Since 2011, the EcoChic Design Award, a sustainable fashion design competition organised by Redress has given emerging designers the opportunity to delve into the world of sustainability through design challenges, partnerships and education.
We caught up with Kate Morris, EcoChic Design Award 2017 winner along with Lia Kassif (2nd prize) and Candle Ray Torreverde (third prize) to learn more about their experience and their views on creating sustainable fashion.
Designers are increasingly using the word sustainable to describe their collections which can mean many different things. With that said, what does sustainability mean to you and why is it important?
KM: The planet simply does not have enough resources to carry on producing clothing through the industry’s current systems. For fashion to be sustainable it must consider the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It must consider the long-term environmental impact, and human well-being whilst creating products that people want to buy. Planet, people and profit are all key.
To me, sustainable fashion is possible if all areas of the supply chain work together, led by the designer, to make more informed choices. I do not believe that this leads to limitations, I see this as an opportunity to generate unexpected designs with a story that the consumer can connect with.
I predict that sustainable fashion design will become the normal practice and any brand who is not following this will not last very long. Consumers will keep demanding to know more about their clothing and tighter regulations will be put in place for more ethical manufacturing. I think both technology and traditional craft hold important roles in the future of sustainable fashion.
LK: For me, sustainability in fashion is a change in our way of thinking. This includes using materials that have ‘finished’ their lifespan and recreating them with a new purpose and meaning. Recycling and reconstructing, plus using natural raw materials and zero-waste techniques are what motivates me today. I believe we must change our habits in order to save our planet – this also goes beyond fashion. Recycling garbage and using less energy while doing laundry, and more.
As a designer, I have to take responsibility for the garments I make and think about ways that I can still make incredible garments as well as protecting the environment and not following fashion trends but instead making clothes that we are really going to love and want. I believe sustainability is not a trend, and that it shouldn’t be only the next generation’s job to tackle the issues – I see it as our mission, now and for the future as well.
CRT: For me, designing sustainably means designing with a conscience with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of the fashion and textile industry. I believe that sustainability is not just a trend which designers can engage with to attract consumers, but instead that sustainability should be a lifetime commitment. It should be a part of every designer’s design process and should be considered in every stage throughout the supply chain. For me, any strategy that will reduce environmental impact would be considered sustainable, be it using natural materials, recycling textile waste or even using zero-waste technologies. Right now, in the early stages of my sustainable journey, I am committing to designing clothes that are made entirely from a combination of textile waste, off cuts, secondhand textiles and clothing, and end of rolls using the sustainable techniques of zero-waste, reconstruction and up-cycling.
How did being a part of the award program impact your perception of design and sustainability?
KM: Creating my EcoChic Design Award Collection has transformed my view of what up-cycling can achieve.
I attended a day of workshops put on by Redress during my Masters course where I became very inspired by all the different approaches to reusing waste.
I have previously struggled with the concept that sustainable fashion will always be seen as a luxury, partly due to the high cost of sustainable new materials. The fact that I got all my waste materials for this collection for free transformed my opinion that we can create a more affordable answer to sustainable fashion.
Seeing the diverse range of waste used by other finalists inspired me further and the week of the EcoChic Design Award grand final hugely broadened my mindset and horizons alongside meeting so many fantastic people.
LK: Being a part of the EcoChic Design Award made me more sensitive and caring to everything around me that affects the environment – now I’m recycling more than before in my personal life.
Sustainable fashion has become an integral part of me, and I have really noticed the change as I find myself looking at the left overs and coming up with ways to maximize the use of them!
CRT: The competition made me realize the negative impacts of the fashion industry on our environment and I find it very alarming to know that fashion is considered one of the most polluting industries. Before, I just designed and created clothing without being aware of the waste that I was creating. Now that I am more aware, I’m challenging myself to learn more about sustainability and to explore how I can personally help to reduce the negative impacts of the industry. The competition changed my perception a lot, not just my perception as a designer but also my perception as a consumer. As consumers, we should be mindful where and how our clothes are made. Aside from looking at the style we should also consider the impact of our choices to the environment. I think consumer education is necessary because if consumers are well informed it will be much easier for them to be convinced to be a part of a sustainable fashion movement.
There were so many components to this program including education, designing and challenges with partners. What parts of the experience did you enjoy the most?
KM: I really enjoyed all the design challenges throughout the grand final week, working with industry experts alongside like-minded finalists from around the world, and learning from each other was such a valuable experience.
In our first challenge, we repurposed Cathay Pacific airline uniforms into a marketable lifestyle product. I had not even considered the amount of uniforms that go to waste every year, it’s a side of fashion I hadn’t even thought about. It was so great to work with my team mate Ayako on this challenge as she had such original pattern cutting approaches.
LK: The EcoChic Design Award was one of the most effective experiences that I ever had. I can’t pinpoint one thing specifically that I enjoyed because I enjoyed it all – I learnt a lot and I wouldn’t change any of it!
But if I had to choose one of my highlights to share – I think one of the most interesting and exciting parts was being and working with all the other finalists together with each one bringing their ideas, background, skills, a lot of good energy and most of all fun throughout the challenges.
CRT: I enjoyed the designing component of the competition. Going through the process and experiencing it made me realize that making sustainable fashion is not hard and there is a lot options to transform waste into wonderful designs.
What were some interesting learnings coming out of this experience?
KM: I learned how easy it is to source luxury materials the industry considers waste, companies were really keen to get involved and I was doing them a favour by taking the materials off their hands. Within the first week I knew what I would be working with. Quality control is so high in industry, especially with yarn mills, the cones of yarn I received were a very slightly imperfect dye lot, but they were in perfect condition and the consumer would never be able to notice.
I also learned what is possible in six weeks- the tight time frame to develop, make and finish our collection. This was really good practice to resolve problems quickly and to prepare us to work under strict deadlines in industry.
LR: I learned a lot from this experience. I think that now I understand sustainable fashion much better. The movie “The True Cost” came to life in our trip to the TAL factory when I saw all the workers and the production process. Miele’s challenge taught me that even Haute Couture dresses can be found in the garbage, like the Christian Dior dress that we reconstructed – this has made the experience of looking in bins more exciting.
CRT: I learned that unless waste is cut out of fashion, we are all fashion victims (pun intended), because we are the ones who are suffering the negative impacts of the fashion industry. I also learn that in fashion there should be no waste – there are so many options and resources we can use to transform waste into wonderful creations. It takes just our creativity and commitment to cut waste out of fashion forever.
What are your future plans?
KM: After returning to Hong Kong to work with BYT I hope to continue to help change attitudes within the fashion industry and I plan to launch my own knitwear brand called CROP, all made from sustainable plant fibres.
LR: I’m looking forward to beginning my mentorship with Orsola de Castro, and to start working on my new sustainable brand.
I hope I will get the chance to have some cooperation with other designers to find a way to reduce the damage of the fashion industry and still produce beautiful garments that make people feel and look good.
CRT: After the EcoChic design award, I’m planning to push myself to build a brand which is 100% sustainable. Joining the competition, I find it really could be a possibility. There is so much textile waste waiting to be discovered and transformed. I am planning to launch the first collection of my brand before the end of 2017. I am trying my best to source textile waste. In the future, I am also planning to include accessories to my brand using textile waste and I am really excited to challenge myself with all the things that will increase environmental consciousness.
Learn more at the EcoChic Design Award.