Putting Waste Back Into Fashion

By Dr. Christina Dean 16 June, 2015

Redress CEO Dean on the EcoChic Design Award's army of sustainable designers & closing the loop on textile waste

Design decisions account for 80-90% of economic & environ costs so educating designers is key to sustainability
China’s secondhand clothes recycling market has potential revenue of RMB60bn; still more to do to 'close the loop'
EcoChic Design Award is a learning platform & a global arena to drive innovation for putting waste back into fashion

It’s not every day that emerging fashion designers are recognised as being influencers, let alone solutions, in the war on reducing textile waste. But this is gradually what is happening as emerging designers increasingly buckle up for their long sustainability road – or battle – ahead. Their sketchbooks act as their swords; their needles are their knives; and the armor of this small-but-seedy and growing wave of designers is their enthusiasm, excitement and their ethics.

Design decisions account for 80-90% of a product’s economic & environmental costs, therefore educating designers is key
This is at the center of the EcoChic Design Award

Designers are increasingly recognized for their significant power to reduce the environmental impact of their products. Research indicates that ‘Decisions made in design are responsible for 80 to 90 percent of a product’s environmental and economic costs’1 and another states that ‘Designers have privileged access to the production process since they are responsible for specifying up to 70 percent of subsequent material and production processes in any given project’.
Therefore, educating emerging fashion designers to design with the environment in mind – and specifically encouraging them to reduce and re-use textile waste – has been at the center of our work through The EcoChic Design Award (www.ecochicdesignaward.com). This is a sustainable fashion design competition in which we educate emerging designers about how to turn textile waste into want through sustainable design techniques and through sourcing textile waste.
EcoChic Design Award Video
And the good news is that the hard work is paying off, with five competition cycles now under our belt (click on the screenshot right to watch the fifth year anniversary video). There is now an army of sustainable designers from around Asia and Europe who are closing microscopic loops on the mammoth issue of textile waste.

China’s market for recycling secondhand clothes has a potential revenue of RMB60 bn

In China the total annual production of pre and post-consumer textile waste is estimated to be around 26 million tonnes. The market for the recycling of secondhand clothes has huge potential; the maximum revenue could be as high as 60 billion RMB.3 But far from being daunted by the scale of the world’s textile waste issues, these young designers see textile waste as an opportunity and are sourcing it as if it were going out of fashion, which as we know, it is not.
Up-Cycling Design Guide
This new army of designers is putting textile waste back into fashion through innovative thinking and design. From their studios in Berlin to Beijing, they are creating sustainable brands and collections using textile waste in all its forms, including sourcing cut-and-sew waste, damaged fabrics and factory surplus to discarded clothing samples and over-runs and, secondhand clothes. They are then using the sustainable design techniques of zero waste, up-cycling and reconstruction to put waste back into fashion. For more on these techniques and others see here.
They are catching the attention not only from a swathe of celebrities who are increasingly stepping out in sustainable style, but also of the fashion world. These young designers and their textile-waste-made brands are collecting columns, covers and TV coverage as they go, from China Vogue to The New York Times as the front row of the worlds’ fashion leaders twitter and tweet about this new vision for sustainable design.
The first prize The EcoChic Design Award 2014-15 Winner Kévin Germanier
It’s encouraging to see The EcoChic Design Award platform storm through the minds of emerging designers, and through waste. We’ve essentially created a competition that acts as a platform to reduce textile waste and encourage closed-loop thinking.

“In our current competition cycle, we’ve partnered with over 60 top fashion institutions in Asia & Europe…”

Firstly, we educate. In our current competition cycle, we’ve partnered with over 60 top fashion institutions in Asia and Europe; we give lectures to some and educate others through our Fashion Academies; and our online Learn platform inspires legions around the world. We then create a competitive arena to drive their innovation and their nerves. As each nine-month competition cycle comes to its finale, we bring 10 finalists to Hong Kong Fashion Week in their attempt to bag the first prize. Here, we partner with a top fashion brand who works with each cycle’s winner on a sustainable collection – created using textile waste of course – for the brand’s global retail. Two of our winners will design up-cycled collections using Shanghai Tang’s obsolete textile waste stock for Shanghai Tang’s upcoming global retail, and five of our previous winners have already designed Recycled Collections by Esprit made using recycled fabrics, which were created by recycling Esprit’s own cut and sew waste.

