Sustainable fashion isn’t just a trend; it’s the future. And Redress is leading the pack from right here in Asia with their Hong Kong-based brand that motivates designers from all over the world to weave sustainability into their collection. They do this through a fashion show that offers an exciting array of opportunities and rewards. This year, Maddie Williams took home the top prize, and we wanted to find out how she did it.
Earlier this month, environmental charity Redress presented the finale of The Redress Design Award 2019 (the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition), where British national Maddie Williams took home that to the top prize for her ability to apply up-cycling and reconstruction techniques to reclaimed textiles, yarns and secondhand clothing, weaving them into zero-waste pieces that she constructs into her garments.
The ninth cycle of the competition took place in Hong Kong on September 5th and attracted hundreds of applications from designers in 43 countries. The sheer volume of Redress’ work continues to cement Hong Kong’s leading position in driving sustainability in fashion. In conversation with the founder and chair of Redress, Christina Dean, it’s clear that her commitment to shaping a sustainable future for fashion in is unwavering. But that undertaking doesn’t seem to be echoed across the fashion industry in general. “The good news is that awareness is growing,” she told us. “The bad news is that this awareness is often all talk and no action.”
The heightened awareness of consumers, industries, and governments has been encouraging for Christina, but she still believes that the archaic nature of fashion’s linear supply chain—where we take, make, use and then dispose of fashion—is still very much the way fashion works today.
“Not enough change has happened,” she proclaimed. “Some reports suggest that to date only half of the global fashion industry has done anything to improve their sustainability. Talk about burying one’s head in the sand. For too long, those who have acted have been focused on making fashion ‘less bad’ when we need to turn our ambitions into making fashion ‘good’. If our house is on fire at the moment, most brands are simply sprinkling a few drops of water to quell the flames, when what we need are massive hoses and concerted new ways of doing.”
At least with the fashion industry, it can count on trends (or copycats). Conscious collections are starting to make their way into the mainstream, and if history repeats itself, this should be happening more often now that high fashion brands are taking a stance. Going beyond the supply chain, both Burberry and Gucci went so far as to stage carbon-neutral fashion shows this year and fashion giants like Kering, whom Burberry and Gucci are a part of, have signed a Fashion Pact aimed at aligning the fashion industry with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Which makes us wonder, could sustainability be copied in the same that styles are? Only time will tell, says Christina.
“Ethics and sustainability in fashion can be a domino effect—we saw that somewhat with fur in that when some brands took a stance, then many others followed. This new wave of carbon offsetting could spark a new ripple of brands—who have the finances to do it—jumping suit.”
She adds that it also introduces a new expectation for business to cough up and deal with climate impact.
Sparked by the buzz surrounding the competition in Asia, we reached out to Maddie Williams, the winner of the Redress Design Award 2019, and picked her brain on the abs and flows of designing with sustainability at the forefront of design. This is what’s driving young designers…
GITNB: Congratulations on the win, Maddie. Aside from winning the competition, what were some of the standout moments for you throughout the entire process, from conception to runway?
I entered the competition initially so that I could have an excuse to make some of my own work and express some creativity which I felt had been stifled a bit at work. So it was a real privilege to be able to spend one to two months focusing on designing and making this collection.
Of course, the trip to Hong Kong was amazing. I really hadn’t travelled that much and have never been to Asia before so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to visit and experience what a vibrant place Hong Kong is. However, for me, the best thing has been the people. The whole Redress team has also been so incredibly organised and supportive. Logistically I have no idea how they managed it while still being lovely and making sure the finalists were all looked after.
Similarly, my fellow finalists were all incredible; we all bonded so quickly which made the slightly hectic and surreal final week much easier and more joyful. It was great getting to spend time with a group of designers and being able to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for conscious fashion—I learnt so much from them.
When it comes to creating a conscious collection, where does inspiration for individual pieces come from? Do you first start with designs like in traditional fashion or assess your materials and go from there?
I usually start with doing research and developing a concept or a narrative that I want to inspire the work. I will then develop the silhouettes and textiles simultaneously, so each will influence the other. Using reclaimed materials encourages you to think differently, and perhaps more creatively about how you handle fabrics. My colour palettes, for example, are usually dictated by the colours of the reclaimed materials I have to hand.
Can you give us a breakdown of the up-cycling and reconstruction techniques that you used in this collection?
For this collection, I was predominantly using reclaimed post-consumer textile waste from a charity shop in London. I also used some carpet yarn that was rescued from a carpet factory that was closing down in Devon, and I used some deadstock fabric from a tailor in London.
One method I used was to dismantle some of the old clothing and cut out new flat patterns from the fabric. I then screen printed on this to create uniformity across the many different textiles used.
All of the black print on used in the collection was made using reclaimed ink from the shared studio I was printing in—I encouraged fellow members to leave their waste ink slops in a bucket rather than chuck it away, and I was able to turn this into a useable black ink.
I also tried shredding the old clothes into strips and combining this with the carpet yarn to weave new textiles.
As a result of the win, you have a collaboration coming up with REVERB. Can you tell us about it and the identifiers that will make it stand out amongst the rest?
I really can’t reveal much. We’ve only just started discussing the collaboration so it’s all new and fresh and ideas are just forming. I will be trying to keep the design exciting and humorous but with a strong ethical and environmental message.
What challenges do you foresee with taking your catwalk collection commercial and how are you preparing for that?
I often design things that are quite over the top—almost like a costume—so I think it will be difficult for me to tone this down into something more commercial. I also use a lot of handcrafted techniques in my work, so this will also be a challenge to upscale. But I think I’ll get great support and guidance while I’m there, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot from the REVERB team.