Cover Photo: Benjamin Koh

Red Carpet Green Dress 2022 winner Benjamin Koh shares why sustainable fashion matters and who he hopes to see in his winning design

Today, red carpet fashion is no longer limited to the latest designer finery.

Celebrities like Jane Fonda, Joaquin Phoenix and Cate Blanchett have all recycled their past red carpet looks for award shows like the Oscars. Others, like Bond girl Léa Seydoux, have dressed to impress in custom gowns crafted from sustainable fabrics such as Tencel.

The Red Carpet Green Dress (RCGD) wants to bring more of such statements to the red carpet. Collaborating with the Oscars, the women-led organisation has dressed some of Hollywood’s biggest stars like Seydoux, Emma Roberts and Sophie Turner in eco-friendly couture from Louis Vuitton, Armani and more. In the process, it’s redefining the very idea of luxury.

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The RCGD also hosts an annual design competition, inviting young fashion talents to create Oscar-worthy outfits with sustainability in mind. This year’s winner is Singapore designer Benjamin Koh, founder of the creative studio The Material Atelier by 本 (Ben). Koh created a modular menswear ensemble crafted entirely from the plant-derived, biodegradable Tencel textile.

For Koh, sustainability is more than just a trend. He became passionate about it as a fashion design student after attending a series of lectures by Japanese researcher Naoko Matsuyama.

“Her passion and knowledge of the history of natural dyes fuelled me to find an alternative dyeing solution for the fashion industry,” Koh told Tatler in an email. “My biggest takeaway was that sometimes, the answer to sustainable fashion is hidden in the wisdom of our ancestors.”

For his graduation project, Koh developed natural dyes and inks, and worked with industrial designers to grow his own mycelium—the same mushroom-derived fibre that luxury brand Hermes used in its first vegan leather handbag last year.

“I have never stopped exploring and experimenting with new materials,” said Koh. “The intention of my research on mycelium was to find a natural bonding solution for fibres that could potentially reduce the environmental impact of fashion production.”

“Experimenting with textiles is an ongoing journey,” he added. “I am currently in the process of developing a new material as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional textiles.”

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Clearly, Koh’s mission is very much aligned with that of RCGD.

“RCGD’s name alone strongly communicates its vision and purpose, and that it’s not all about financial gain, but about sharing the importance of empowering people and sustainable practices on the red carpet,” said Koh. “I want to be part of this amazing community that advocates that mindset.”

Besides getting a chance to showcase his Tencel creation later in the year, the designer will also be awarded a cash prize and gain access to business mentorship.

Below, Koh speaks to Tatler about his winning design, and how he’s fashioning a more sustainable future.

What was the starting point of your design for RCGD?

Benjamin Koh (BK): It was a conversation I had with a designer back in 2018 about sustainability in fashion. Although we had similar training, we had very different perspectives and approaches towards what we considered the future of sustainable fashion. He focused on creating conversational pieces of clothing, while I refined my design with practical and functional manufacturing processes and systems for clothing. My answer to our conversation was modular fashion, and since then I have been refining and improving on this.

What qualities do you appreciate about Tencel fibres, which you used in your design for RCGD?

BK: There are many manufacturers out there who can create textiles using the same method [as Lenzing, the Austrian company that produces Tencel textiles]. However, not everyone can proudly show a closed loop system that ensures the safety of their staff and environment.

Using only textiles made from Tencel fibres in my design was the most practical choice of action. Quality assurance is the most important factor in reducing waste. Lenzing’s Tencel, being a reputed fibre brand with good control over its own production line, provides a consistent and accurate textile specification, which reduces the design and prototyping process of my design. This is important for modular fashion because fibre stability and shrinkage are critical to the finished product or longevity of it.

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What does winning the RCGD contest mean to you?

BK: Opportunity presents itself to those who keep trying. I am glad that I have never stopped pursuing my dream after many struggles and plenty of rejections.

What have you learned from the experience?

BK: We are only at the beginning of a long journey as part of a community who champions sustainable fashion globally.

Who would you like to see wearing your winning creation?

BK: Eddie Peng or Andrew Garfield.

How are you continuing to champion sustainability in your career?

BK: In my professional life, I am very fortunate to be the Product Development Director Asia of Chargeurs-PCC [a Paris-based fashion company that develops innovative and sustainable solutions for fashion brands]. I have the opportunity to understand more deeply the international certifying criteria for textiles and chemicals in their role in making fashion brands more socially and environmentally responsible. My job also allows me to make decisions on the development of products, the approval of suppliers, and the impact it can have on the company.

Do you think there is a future for sustainable fashion in Asia?

BK: Yes, and it is something we have to actively pioneer. I strongly suggest that we prioritise educating the younger generation about the environment and humanity over making financial gains. There is never a cap on how much money one can earn, but there is a limit to how much the planet can provide.

 

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