Waste To Fashion In Hong Kong

By Anneleise Smillie 18 February, 2019

Redress has successfully sorted 41 tonnes of clothes - hear from their CEO on the good, expansion plans & challenges

Since 2013 Redress has collected, sorted & re-distributed 41 tonnes (=1,240 suitcases - avg check in size) of unwanted clothes; 2018 saw launch of collection boxes at Zara & Pizza Express
Circular Economy programme to be expanded to include collection from industry (mills, manufacturers, brands etc.), much of which would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated
But challenges remain, especially with increasing amounts of waste; from funding to capacity issues and limited recycling options to unclear responsibility
Anneleise Smillie
Author: Anneleise Smillie
Anneleise has 17 years of international experience in the non-profit sector working in Hong Kong, China and London. As Executive Director she is focused on organisational development and working with the team to formulate new planning processes and strategies for sustainable growth, whilst focusing resources where they will have the greatest impact. Previously Anneleise worked for the Animals Asia Foundation and Brooke Hospital for Animals and has been directly involved with Fundraising, Programme Operations, Event Management and Public Education. Anneleise is an environmentalist at heart and is passionate about reducing waste and promoting new models that create lasting social change. She is currently Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors at Animals Asia and also founded their successful education programme “Professor Paws”.
Read more from Anneleise Smillie →

In the next 11 years when the world is meant to be drastically reducing carbon emissions to even have a chance of achieving a 2°C rise, fashion however, is forecasted to increase its already high emissions by 60%. At this rate, if the fashion industry was a country it would be the 4th largest emitter in the world. It is urgently time to transition to a circular fashion model thus reducing the industry’s impact.

Redress is a Hong Kong NGO working to advance this transition to circular fashion. We sat down with their CEO, Anneleise Smillie, to hear how they are doing 10 years on, their new circular economy programme and what challenges they face.

CWR: Redress has been working to reduce fashion waste – both pre & post consumer – in Hong Kong for more than 10 years now. Can you share some of the highlights over this time?

Anneliese Smillie (AS): Our work focuses on preventing the creation of waste at source, as well as transforming waste to recover resources and promote the transition to a circular economy for fashion.

We’re perhaps best known for the Redress Design Award – the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition – which works to provide a platform for emerging sustainable design talent. The 2018 cycle was our first truly global competition cycle and saw applications from 55 countries around the world.


The competition itself is underpinned by a massive body of educational work throughout the year, which includes lectures, academies and exhibitions, together with our online teaching materials and educator packs which are now available in four languages. With 80% of a garment’s overall environmental impact locked in at the design stage, we partner with over 100 universities around the world to deliver much needed resources to teach emerging designers to design out waste.

“Since 2013 we have collected, sorted & re-distributed a total of 41 tonnes of unwanted clothes…”

In 2018, established year round collection boxes at Zara stores & Pizza Express

We are also significantly expanding our work to transform textile waste through our clothing collections. Since 2013 we have collected, sorted and re-distributed a total of 41 tonnes of unwanted clothes. One of the biggest highlights is that of this 41 tonnes, 19.4 tonnes was collected in 2018 alone as for the first time we established permanent year round collection boxes at all Zara stores across HK and Macau, as well as a collection box at Pizza Express in Sai Ying Pun.

In 2018 as part of our new strategy we successfully transitioned our clothing drives into a month long campaign entitled “Get Redressed” which aims to turn every October into the official month to take action against textile waste across Hong Kong. We want to make clothes recycling accessible and transparent, whilst developing an effective textile waste ecosystem in HK, which could also serve as a blue print for other Asian cities.

CWR: I’d like to focus a little more on your Circular Economy Programme. Can you outline the programme and its key aims?

AS: Through our Circular Economy Programme, Redress works as a unique and critical service provider to collect, sort, recycle, re-purpose and redistribute a variety of pre and post consumer textile and garment waste materials to facilitate the transition towards a circular fashion system.

We are now expanding our programme and scaling our work to provide increased public services through our permanent collections boxes, as well as providing corporate services for mills, manufacturers and brands to process deadstock garments and textiles (including IP sensitive items) much of which would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated.

CWR: It sounds great. How is the programme going?

AS: Really well. We’re now working with over 20 local charities who receive the bulk of our clothing – all of which is meticulously sorted according to their beneficiaries’ specific needs and capacity.

