Christina Dean On The True Cost Of Fast Fashion

10 min read

Are you ready for some sartorially stunning facts? Hold on to your Louboutins, because when I say ‘stunning’, I mean stunning.

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, behind oil.

Wait, what?

Yup. And, there’s more;

  • 100 billion new virgin garments are created every year
  • 306 tonnes of textiles go into Hong Kong’s landfills every day, despite the fact that textiles are considered almost 100% recyclable
  • Every hour an estimate 15,000 garments are sent to landfills in Hong Kong, alone
  • It takes more than 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans

And just today, it was announced that CO2 emissions have reached record highs in 2017.

Don’t worry, it’s not all ‘doom and gloom’ because the uber-cool Dr Christina Dean (age 39) a dentist-turned-journalist-turned-social activist is determined to stamp out clothing waste worldwide, and to show us how we can play our part too.

Through her not-for-profit, Redress, this petite and fashion forward young mother of three (soon to be four) has been advocating for a more sustainable fashion industry for over a decade.

With her dogged determination and no-BS attitude, I’m convinced that her mission to put the kibosh on fast fashion will succeed.

Christina Dean Redress HK
We caught up with Christina Dean in Hong Kong at Redress’ offices

The moment which inspired Christina to revolutionise the fashion industry

What motivated Christina Dean to transform one of the world’s biggest industries? “When my pen hit paper as a journalist in 2006 and I wrote about China’s environmental crisis; as the world’s largest clothing and textile manufacturer, fashion’s effect on China has been crippling.” she explained.

“Later, it was during the filming of a documentary in 2012 called Cleaning Up Fashion’s Act that I literally again came face-to-face with the problems that consumers cause,” she says.

Standing in a Hong Kong dump surrounded by landfill rubbish, Christina witnessed truck after truck dump a fraction of the “estimated 307 tonnes of textile waste dumped every day in Hong Kong.”

“It really struck a nerve. This was the genesis of our work with consumers at Redress,” she explains.

Why Christina Dean wore discarded clothing for 365 days, straight 

One of Christina’s most powerful initiatives is her 365 Challenge.

For 365 days, she wore 100% dumped clothing. And not just any old clothes, these were handpicked directly from clothing bins by some of Hong Kong’s top stylists.

Every outfit was posted on Instagram and, to my surprise, none of them exhibit the characteristic hallmarks of ‘recycled’ and ‘eco-clothing’. With each effortlessly elegant look, she proves that wearing sustainable fashion doesn’t mean compromising on style.

The campaign’s message was loud and clear: ‘Redress it, don’t bin it.’

“What I realized as I picked through clothing bins is that, through very little effort, we can transform garments into something relevant for today. If this fundamental process is adopted by the fashion industry and each of us on a daily basis, we will be well on our way to reducing unnecessary waste,” she says.

Since then Christina and the Redress team published Dress [with] Sense, a practical guide to a conscious closet, created a two-season documentary, Frontline Fashion, built the world’s largest sustainable fashion competition, the EcoChic Design Award and launched an up-cycle fashion label, The R Collective.

We have honestly worked our balls off, it’s been really challenging but it means we are making an impact and that in itself is energising.

I sat down with Christina in Hong Kong (at four months pregnant) to chat about being nominated by Vogue as one of the U.K.’s top inspirational women, the game-changing blazer she found in a dumpster, and her controversial advice for entrepreneurs, they may not want to hear…

Christina Dean Hong Kong Redress
The finale of Christina Dean’s EcoChic Design Awards

You scoured clothing bins and wore second-hand clothing for a whole year – what was your best find? 

The real challenge was to decide what to wear because there was just so much amazing stuff! But if I had to, I’d say that my favorite find was an oversized blazer.

I was scouting bins with DIY fashion expert Geneva Vanderzeil. We discovered heaps of unfashionable, outdated, damaged, stained, filthy, broken garments but because they were made well with quality fabrics they had loads of potential.

Geneva was an expert at seeing beyond what was ultimately wrong with the garments and she came up with my favorite piece. It was a double-breasted, foul-looking, unflattering black, boxy jacket from the 80’s. She put her visionary creative spin on it by inserting beautiful cut-outs into the back – and transforming it into a really cool jacket. I still wear it today.

Christina Dean Ted Talk Hong Kong Redress
“Wearing sustainable fashion doesn’t mean compromising on style.” Christina Dean
Christina Dean Ted Talk
Christina Dean doing the 365 Challenge in Hong Kong
What a trail-blazer! 365 days later, what was the most illuminating aspect of the challenge?

