As many of you know, I had the fabulous opportunity to intern this summer at Redress, an NGO that promotes fashion sustainability. It was right up my alley, as I have been immersed in the secondhand clothing culture for a while now. Textile wastage is one of the biggest challenges our world faces today, posing a large environmental concern. The average American consumer, alone, discards 82 pounds of textile waste every year.
Christina Dean, founder and CEO of Redress, launched this NGO in 2007. I am here with Christina today, to discuss more about herself, Redress, and what we as consumers can do to help.
CL: You went from being dental surgeon to a CEO of an environmental NGO. Could you tell me more about this transition? Did you have any prior experience in managing others and initiating new projects/programs?
CD: My journey hasn’t been typical! I used to be a dentist, but I didn’t enjoy drilling and filling people’s teeth so I retrained as a journalist in London. Soon afterwards, I moved to Hong Kong in 2005. I then wrote for various publications, and one of my favourite topics was environmental issues. It was whilst researching China’s environmental crisis that I realized how much of this negative impact is caused by the fashion and textile industry. When I discovered that there weren’t many organisations trying to reduce the pollution from the fashion industry, I felt deeply moved to get involved. That’s why I started Redress in 2007, even though I didn’t have any experience in fashion or managing events — my passion and dedication were enough!
CL: Exciting projects in store for the future?
CD: Yes, we’re always hatching exciting plans. I’m most excited about our upcoming TV documentary, called Frontline Fashion, which follows 10 talented and brave designers from Asia and Europe who are determined to change the fashion industry for the better. It came out on 29 August on Fashion One and it will then be available on Itunes. We’re also releasing a consumer guide next year to help fashion lovers around the world with their quest for fashion in a more ethical way.
CL: How are your kids affected by your NGO? Do they buy some of their clothing from second-hand shops?
CD: My kids all wear secondhand clothes and have had the ‘reduce waste’ mantra drilled into them since they were in nappies! That said, my 6 year old daughter is a real fashionista; she loves experimenting with clothes (the results are way out there!) and because just about everyone I know gives us their old and unwanted clothes, her closet is always overflowing! My boys are pretty ‘cool’ and they typically like wearing certain brands, so I do occasionally treat them with new clothes. I don’t want my deeply held beliefs to dominate them completely.
CL: You had a personal goal of 365 days of recycled fashion. Can you talk about that? How hard was it? Do you recommend it?
CD: My 365 Challenge was a one-year challenge where I only wore dumped or donated secondhand clothes to highlight the environmental potential of keeping clothes out of landfills. I had access to a giant clothes recycling warehouse in Hong Kong, and every day, I wore a different outfit that had been recovered from the ‘bin’. On top of this, every month, I dressed according to a different theme. So I had 12 sustainable fashion themes, including repair, DIY fashion, laundry care and durability, to educate consumers about 12 tricks and techniques they can use on their own clothes to keep in the fashion loop for longer.
It was really successful, and many people really wanted to learn more about getting more mileage from their clothes. When I was finished, we invited people around the world to share their styling stories. It was contagious – more people wanted to have fun with their clothes with less shopping.
CL: What is the easiest thing a consumer of fashion can do to save the environment?
CD: Buy clothes from the heart. Remember, the fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry, so when you buy clothes, you are linked to a polluting industry that is killing the planet and people. So buy what you love, take care of it like a friend, and wear it for a long time so that you have style and sustainability in equal measures!