Redress recently supplied the first 1400 kilos of post-consumer clothing to the Novetex Upcycling, a ground-breaking fibre-to-fibre recycling facility

We also recently supplied the first 1400 kilos of post-consumer clothing to the Novetex Upcycling Factory, which is a ground-breaking fibre-to-fibre recycling facility led by HKRITA and Novetex. Together they have been working to develop new mechanical and hydrothermal technologies to process and recycle mixed fibres. In order to optimise the facility’s fibre quality output, Redress sorts the bottom layer of clothing we receive into a further 17 categories according to fibre and garment type and we are thrilled to be working as a critical waste supplier to Novetex.

CWR: It sounds like you’ve been very busy and very successful but what about challenges? What is blocking you from doing more?

AS: Our biggest challenge as a small charity with limited resources is of course funding. The logistics and manpower costs of collecting, storing, sorting and redistributing clothes are enormous and we are still gathering data to work out what these costs may look like at scale. Ultimately we need to create an understanding of the true financial burden there is on charities who receive ‘end of life’ items – be that textiles, food or plastics, whilst building in responsibilities and measures to support the services and solutions that we provide.

“Ultimately we need to create an understanding of the true financial burden there is on charities who receive ‘end of life’ items…

…Other challenges include the capacity of local organisations to absorb increasing volumes of clothing…”

Other challenges include the capacity of local organisations to absorb increasing volumes of clothing, as well as problems with shoes and bags that we also receive which have limited options for recycling. 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 – whose responsibility is it to bear the cost of this when the new waste charging scheme takes effect? Alternative options for this layer of textile waste (such as transformation into recycled pellets for fuel) requires the development of new infrastructures locally or the funds to export textile waste overseas where facilities already exist.

There is of course also the issue at the very heart of the problem with rampant over-consumption which requires a massive paradigm shift to change consumer behaviour.

CWR: What would be your ask for the year of the pig – to brands, consumers, manufacturers, whoever you want?

AS: The year of the Pig will see Greater China overtaking the US as the largest fashion market in the world in 2019, according to McKinsey’s The State of Fashion 2019 report.

Around the world we are consistently buying more, wearing less and disposing faster. As a result, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste is generated each year and this is expected to increase by 50% in the next 15 years.

We’re often asked whose responsibility is it to drive change but with a problem on this scale, it is ultimately everyone’s responsibility to make changes. We need to recalibrate our expectations regarding the cost of our clothes and work to not only produce and consume less, but to find ways to capture lost resources and effectively integrate them back into the value chain. This of course can only be done if manufacturers, brands, consumers and government work together to support and develop alternative business models that can effectively compete with the current linear fashion model.

Further Reading

  • 5 Trends For The Year Of The Pig – Pigs are associated with wealth and a carefree life but they can also be lazy, indulging in the “good life”. What fortunes or mishaps will 2019 bring? How can you capitalise on the Pig’s luck? Get a headstart with China Water Risk’s 5 Trends for a Prosperous Pig Year!
  • Balancing Economy With Environment In China – Professor Asit Biswas from National University of Singapore looks at how the environment has risen up China’s agenda from his first trip in 1981. Plus, see why he think China will make spectacular progress going forward
  • Banking On Granularity To Reduce Climate Blindspots – Climate & water risks are locational but most financial institutions are flying blind, not having mapped their assets. Until they do, they & our savings are exposed. CWR’s Dharisha Mirando expands
  • Food Revolution 5.0: Digital Printing Meat – Food Revolution 5.0., clean meat… Hong Kong is there. Get the latest from Professor Kenneth Lee of Chinese University of Hong Kong and hear more on his 3D printed foie gras
  • Diet, Food Waste & Kids In 5 Graphics – Agriculture emits as much greenhouse gas as electricity and this needs to change. CWR’s Woody Chan sees 3 ways to reduce this, from changing diets and cutting food waste to fewer kids
  • Fashion Has The Power To Shape A 2°C World – If fashion were a country it would have the fourth highest carbon emissions behind the US, China, & India. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor & Debra Tan question why the industry is not under the spotlight like coal and call for faster disruptions
  • 85 Voices: Insights From Chinese Textile Manufacturers – Hear from China’s textile manufacturers on their challenges and what help they need to transition to a clean and circular model. This is an opportunity for the global fashion industry. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor shares key takeaways from our new survey report
  • A Decade of Dedication – As Redress turns 10 years old, its founder Dr Christina Dean reflects on the victories achieved in driving circular thinking in fashion including the EcoChic Design Award and TV show Frontline Fashion. Plus, check out their initiatives going forward
  • 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