It’s not every day that emerging fashion designers are recognised as being influencers, let alone solutions, in the war on reducing textile waste. But this is gradually what is happening as emerging designers increasingly buckle up for their long sustainability road – or battle – ahead. Their sketchbooks act as their swords; their needles are their knives; and the armor of this small-but-seedy and growing wave of designers is their enthusiasm, excitement and their ethics.
Design decisions account for 80-90% of a product’s economic & environmental costs, therefore educating designers is key
This is at the center of the EcoChic Design Award
Designers are increasingly recognized for their significant power to reduce the environmental impact of their products. Research indicates that ‘Decisions made in design are responsible for 80 to 90 percent of a product’s environmental and economic costs’1 and another states that ‘Designers have privileged access to the production process since they are responsible for specifying up to 70 percent of subsequent material and production processes in any given project’.
Therefore, educating emerging fashion designers to design with the environment in mind – and specifically encouraging them to reduce and re-use textile waste – has been at the center of our work through The EcoChic Design Award (www.ecochicdesignaward.com). This is a sustainable fashion design competition in which we educate emerging designers about how to turn textile waste into want through sustainable design techniques and through sourcing textile waste.
And the good news is that the hard work is paying off, with five competition cycles now under our belt (click on the screenshot right to watch the fifth year anniversary video). There is now an army of sustainable designers from around Asia and Europe who are closing microscopic loops on the mammoth issue of textile waste.
China’s market for recycling secondhand clothes has a potential revenue of RMB60 bn
In China the total annual production of pre and post-consumer textile waste is estimated to be around 26 million tonnes. The market for the recycling of secondhand clothes has huge potential; the maximum revenue could be as high as 60 billion RMB.3 But far from being daunted by the scale of the world’s textile waste issues, these young designers see textile waste as an opportunity and are sourcing it as if it were going out of fashion, which as we know, it is not.
This new army of designers is putting textile waste back into fashion through innovative thinking and design. From their studios in Berlin to Beijing, they are creating sustainable brands and collections using textile waste in all its forms, including sourcing cut-and-sew waste, damaged fabrics and factory surplus to discarded clothing samples and over-runs and, secondhand clothes. They are then using the sustainable design techniques of zero waste, up-cycling and reconstruction to put waste back into fashion. For more on these techniques and others see here.
They are catching the attention not only from a swathe of celebrities who are increasingly stepping out in sustainable style, but also of the fashion world. These young designers and their textile-waste-made brands are collecting columns, covers and TV coverage as they go, from China Vogue to The New York Times as the front row of the worlds’ fashion leaders twitter and tweet about this new vision for sustainable design.
It’s encouraging to see The EcoChic Design Award platform storm through the minds of emerging designers, and through waste. We’ve essentially created a competition that acts as a platform to reduce textile waste and encourage closed-loop thinking.
“In our current competition cycle, we’ve partnered with over 60 top fashion institutions in Asia & Europe…”
Firstly, we educate. In our current competition cycle, we’ve partnered with over 60 top fashion institutions in Asia and Europe; we give lectures to some and educate others through our Fashion Academies; and our online Learn platform inspires legions around the world. We then create a competitive arena to drive their innovation and their nerves. As each nine-month competition cycle comes to its finale, we bring 10 finalists to Hong Kong Fashion Week in their attempt to bag the first prize. Here, we partner with a top fashion brand who works with each cycle’s winner on a sustainable collection – created using textile waste of course – for the brand’s global retail. Two of our winners will design up-cycled collections using Shanghai Tang’s obsolete textile waste stock for Shanghai Tang’s upcoming global retail, and five of our previous winners have already designed Recycled Collections by Esprit made using recycled fabrics, which were created by recycling Esprit’s own cut and sew waste.
“…we also recognise the scope for more ‘closing the loop’ activities…”
We are now entering our competition’s Fifth Year Anniversary and whilst we celebrate our successes, we also recognise the scope for more ‘closing the loop’ activities in this area. We’re seeing interest in up-cycling grow from fashion institutions from Milan to Mumbai as the world of fashion increasingly realises that it’s time to put waste back into fashion.
1 Graedel et al, 1995
3 China Association of Resource Comprehensive Utilization, 2013
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