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Fashion Footprint: Hong Kong Taking Steps to Change its Wasteful Ways

July 29th 2014

Described as a “shopper’s paradise”, “a haven for bargain seekers”, “a temple to consumerism” and even “one giant shopping mall”, Hong Kong’s ravenous appetite for fashion is world-renowned. But with the benefit of low prices thanks to the colossal garment powerhouse that is China and few of the visible environmental effects of production, how many of us think about the impact of such addiction? We sent blogger Jessica Hamilton out on a socially conscious spree to talk to those working to turning trends towards ethical fashion.

Hong Kong has more than 50 malls, with the average Hong Kong guidebook dedicating 40 pages to shopping – double that of London and Paris. But amidst all the market bargains and designer deals, the ecological and ethical burden of clothes manufacturing and consumption is a problem shared by brands, consumers and governments alike.

With great shopping, comes great responsibility. In a 2011 survey conducted by the Environmental Protection Department, it was found that an average of 217 tons of textiles entered Hong Kong landfills every day. For a city that loves clothes, that’s an awful lot going in the bin.

Working to combat this wastage is Redress, an NGO started in 2007 by Christina Dean, a former journalist who spent much of her career reporting on Hong Kong’s eco issues. “Our main projects look at textile waste created variously by consumers, designers and the industry at large,” she told me.

According to Christina, education from the ground up is what’s missing. She explains that many fashion courses put no emphasis on sustainability, even though it’s estimated that the designer influences up to 90% of the environmental and economic costs of a finished product. Decisions that consumers take for granted, such as the price, styling and even the number of zips, can have a massive impact on the life-span and footprint of a garment.

However, recent research and the increasing number of emerging eco designers in Hong Kong is encouraging. From their work with universities in Asia and Europe, Redress has found that the vast majority (97% to be exact) of students would take a sustainable fashion course.

Running parallel to their educational outreach is The EcoChic Design Award. Now in its fifth cycle, the competition challenges emerging designers in Asia and Europe to create a waste-reducing collection. The Hong Kong-based competition has had a big hand in educating and enabling eco designers to move forward, and offers winners the chance to work with Shanghai Tang, China’s leading luxury brand.

One such winner is Hong Kong designer Angus, Tsui Yat Sing, who claimed the Hong Kong People’s Choice award in 2012 and has since been named the overall winner of the Hong Kong Design Institute graduate show with his zero-waste collection.

“By participating in the Eco Chic competition, I learned a lot about sustainability and waste reducing design techniques. I now understand that sustainable fashion is not just about using textile waste, but that designers can reduce the environmental impact of fashion through considered sourcing, designing, pattern-making and production,” Angus explained.

Angus Tsui (Left), Kelvin Wan, 2012 Hong Kong Most Promising Student Award Winner (Middle) and Kary Ng (Right)

 

But what about consumers? Hong Kong can be a particularly difficult place to shop sustainably. I, along with many Hong Kongers (80%, according to a recent survey by WWF), would like to reduce my fashion footprint, but it’s tough to know where to begin. Clothes banks are few and far between, as are second-hand retailers and eco-friendly brands.

I have, however, come across two websites that are trying to guide shoppers along a greener path. The first is the newly launched PhatRice.com – a hub for sustainable fashion in Hong Kong, where you can discover new on-the-ground brands and a mixture of eco (waste reduction) and ethical (donation of profits to charity partners) clothes, available to buy online.

Secondly, Redress has created a Hong Kong sustainable shopping guide, designed to help consumers make informed choices between the plethora of high-street, designer and second-hand eco options. The website also invites consumers to join the #GetRedressed campaign, challenging thrifty fashionistas to Instagram their second-hand, up cycled or reworked looks.

#GetRedressed Instagram User: tokyokaleidoscope

 

For the 80% of people who do want to buy better, this could be the perfect place to start. Know of any other ethical fashion gems in Hong Kong? Comment below and tell us all about them!

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