The jacket summed it up for me: re-thinking creativity and re-thinking resources.

If you saw the jacket in a thrift shop in its original form, most people would look past it, but all it needed was a tiny bit of attention. It looks absolutely brilliant now. So much so that I was wearing it one day walking down a main street in Hong Kong. I turned around and spotted my husband walking behind me, checking me out! He had no idea it was me! It was quite funny – we often have a giggle about it.

So, with creativity and a bit of time you can up-cycle, up-value, re-create and transform waste into something really cool and beautiful. This jacket represents what the fashion industry needs to do. That is why our first R Collective fashion collection was partly inspired by this design.

Christina Dean Ted Talk Hong Kong
The blazer which inspired Christina Dean’s first R Collective fashion collection
What has been the high point of your career so far?

Right now! Redress’ 10-year anniversary marks the culmination of years of processing ideas, dreams and aspirations and I feel like everything is finally beginning to crystalise into concrete actions. It’s very satisfying, if not completely overwhelming. It’s demanded every sinew to work hard!

What was the biggest challenge you faced when setting up Redress?

Ten years ago, sustainability in the fashion industry was in its infancy so it was tough convincing people that it was a real issue – people just saw us as tree huggers.

Everybody knows that we’re screwed.

Now that the understanding of sustainability has matured so fundamentally and touches almost every part of our lives including key industries like food, agriculture, transport, I no longer need to convince anybody. Everybody knows that we’re screwed. Now, we can actually talk about solutions to this problem.

Vogue nominated you as one of the U.K.’s ‘Top 30 Inspirational Women’. What does being ‘inspirational’ mean to you?

Sometimes I feel a little bit embarrassed about that sort of accolade… but I think being truly inspirational is about being authentic and genuine and pursuing the truth. It’s easy to pretend to be inspirational – there are many inspirational speakers who I feel get up on stage and put on a performance. There are inspirational people all over the world who get absolutely zero recognition: you could have a shopkeeper who’s a true inspiration to the local community, for example. So you don’t have to be on stage to deserve that title or reputation.

Tell me more about The R Collective

The R Collective is a separate organization to Redress (I’m a Co-Founder). It is a social impact business which creates affordable, luxury, up-cycled fashion using luxury brands’ waste and designed by emerging sustainable fashion designers from around the world. 10 per cent of the profits go to Redress (when we ever cut a profit!) and the entire business model is structured so that we can achieve Redress’ environmental and social mission and prove that ‘fashion can be a force for good’.

We only take materials which are about to be landfilled, incinerated or truly wasted. So that’s material which brands can’t sell to secondary textile traders or which they haven’t got a use for in their own businesses and can’t store.

Is The R Collective appropriate for the office?

Yes! The first collection of The R Collective are up-cycled jackets made from luxury brands fabric waste, which were destined for landfill. They are timeless pieces with an edge – with their standout statement cut outs at the rear – and are perfect for stylish professional women who want limited edition pieces.

We created a capsule collection of seven classic jackets in different styles for Lane Crawford with the cut outs and interesting details. They are all timeless investment pieces that women can wear for a long, long, long, long time. We then created an exclusive The R Collective x Barneys collection of six classic styles, which just launched in Barneys Madison Avenue Flagship store and online.

Congratulations! What’s your favourite The R Collective piece?

I adore the black blazer with the cut out details at the back – I often wear it to work – it’s smart but not boring. You could pair it with a nice bra and a long skirt for dinner, or you could wear it with a shirt for a presentation. Then dress it down after work by putting it over a plain dress and add biker boots – cool.

Christina Brun Husband Hong Kong
The white R Collective cut out blazer, Christina Dean wears in black, above
Your new book, Dress [with] Sense is fantastic what are a few tips from the book we can all start implementing today?

You can make a huge impact by doing these four things:

  1. Buy less and buy better and make more responsible choices when hitting the shops – avoid poorly made garments and bad quality fabric. When you have to buy new, buy good quality and purchase from a sustainable label that uses organic, natural or recycled fibers. I shop by the mantra, “love it or leave it.” Also, don’t buy ‘on the fly’ in your lunch break.
  2. Wear your clothes creatively and rescue hidden treasures from the depths of your wardrobe, get handy with a sewing machine and repair those popped button, and buy second hand whenever you can.
  3. Care for your clothes by learning better more environmentally friendly ways to wash, like air drying your laundry.
  4. Dispose of your clothes by swapping, gifting, donating or recycling – anything but throwing them in the rubbish!
You are a staunch advocate of the wardrobe edit – why is this and where does one start?

