Fashion made from umbrellas and sofa fabric, secondhand clothes and furniture offcuts: why not?
Earlier this month, the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition, the Redress Design Awards, culminated in a glittering Grand Final in Hong Kong. On the catwalk? Beautiful, immaculately crafted fashion created from fabric waste. If the aim of the awards is to show that discarded fabrics can be a source of vibrant creativity, they succeeded.
The competition is the brainchild of Redress, a pioneering environmental charity working to cut waste out of fashion. The awards have grown from strength to strength since their inception in 2011 and plug directly into conversations about how ideas of the circular economy can help transform an industry increasingly associated with staggering excess and pollution.
At the Awards, eleven young designers powerfully demonstrated the full potential of textile waste. Ingeniously constructed collections impressed a crowd of industry elites, influencers and VIPs. First prize – as chosen by a panel of judges that included Fashion Revolution’s Orsola de Castra and designer Johanna Ho – went to Australian designer Tess Whitfort.
Tess’ bold, punk-inspired collection was made from up-cycled industry end-of-rolls and designed with complex zero-waste patterns. “[The collection] is reflective of my own style and attitudes,” she said, before the final. “Harsh colours, grungy texture and androgynous leanings are the cornerstones of how I dress.”
She’s a passionate believe in fashion as a force for good.“Sustainable practices are an absolute necessity,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to limit the negative environmental impacts of the industry. One of my goals is to create new solutions, whether through using AI to create zero-waste patterns or a new eco-friendly textile or process.”
“Part of the appeal of sustainable design is that it’s about problem solving and innovation,” she continues. These are skills she applied to issues of upscaling: “The textiles, for example, will always be readily available in bulk and the designs combine conventional methods of manufacture with more artisanal crafts, meaning they can be simplified for production.
“The scale of textile waste across the fashion value chain is staggering… an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste is now generated each year,” says Redress founder Christina Dean. “These visionary young designers represent the future of the industry where waste continues to grow as a valuable resource to embrace rather than hide away as a dirty secret.”
Tess now joins The R Collective, Redress’ pioneering up-cycled fashion brand and social impact business, to design a capsule collection. Given that previous R Collective collections have been stocked in Lane Crawford, Asia’s leading department store, and Barneys New York, this is a wonderful springboard for a young designer to move and influence mainstream fashion landscapes with a unique vision of sustainability.
Fellow 2018 prizewinners included Hong Kong’s Jesse Lee, who took second prize and Hong Kong prize; Sarah Jane Ferguson, who took the 2018 Special Prize and Alumni Prize winner Claire Dartigues: all names to watch in a sustainable future. Because figures are bleak: the amount of clothing produced globally now exceeds 100 billion garments and rising.
Out of the 53 million tones of material used for clothing production every year, 87% is landfilled or incinerated after use. The Redress Design Award still represents a great hope, a platform for ingenuity against a backdrop of a environmental crisis, proving, year after year, that we have the solutions quite literally at our feet.