Get Redressed In Circular Fashion

By Lauren Boucher 17 January, 2020

Recycling figures in fashion are gloomy, but Redress is changing the course. Their Boucher's introduces

Redress launched the biggest Get Redressed campaign ever - engaging 130 co's, clubs & schools (even designing curriculum) & collecting over 15.4 tonnes of unwanted clothes = 2.5 elephants!
It has also promoted recycling in the private sector & 6 Gap stores will join the ranks in 2020; yet 20% of clothing received is “unwearable” & a scalable fibre-to-fibre recycling system is lacking
Although the stats are bad e.g. +6% textile waste in HK landfills in 2018, there is a EUR160 bn/yr market for efficient textile wastes' capture & reuse - do join Redress's secondhand pop-up in Feb!
Lauren Boucher
Author: Lauren Boucher
Lauren Boucher is part of the Circular Fashion team at Redress, a Hong Kong-based environmental nonprofit working to tackle the issue of textile waste and drive a more sustainable future for fashion. The Circular Fashion team works with the companies, schools, brands and industry to raise awareness about fashion’s impact on the environment and empower them with ideas and solutions to extend the life of unwanted clothing and keep garments out of landfills. Lauren’s background is in intellectual property law and advertising law, and as part of her former career advised luxury and high street fashion brands on brand protection. She sees fashion as an important vehicle for self-expression and wants to help drive the industry towards circular models of consumption and production so that we can continue to enjoy fashion in a more sustainable way.
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Fashion is not only dirty and thirsty but also carbon intensive. If it were a country, it would be the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It is therefore important to accelerate changes in the industry to ensure a not-so-gloomy future. Redress, a leading non-profit in driving circular fashion, has launched the biggest Get Redressed campaign ever last year in HK to promote unwanted clothes recycling. By engaging with more schools, businesses and clubs than ever, they are leading the movement of circular fashion in HK. 

To better understand their work, challenges and achievements, we caught up with Lauren Boucher, their Circular Fashion Programme Manager, to learn more.

CWR: Congratulations on launching the biggest Get Redressed campaign ever! For those who are not familiar, could you kick us off by introducing what the campaign is about? What is special about this year’s campaign?

Lauren Boucher (LB): Get Redressed Month is a fun and engaging public awareness campaign that aims to draw attention to the environmental impact of the way we make, buy and dispose of clothing.

In October 2019 we held our second and biggest ever ‘Get Redressed Month’ to date. Across Hong Kong, 130 companies, clubs and schools joined our campaign by donating their unwanted clothes in a city-wide Clothing Drive and helping us to carefully sort, weigh and redistribute them in just 24 hours at our first ever “24 Hour Sort-a-thon”, all while coming face-to-face with the issue of textile waste and gaining insight into Redress’ work and the challenges of keeping clothing in use.

In total we collected, sorted, weighed & redistributed over 15.4 tonnes of unwanted clothes – the equivalent of 2.5 elephants or 9.5 cars

In total we collected, sorted, weighed and redistributed over 15.4 tonnes of unwanted clothes – the equivalent of 2.5 elephants or 9.5 cars! – but whilst the volume of clothing is of course a significant achievement, the true impact is the number of people, both young and old, who engaged with the campaign to drive a circular future for fashion.

This was the biggest volunteering event Redress has ever hosted, and possibly the biggest sorting event in Hong Kong, with 419 volunteers participating from 20 companies and the community, and an overall count of an incredible 2,124 man hours required to weigh and sort the donations into 20 sorting streams, including re-sale, re-use by 19 of Redress’ partner charities, recycling and downcycling.

This year we were also excited to include 21 schools for the first time

This year we were also excited to include 21 schools for the first time, who not only took part in the clothing drive but took advantage of our brand new school resources pack, held “Get Redressed Days” to celebrate wearing and sharing what we have instead of buying new, and even holding their own secondhand clothing markets. The campaign also saw 360 public awareness adverts across the MTR, a social media campaign and the creation of a Get Redressed online resource hub for consumers on the Redress website.

CWR: Of course it’s not just this campaign – you guys run other amazing projects like the Redress Design Award. We were also at the Grand Final fashion show and found it fascinating. Having achieved all this, would you say public awareness on sustainable fashion is growing?

LB: Yes, our other flagship project is the Redress Design Award, a sustainable fashion design competition working to educate emerging fashion designers around the world about sustainable design theories and techniques in order to drive growth towards a circular fashion system. Across the last 9 years we have educated over 20,000 emerging designers applications have just opened for the competition’s 10th cycle in 2020.

