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December 14, 2017
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The EcoChic Design Award Hong Kong 2012 Winners with their textile waste reducing collections. Photograph courtesy of Redress.

This month, Hong Kong based Redress - a non-profit NGO that aims to promote environmental sustainability within Asia's thriving fashion industry - presented this year's EcoChic Design Award to winners in an all-star fashion show at the S/S HKTDC Hong Kong Fashion Week, where the six finalists had presented their unique designs. The competition, which debuted in 2011, offers emerging fashion designers, who are interested in sustainable fashion, with an unparalleled career platform. Big names such as ELLE Hong Kong, Esprit, and the British Council have all provided the eco-friendly competition with invaluable support. 

"In the long term, we want this competition to change an entire generation of fashion designers to think hard and act responsibly when it comes to creating fashion," says Dr. Christina Dean, founder of Redress. Dean's interest in the fashion industry is predicated on an inveterate concern for the environment. China is the world's largest producer of textiles and apparel and, as a result, also one of the major contributors to landfill problems. According to the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department, an average of 234 tonnes of textiles was dumped into the bustling city's landfills every day in 2010 alone. Alongside this, the World Bank estimates that between 17 to 20 per cent of industrial water pollution is caused by treatment and dyeing procedures used within the textile industry.

Wister Tsang Ho Yin EcoChic Design Award Winner
Wister Tsang with his six-piece 
minimal textile waste collection.
Photograph courtesy of Redress.

The EcoChic Design Award aims to inspire Asian designers to create textile garments that make the most of sustainable materials and raw waste such as damaged textiles, scraps, swatches and surplus factory samples. According to China.org.cn, textile waste is often burnt, buried or sent to landfill by clothing factories in China rather than put to good use through recycling or reuse.

This "throw away" attitude is something that Redress is working hard towards changing, and pre-consumer textile waste is now the premise behind The EcoChic Design Award. To enter, designers are asked to present two sketches of garments created using either up-cycling or zero-waste design techniques. Up-cycling is the practice of using discarded pieces of textiles (the remnants that would normally end up in landfills) to create a high quality design. Zero-waste is the art of creating a pattern that results in the use of almost every inch of material. When the pieces are cut and pieced together, there are almost no scraps of fabric leftover and waiting to be discarded.

From all of the applicants, a panel of expert judges selected 12 semi-finalists. This year's judges included renowned British sustainable fashion designer Orsola de Castro, Hong Kong-based fashion designer Barney Cheng, ELLE Hong Kong publisher Do Do Yeung, and the Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Fashion Business Consortium, Anderson Lee. Margaret Kutt, Manager for Sustainable Projects at Esprit, is also on the judging panel, and her keen eye for talent was used to spot which designer deserved to win the prestigious award and get the opportunity to design a sustainable clothing line for Esprit.

Clothes were originally made to cover our bodies and keep us warm. Our needs for clothes today have completely changed.

Once chosen, all semi-finalists were asked to produce their two designs from the application process. From there, the judges selected six grand finalists who were then invited to produce a six-piece sustainable collection, including both couture and ready-to-wear garments, to be presented at the HKTDC Hong Kong Fashion Week on July 5. Wister Tsang Ho Yin, an up-and-coming designer who studied for an Associate Degree in Fashion Design in 2010, was declared the winner of The EcoChic Design Award for Hong Kong, right after the final catwalk.

Tsang's winning collection consisted of six outfits, all completely made using surplus jeans, Esprit's factory fabric waste, a second hand T-shirt, and second-hand jeans donated by Friends of the Earth. The collection included a zero-waste kimono style outfit, an up-cycled jumpsuit and black top, a reconstructed denim dress, an up-cycled dress, and a denim jacket. Two of the models also sported backpacks made with Esprit's surplus jeans. A zero waste cape made with Centra Textiles 60 per cent recycled denim completed one of the outfits.

"This competition made me think about what clothes now mean to consumers," says Tsang. "Clothes were originally made to cover our bodies and keep us warm. Our needs for clothes today have completely changed." Tsang's collection, which he named "Reflection," aims to show designers and consumers how zero-waste and up-cycling techniques can fit into modern fashion. "Fast fashion produces a lot of waste, which is why I chose to use denim for my contest designs, because I think denim lasts longer and doesn't go out of style." 

Dean says she hopes The EcoChic Design Award will inject new life into Asia's sustainable fashion scene, and promote textile waste reducing methods and pre-consumer textile waste up-cycling. "From a consumer perspective, we hope to raise awareness of the environmental benefits of waste reduction, and show Asian consumers that even from a price perspective, garments made using textile waste or waste reducing techniques can be retailed competitively."

The EcoChic Design award is changing the face of fashion by giving designers something else to look forward to - a chance to break the boundaries of conventional fashion and step into the future. A much greener future. 

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