“…we also recognise the scope for more ‘closing the loop’ activities…”

We are now entering our competition’s Fifth Year Anniversary and whilst we celebrate our successes, we also recognise the scope for more ‘closing the loop’ activities in this area. We’re seeing interest in up-cycling grow from fashion institutions from Milan to Mumbai as the world of fashion increasingly realises that it’s time to put waste back into fashion.

1 Graedel et al, 1995
2 McAlpine
3 China Association of Resource Comprehensive Utilization, 2013

Further Reading

  • Made in China 2025: Are You On The List? – How does the new Made in China 2025 Action Plan fit with other ‘Future China’ plans? Are the ten industries in Made in China 2025 the same as the Circular Economy Ten? Find out why which list matters
  • China’s Economy: Linear to Circular – After Germany and Japan, China is the third country globally that has enacted polices to move towards a circular economy. China Water Risk’s Thieriot on how and why China needs to make this transition. Which industries are affected, what is the role of industrial parks?
  • Water Ten & Fashion: 8 Reasons to Leap or Fall – China Water Risks’ Hu shares 8 reasons why China’s Water Ten is actually an ultimatum for textiles to leap or fall. They need to decide which soon, as there is only two to three years before the paradigm shift
  • Clean by Design: Gaining Traction – Many factories look to MNCs to help address environmental issues that have arisen from textile production but there is scant on ground corporate engagement by brands. See how NRDC’s ‘Clean By Design’ textile mill programme in China has achieved stellar results despite this. NRDC’s Linda Greer expands
  • On Being Water Conscious in Textiles – Zhao Lin from Solidaridad expands on the Better Mill Initiative (BMI) and provides solid business cases in water savings for the textile sector. See how water & energy savings can result in sustainable & financially viable gains with short payback periods

Textiles in China

  • Dirty Thirsty Wars – Fashion Blindsided – CLSA report titled “Dirty Thirsty Fashion: Blindsided by China’s water wars”, examines how China’s water risks could blindside the US$1.7 trillion global fashion industry. Is this the end of fast fashion? Debra Tan expands
  • Water Ten: Comply Or Else – China’s new Water Ten Plan sets tough action on pollution prevention & control. While this is good for the water sector, less obvious is who or which sectors will be impacted. China Water Risk’s Tan on why China is serious about its fast & furious pollution reforms to propel China to a new norm
  • Pollution: It Doesn’t Pay to be Naughty – State Council wants to use the enforcement of law & regulation “to force the economy to transform and upgrade”. See how violation cost surges with daily fines, new standards & discharge permit trading in a bid to push China to go clean
  • 8 Game-Changing Policy Paths – There has been a fundamental shift in planning China’s future growth with changes in regulatory landscape due to multiple polices set & changes in law. Many come into full effect in 2015. Get on top of these
  • Chinese Appetite for Dirty Fashion – Do Chinese consumers know fashion’s ‘dirty’ secret? Will it change the way they shop? Liu talks to fashion bloggers, fast fashion managers, taobao shop owners, housewives, NGOs, students
  • Fashion Update: Brand Winners & Sinners With the new Phase III Textiles Investigative Report released by 7 China NGOs through IPE, we look at who has managed to stay on top since the first report published in April 2012

Textiles & pollution

  • The Colour this Season is Green – Trucost’s Jackson on key discussions at the 2014 Copenhagen Fashion Summit & Global Leadership Award in Sustainable Apparel awards. On the agenda: natural capital accounting, water savings & education, all against a backdrop of limited resources & increasing demand
  • Materials Sustainability in the Higg Index -Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Sousa & Young on how Nike’s Materials Sustainability Index can help brands & suppliers make the right water-friendly choices in raw material selection
Dr. Christina Dean
Author: Dr. Christina Dean
Dr. Christina Dean is the founder and CEO of Redress, a Hong Kong based environmental NGO working to promote environmental sustainability in the fashion industry by reducing textile waste, pollution, water and energy consumption. Redress achieves this by conducting educational sustainable fashion shows, exhibitions, seminars, competitions and research. Prior to establishing Redress in 2007, Christina was a journalist and prior to this a practicing dental surgeon. In 2010, Christina was listed by US online magazine Coco Eco as one of ‘2010’s Most Influential Women in Green’. In 2009 she was listed by UK Vogue as one of the UK’s ‘Top 30 Inspirational Women’.
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