Because most of us wear 20% of our clothes for 80% of the time – having too many clothes is a time sink. When we’re working long hours the last thing we want to do is to wake up the morning of a massive deadline or huge presentation and waste time (and anguish) deciding what to wear.

“You have to make your wardrobe work for you.”

Here’s what you need to do first in the all-important closet edit (which you MUST do at least once per year!)

  • Pile Up – put absolutely every piece of clothing you possibly own including shoes, belts, and bags into one room.
  • Set parameters – if you haven’t worn something in the last year or six months (it’s up to you) chuck it into the ‘To Deal With Pile’. You may be tempted to hold onto stuff that you never wear because you think “that was so expensive, I might wear it.” You won’t.
  • If you can hire a stylist to help you out, do it.
  • Analyze your ‘To Deal With Pile’; Create sub-piles of  ‘dirty/broken/shapeless/don’t fit/don’t like’ piles. Then you need to ‘Deal’ with them. So get cleaning, go to a tailor, get inspirations on styling. The pieces you no longer wear and don’t want to revive, but which are really good quality, can be disposed of sustainably by swapping them, selling them on Vestiaire Collective, offering them to friends or giving them to charity.
  • Create an ‘I wear this frequently’ pile. For the clothes you love and wear a lot, get styling and take an inventory of every possible outfit combination and photograph each one. For example, with a pink skirt I can create ten different looks by rotating through blouses, shirts and t-shirts.

Get organized by setting all your outfits out on Sunday

We need to be able to get dressed quickly in the morning with confidence that our clothes are going to work for us. So, once you’ve completed your closet edit and found new uses or parted ways with the so called 80% of our unworn closet, which essentially sit around doing jackshit, you can then know what you’ve got and plan. If you’re super busy, a good time-management skill is to physically set out all your outfits for the whole week on Sunday night so you don’t have to think about what to wear during the week! Only for the super organised, mind you!

Always be comfortable at work

We need to be comfortable when we’re working – we don’t want be giving a presentation and wondering if our boobs are going to fall out, so our clothes have to fit. We have to be able to get on with our lives and our clothes have to keep up with us. Make this your mantra when editing your wardrobe. And if something doesn’t fit, take it to the tailor.

Juggling three children and multiple organisations means you’ve got a fairly full plate. What tricks do you use to make the most efficient use of your time?

I’m constantly trying to make better use of my time. I’m reading a book at the moment which says that we should all value our time incredibly carefully. I’m very, very lucky because I love my job and I love looking after my kids. So that’s all I do; my life is very skewed towards working and family and travel, but I’m not very sociable at this stage of life. I don’t have a social life other than my kids and their activities.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

OK, the number one thing for entrepreneurs (and it’s very cheesy) is to believe in yourself and go for it. Ask yourself, “If somebody else can do it, why can’t I?”

My second piece of advice is to expect it to be much, much, much harder than you could ever dream. Whatever you think you want to do, it’s going to be a lot harder than you ever anticipate.

“Because the world is geared towards men being able to pursue their careers, if you have kids be prepared to get yourself some help and work long, strange hours in the middle of the night, when your kids are sleeping.”

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I used to be in the national swimmer. I competed in the 200m and 400m individual medley events.

How would your best friend describe you?

They call me crazy – I don’t know if it’s a compliment or not – and ambitious, determined, focused, ruthless. I’m actually quite ruthless.

Do you have any parting words?

Yes, I want to stress that I don’t have all the answers. I’m still learning constantly and changing my views and ideas, and evolving. It’s a good way to be.

You might also like Sustainable Fashion: The New Cool and Ethical Swimwear Is The New Black and Check out how Christina does in the Iris Lillian Quick-Fire Challenge.
If you want a blow-by-blow account of the 365 Challenge, check out Christina’s inspiring Ted Talk.

Christina Dean You Are What You Wear 2

1 Comment
  1. […] 3. BYT upcycled cut-out ivory blazer: 10 per cent of profits made by BYT go to Hong Kong charity Redress, which is working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Committed to being a ‘force for good’, they carry the ethos through their three pillars of product, people and practices to create beautiful designs that make a positive impact. You can read more about sustainable fashion and Redress founder Christina Dean here. […]

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