Inspiring people: Christina Dean

Christina Dean: founder of Redress, an NGO which focusses on minimising waste in the fashion industry

“You are what you wear”. This is how Christina Dean, founder of Redress, started her stimulating TED Talk. She’s the perfect inspiration we all need when we start to think that we can’t do that much to change the state of things. After working as a qualified dentist for many years, she decided to retrain as a journalist and moved to Hong Kong with her family. It was there, while writing about the best haircut in town or her sex life, that she realised the unacceptable amount of textile waste that was being dumped in Chinese landfills. Just so you have an idea, around 2014 they estimated that 10.000 garments were disposed every hour in Hong Kong City. It’s not like this only happens in China, but in developing countries as this one it’s more present in people’s lives, more obvious, as landfills are all around. “And it was there, at the landfill, where I realised that whatever the fashion industry does to try to make our clothes a little bit less polluting, it is absolutely nothing if us as consumers buy so many clothes and chuck so many clothes away.”

This is how in 2007 Redress started, an NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Christina was highly affected when she heard Anna Wintour once say on a documentary that “fashion is a reflection of our times”, and she was determined to change what she felt was a very terrible time. Redress aims to enhance, educate and enable the adoption of a more sustainable fashion industry that helps to minimise the negative and maximise the positive impacts of the fashion industry on society and the environment. Collectively, Redress collaborates with a wide range of stakeholders, including fashion designers, textile and garment manufacturers, brands and retailers, schools and universities, private sector organisations, multilateral organisations, governments, NGOs, media organisations and consumers.

Amongst other initiatives, they launched in 2011 the EcoChic Design Award, a sustainable fashion design competition inspiring emerging fashion designers and students to create mainstream clothing with minimal textile waste.

In 2013, after 6 years of hard work with Redress, Christina didn’t just settle for that and decided to start “The 365 Challenge”, which consisted on only wearing 100% dumped and discarded secondhand clothes to promote the ‘Redress it, don’t bin it’ concept. The challenge was split into 12 monthly sustainable fashion themes, including capsule wardrobe, durability, repair, DIY or sustainable laundry care, in order to showcase 365 inspiring ways to keep clothing waste out of landfill and in the fashion loop.

On her “Conscious chatter” with Kestrel Jenkins, she tackles some very important issues as how, on an industrial scale, recycling post-consuming clothing waste is still in need of a lot of research, design and technology (and, of course, investments). “As a global world, we have done a good job on arising awareness about metal recycling, paper recycling, glass recycling (…). We need the textile component of our waste to catch-up with the rest of our awareness.” But what will companies then do with all this waste? This brings us back to the horrifying amount of textile the Western World is dumping on other developing countries. And once we’ve gotten to this point, it’s inevitable to address the issue on the lack of quality of such a large amount of the garments we nowadays consume. “Increasingly more and more mainstream consumers have had enough of clothes that don’t last. (…) They’re just kind of annoyed that you go in some sort of shops and you spend X,Y or Z on a garment but after one, two or three washes it’s not the garment you bought anymore.” So this is a call to all those creative minds out there willing to contribute to a very positive and necessary change: the opportunity is huge as the fashion industry will not go on turning a blind eye to the enormous possibilities that come with recycling all those existing fibers. To confirm this idea we find companies such as H&M offering an annual 1-million-euro prize for new techniques to recycle clothes. Surely many other projects as this one will start to appear, as “clothing fiber is worth much, much, much more than paper as a recyclable”.

Go on and listen to the podcast where they also talk about clothes sharing; the lack of space in contemporary dwellings and how this is related to a different consumer paradigm; the value of vintage or reselling your garments; “Dress [with] sense”, the book just recently published by Redress; or “Frontline Fashion”, a documentary following 10 talented Asian and European emerging fashion designers determined to change the future of fashion.

We hope to have been able to pass on to you readers at least some of the reasons for which Christina Dean is such an inspiring person. Although awareness is the first step, it’s not all about learning the terrible facts that surround us nowadays in relation to fashion waste, environmental impact or bad consuming habits. Projects as the ones she’s leading with the amazing group that constitute Redress are a boost of creative energy for all of us to get our minds working on how we can contribute to an attractive future for the fashion industry and beyond.