Our Get Redressed Month campaign more than doubled in size from 60 co’s & clubs in 2018 to 130 co’s, clubs & schools in 2019

While awareness is notoriously challenging to measure, in 2019 we experienced a marked increase in interest in Redress’ programmes from corporates, schools and the general public. Our Get Redressed Month campaign more than doubled in size from 60 companies and clubs in 2018 to 130 companies, clubs and schools in 2019, and we saw a 49% increase in website traffic to the Redress Website during October 2019 compared to October 2018. Our most recent Pop-Up shop (June 2019) was also our most successful yet in terms of fundraising, customer response and exposure.

We were very encouraged by the uptake and enthusiasm from schools, who were invited to participate in Get Redressed Month for the first time in 2020, and we are excited to announce that in late 2019 we received a grant from the Environment and Conservation Fund to develop our educational resources into a bilingual school education programme specifically designed for local and international primary and secondary students and teachers, to fill a gap in current school curriculums.

By raising awareness of the issue of textile waste from a young age, and providing students with the knowledge and tools to participate in solutions, Redress aims to change youth mindsets and habits around fashion consumption and disposal, whilst mobilising students to take direct and positive action to change their behaviour as consumers and thereby minimise carbon, water and waste in the long term.

CWR: How about the private sector? We know Redress partners with various companies on upcycling clothes and more but could you tell us more about that?

LB: In 2019 we focused on streamlining our post-consumer textiles management programme with our permanent year-round takeback partners. We had 19 permanent collection boxes in Zara stores in HK and Macau, PizzaExpress (Sai Ying Pun) and Jeeves Drycleaners (Central and Aberdeen), which aimed to provide easily accessible options for the public to put their clothes back into the loop for re-use or recycling/downcycling. In 2020, we will see the introduction of the takeback programme to 6 Gap stores in Hong Kong. In 2019 we also worked with Swire Properties and Nan Fung to supply materials for three public art installations made from upcycled clothing and textile waste.

In 2020, we will see the introduction of the takeback programme to 6 Gap stores in Hong Kong

Pre-consumer textile waste management – involving re-using, upcycling or recycling deadstock garments and textiles for mills, manufacturers and brands to avoid landfill or incineration – is a more challenging landscape because it is often a mix of garment and accessory types with small quantities of each product, which means there is no “single” solution for final management of those goods.

This is something that drives our work through the Redress Design Award, where we are working with numerous brands and designers to prevent the creation of waste at source and transform the current linear production model while promoting a circular economy for fashion.

CWR: Looking forward, what are the biggest hurdles Redress faces? For instance, what do you guys do when some of the collected clothes are not re-sellable? 

LB: One of our big challenges as our takeback programme grows is limited local opportunities for recycling the very bottom layer of textiles that are unwearable (i.e. clothes that are ripped, stained, broken or mouldy).

~20% of the clothing we receive is deemed “unwearable” & cannot be resold or redistributed

As the quantity of clothing we are receiving through our takeback programme and Get Redressed Month grows, so does the quantity of this unwearable layer clothes. Currently around 20% of the clothing we receive is deemed “unwearable”, which as a percentage of our total 2019 collections is around 5.4 tonnes. These clothes cannot be resold or redistributed to our network of charity partners for re-use by their beneficiaries as they are very poor quality, therefore the only available options are recycling, downcycling or landfill.

At a global level there is a lack of scalable fibre-to-fibre recycling systems…

…this problem particularly applies to using the bottom-layer, poor quality clothes as feedstock

Relevant to the issue is that at a global level there is a lack of scalable fibre-to-fibre recycling systems whether mechanically, chemically or biologically that are able to recycle textiles and clothes of any styles and fibre types and produce end products that meet the market demand in quality and price. This problem particularly applies to using the bottom-layer, poor quality clothes as feedstock, which usually end up with correspondingly poor quality output, which limits the possibilities for the resources to stay in the value chain in creating a closed-loop system. Additionally there’s a lack of research and evidence to show the financial viability of textile recycling systems in order to attract investments to support a circular economy in the fashion industry.

