Sustainable fashion advocate, ex- dental surgeon and journalist, Dr Christina Dean founded Redress in 2007, Asia's first environmental NGO focused on the fashion industry. Fascinated by her work and many involvements, we asked Christina about how she started Redress, what she found challenging in the initial stages, what other projects she is working on and what she has in store for 2017.
Name: Dr Christina Dean
Your three favourite eco- friendly-labels: 1. Weleda deodorant, 2. The Hula - an online luxury secondhand shop and 3. Bicarbonate of soda for anything from cleaning clothes to dealing with smelly shoes.
Can you tell us a bit about your background - how did you come to live in Hong Kong and when?
I am a sustainable fashion advocate – I founded Redress; presented Frontline Fashion and co-authored ‘Dress [with] Sense’ – and I am passionate about environmental, health and development issues. I am an ex-dental surgeon and journalist and I have three kids, Jaspar 13, Luka 11 and Naomi 7. I first came to Hong Kong in 2005 with my family for an adventure – and the adventure that I ended up having was very different from what I expected!
What inspired the beginning of Redress?
I used to be a dentist – but I didn’t really enjoy dentistry; too much slicing and pricking people! So I re-trained as a journalist in London and when I moved to Hong Kong in 2005, I worked for a couple of years as a journalist for many magazines and I wrote about anything – from health, travel and the environment. And I kept on exploring the world trough the eyes of China and Asia. At that time traveling a lot in Asia, I was providing free dentistry for people living in rubbish dumps, slums and prisons, sometimes working with murderers, and I saw a lot of poverty, development issues and pollution that was affecting people all over Asia. The pollution really affected me; because pollution leads to massive health issues, which perpetuates poverty. Having originally grown up drenched in beautiful nature – I was raised in South Africa - I had never really had to question how difficult it would be to live in a place that is not so healthy. So as a journalist I started to investigate waste issues and realised how little was done to address it, and I was horrified by what I saw, particularly by the damage the fashion industry was causing, and so I needed to do something; so I started Redress.
What were some of the major challenges and/or surprises with starting the organisation in Hong Kong?
The beauty of what we do based in Hong Kong is that the 50% of the world’s population is within a 5 hour flight from Hong Kong. We’re in a great position to access and influence so many of the world’s population with insight into a more sustainable fashion industry. Asia already creates the clothes for the world; and it’s also the booming emerging market with more consumers joining the fashion cycle by the second. This means that our work – and that we provide our work in Chinese and soon we’re updating some work in Hindi and Arabic – means we are penetrating new markets with much needed information about how to design, produce, wear and dispose of clothes more sustainably.
What has Redress got in store for 2017?
We’re gearing up for the EcoChic Design Award 2017 Grand Final – the final of the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition in September 2017 and we’re working towards expanding our one off Frontline Fashion TV documentary (available on iTunes) into a TV series. And just next week, we are launching our book, Dress [with] Sense [Note: this interview was conducted in March so the book is now available for purchase online].
We are also launching a new up-cycled fashion brand, called BYT, which is a social impact business and sustainable fashion brand borne from Redress’ work. BYT’s first collection will be sold in Lane Crawford in September 2017, as well as on our own future e-comm platform. We really want to prove that fashion can be a force for good through using the fashion retail world – and business – to drive change. So exciting times!
Where do you want to see Redress go in the future?
We just want to keep growing and delivering our impact in a sustainable way!
What is something that still excites you about Hong Kong?
The people are willing to believe in you – if you have courage and conviction.
What quick advice can you give to someone who wants to be more fashion conscious?
A great quote I read yesterday in a taxi in New York really inspired me! “Fashion can be bought – but style you possess” by the late Iris Apfel. For me, style is about having ethics married with aesthetics. So if people want a more conscious approach to their closet – they need to spend some time digging around with their ethics and values; and then translate this into your style. Or put more simply – wear clothes that you LOVE, that you CARE for and show more KINDNESS to fashion; people are literally dying so that we can wear clothes. So make your fashion choices really count for you.
Images by Luke Casey