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By Kate Springer | December 7th, 2015

Founder of Redress — an NGO that promotes environmental sustainability in the fashion industry — Christina Dean is out to reduce textile waste, pollution, water and energy consumption by addressing the fashion supply chain. Here’s what she has to say about how we are all involved in the issue.

A little background

Christina has a diverse background: first she was a dentist, then she retrained as a journalist, and later made her mark as an environmental activist. While working as a freelance journalist in Hong Kong, Christina investigated the impact made by China’s fashion industry, which is the garment and textile manufacturer to the world. Upon learning about its profound effect on the environment, she launched Redress in 2007. She also runs the annual EcoChic Design Award, which showcases the creative sustainable creations of young designers. Mark your calendar for the 2015-2016 show coming up on January 20.

EcoChic Design Award 2013
A look from the EcoChic Design Awards in 2013

5 things you need to know, according to Christina

1. The fashion industry is actually pretty ugly
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, after oil, and it plays a horrific role in causing environmental pollution and social issues. These problems are continuing around the world and unless we raise awareness of these complex issues and the solutions to industry and consumers, we are looking at a huge crisis in the future.

2. China is the biggest offender
In China, 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment, according to The World Bank. In China, 26 million tons of textile waste originating from industry and consumers is thought to be generated every year, according to China Association of Resource Comprehensive Utilization, 2013. Closer to our home, an average of 217 tons of textiles were estimated to enter Hong Kong’s landfills every day in 2011, according to Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department.

Friends of the Earth Textile sorting factory. Photo: Luke Casey
Friends of the Earth textile sorting factory. Photo: Luke Casey

3. The waste is caused by two main factors
Firstly, production waste. It’s estimated that 15 percent of textiles intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor, so this does not make it into the garment. The better alternative for this type of waste is to up-cycle this waste back into fashion products. Secondly, consumer waste. There has been a 60 percent increase in fashion consumption in the last 10 years, with 150 billion new garments thought to be produced ever year. The rise in fast fashion has meant that in recent years designers, manufacturers and retailers have gone into overdrive to satisfy this consumer appetite, so much so that people are buying items of clothing with as much thought as a Big Mac.

4. And shoppers aren’t exactly innocent
Consumers are chucking huge amounts of clothes away. In Hong Kong, around 12,000 garments enter our landfills every hour. But when you consider that recycling textiles is the second most important material to recycle from an environmental perspective, after aluminium, and that textiles are considered to be almost 100 percent recyclable, then this consumer waste story is completely insane. The best way forward is to buy less, buy better and to care more for what we have.

5. But people are smartening up…
Sustainable fashion is gradually moving into the mainstream consciousness, from designers to consumers. Consumers are really waking up to the impact caused by the fashion industry. It’s like their ethical buttons have finally been pressed. They are looking to consume more sustainable clothing, be this on the high street, which is now littered with small, sustainable collections, or through supporting local emerging designers or wearing secondhand clothes.

And looking to the future?

I am hopeful that the future of the sustainable fashion industry will be much more focused on waste reduction and recycling. We will also see more recycling of textiles because we may be faced with increased and uncertain costs associated with virgin materials and natural resource prices.

This will place a higher business incentive to drive better recycling. Increasingly, fashion courses will need to grow their capability to incorporate sustainable design education into curriculum in order to plant a widespread vision for a more sustainable fashion industry among those who, ultimately, are tomorrow’s industry.