In the absence of local recycling solutions, Redress is trialling a downcycling solution in Japan

In the absence of local recycling solutions, Redress is currently trialling downcycling solution in Japan called “RPF” (“Refuse Derived Paper and Plastic Densified Fuel”), a form of renewable energy made primarily from compressed shredded waste paper and waste plastics, which can be combined with other waste materials including low quality textile waste. The fuel pellets are used by Japanese industry as a more environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and coke (as the use of RPF as a substitute for coal results in 33% less CO2 emissions, saves exhaustible resources, and reduces the amount of waste going to landfill), however we do need further data on carbon emissions / overall environmental impact of this option vs landfill and other options. At present we still consider the RPF solution to be a trial and are continuing to explore other regional downcycling and recycling options. We are also of course assessing the viability of funding RPF processing as a small charity.

There is also a percentage of clothing that currently cannot be recycled, downcycled or re-purposed in any way and therefore the only option at present is landfill, begging further questions around whose responsibility it should be to bear the cost of this. Relating to this, there are discussions on the viability and readiness to introduce extended producer and consumer responsibility schemes to support end-of-life solutions of all consumer goods.

CWR: From a personal point of view, how optimistic are you that the fashion industry can cut down on textile waste and evolve into a circular economy?  

LB: Unfortunately the statistics are not promising.

The recent report published by EPD reported a nearly 6% of increase of textile discarded into landfills

Rampant over-consumption is showing no signs of slowing, and although SDG12 (sustainable production and consumption) was specifically identified by the SDSN Hong Kong task force as one of 7 priorities for the city, a public survey showed that it was considered the least important. Meanwhile Mainland China’s recent Singles’ Day on 11 November saw online sales reach a shocking new record of USD38.4 billion in just 24 hours, and 2019 Thanksgiving and Black Friday online sales in the US (on 28 to 29 November), predicted a 25 per cent increase from 2018. At the same time, the most recent “Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong 2018” published by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) of HKSAR, reported a nearly 6% of increase of textile discarded into the city’s landfills compared to the previous year to 392 tonnes a day.

Yet an additional EUR160 bn/year can be generated globally through the efficient capture & utilisation of textile waste

Currently less than 1% of clothing produced around the world is recycled and yet we know that over 95% of textiles that are thrown away each year can be reused, repaired or recycled, and that extending the life of clothing by just 9 months can reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by 20-30% each. Research also shows that there is potential to generate an additional EUR 160 billion per year for the world economy through the efficient capture and utilisation of that textile waste, so although the stats show that there are challenges they also show that there are enormous opportunities.

CWR: Finally, would you mind sharing with us where and when we can we buy secondhand clothes from Redress so we can all help transition to circular fashion? 

LB: The Get Redressed Secondhand Pop-up Shop will be back in 3-12 February 2020 in Nan Fung Place in Sheung Wan in Hong Kong and will be overflowing with Redress’ favourite secondhand outfits, carefully selected from the clothes donated during the Get Redressed Month clothing drive.

The Get Redressed Secondhand Pop-up Shop will be back in 3-12 February 2020

The Pop-up Shop will offer men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and accessories from designer, vintage and high street brands with prices starting at just HKD50. Choosing to shop secondhand with Redress not only helps reduce the carbon footprint of the garment by 82%, all money raised through Pop-up Shop sales provide critical support for Redress’ work to reduce textile waste, minimise energy and water consumption and ultimately promote a circular economy for fashion. Sign up to our newsletter or follow our social media channels for updates about the February pop-up shop dates and location.

Further Reading

  • Sustainable Fashion Today: A Sweet But Short High – 2019 has been a busy year for sustainable fashion but with sweet but short highs as CWR’s Dawn McGregor highlights. Given fashion’s huge climate impact, McGregor laments the need for more strategic solutions
  • Future Fashion & ‘Beautiful China’ – Together Forever? – With fast changing regulatory landscape moving against pollution from the textile industry, is there really room for fast fashion in a ‘Beautiful China’? China Water Risk’s McGregor on why it’s time for fashion to become beautiful inside and out
  • Circular Fashion Today – Closing the loop in the fashion is not new. But perhaps now that China,  the world’s largest manufacturer of garments, wants to go circular, it might become a reality. Get on top of the latest trends with leading circular fashion innovators
  • Fashion’s New Cycle – With 12,000 garments entering landfills every hour, the USD3 trillion fashion industry is ripe for a disruptive overhaul. FINCH Designs’s co-founder Heather Kaye shares how this Chinese brand is doing this through their swimwear made from recycled PET
  • Fast Fashion: Sucking Aquifers Dry? – Groundwater is over-extracted to grow cotton. As the world’s largest importer of cotton, is it China’s fault? Or is fast fashion to blame? China Water Risk’s Tan explores trends in the growth across major brands, China’s imports & global cotton production

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