believe we can catalyse positive change to reduce waste. Our Consumer Campaigns are educating and inspiring consumers to love fashion in more sustainable ways through  social media challenges, workshops, exhibitions, media outreach and our soon to be published consumer guide, Dress [with] Sense. We introduced the EcoChic Design Award, a sustainable fashion design competition for emerging designers.  80% of a product's environment impact is locked in at the design stage, so we help new designers around the world to explore how to design using waste or low-impact materials. This is now the biggest sustainable fashion design competition in the world. Finally, our Industry Engagement work pushes the development of a more sustainable fashion industry, through seminars, workshops and research. 

What is the key to eco-friendly fashion?

The new frontier for fashion will be how fashion integrates ethics and environmentally more sustainable practices into its core. Consumers need to change their relationship with clothes and become fashion citizens rather than consumers. The Latin word ‘consume’ means to destroy or expend by use - we need a revolution in values. It’s all about an attitude that values creativity, ethics and honesty. 


Photo by Michaela Giles

What three things can people do to reduce waste?

Always buy clothes from the heart. This means only buying clothes that you absolutely love and will wear - with a minimum of 30 wears at the back of your mind. Secondly, quality over quantity: buy decent clothes that are well made and look after them well. ‘Less is more’ will leave you with more space in your closet to breathe. Finally, get active with voicing your opinion. Brands need to hear what you think - be a citizen and not a consumer.

Why should fashion-conscious people be looking at second-hand clothing?

I think fashion is about reflecting who we are as individuals and as citizens of the world. Scouring secondhand shops allows fashion-conscious people to put together an individual closet. Don’t we all want to reflect who we are? Don't most of us think - or hope - that we are unique? Second-hand shopping typically throws up opportunities for individualism, which is at the heart of most fashion-conscious peoples’ desires. Finally, secondhand clothes are the nirvana of having a more sustainable and ethical closet.

What about vintage clothing makes it still relevant and viable in today’s fashion market?

The entire fashion system borrows styles from yesterday. ‘New’ clothes are fashioned on different cultural norms, and designers take a new stance on old styles: but essentially, there is nothing ‘new’ in fashion that someone somewhere hasn’t already created. 


Photo by Michaela Giles

What are your top tips for people to incorporate vintage and second-hand clothing into their wardrobes?

Fashion should be fun - be creative, be unique, and be excited about re-inventing what’s ‘old’. Be proud to carry someone else’s clothes forward with your style. Be prepared to try on a lot of different sizes and styles, because the cut and measure of clothing has changed a lot over the years. And on that note - have a good tailor on speed dial, because the better it fits, the better you will look and the more you will wear it. Most importantly, have patience: you don't build a vintage wardrobe in a night. 

Where are your favourite places to shop?

I shop from HULA, Guiltless, and Luxarity, all of which support our work. I am always the first at our own pop-up charity shops, which we organise about twice a year - that's where I buy most of my own clothes. I also love visiting a second-hand boutique run by Label Chic Boutique Fashionable, which will be taking place in Sheung Wan throughout November.

How does luxury clothing fit into sustainable fashion? 

Luxury for me is craftsmanship, beauty and investment in innovative creative masterpieces. Luxury should be built to last, since there is no luxury in vacuous and meaningless consumption. The vintage market of durable, quality and crafted products is so alluring because it offers a nugget of beauty and history in a fashion world today that has so widely been replaced with tatty rags.  To love vintage is to respect creativity.