Green is the new black

| Jourdan Ma 19 Oct 2018

Dressing sustainably is a badge of honor for Christina Dean. Born in England and raised in South Africa, the founder of environmental NGO Redress used to be a dentist before cutting her teeth in journalism in Hong Kong.

Her parents are both dentists so dentistry was her safety net. But a two-year stint in London taught her that she was not cut out for the profession.

"I quit because I found it ridiculously stressful to rip out teeth," Dean said. "Everybody who came to you didn't want to be there. I would say I was almost petrified because I hated hurting people. My heart wasn't in it. That's why the stress was horrible."

In 2005, she moved to Hong Kong for a change. She started writing freelance for magazines and newspapers.

"I wrote about things I was interested in. I would pitch environmental stories. I did quite a lot of health as well. As an expat, you get put on the periphery of Hong Kong, but as a journalist, you are able to access the inner workings of the society."

She soon found that fashion was her true calling and founded Redress in 2007 to turn the wasteful industry around. She started with organizing small-scale fashion events and soon earned her stripes as a sustainable fashion pioneer.

Her partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development on a series of fashion shows, seminars and exhibitions in 2010 was a big breakthrough.

"I have become an expert by accident," she said. "Not knowing anything has been exactly what I needed. If I knew what I know now, I probably would not have done it because it is really difficult."

A gut instinct led her to go the extra mile, launching the EcoChic Design Award in 2011, now the Redress Design Award.

Since then it has been instrumental in nurturing eco-conscious designers through training, mentorship and collaboration opportunities with brands.

"Fashion is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Designers are probably the most influential part of the supply chain. They are loaded guns. It is critical to get them educated about sustainable fashion," Dean explained.

"It is a serious political, economic, social, cultural topic and no one should dispute that we need to have a more sustainable fashion industry. Anyone who disputes it is living on another planet."

Over the years she has stayed in touch with designers from different cycles, or Redress alumni. A quarter of them now have their own brands. "Our designers' success is also our success," she said.

A year and a half ago Redress started fashion brand The R Collective. "Over the years we have been waiting for brands to grow. We didn't see enough of them so we decided to do it ourselves," Dean said.

It sets out to reduce waste and give job opportunities to marginalized people and now its upcycled military jacket collection is stocked at Lane Crawford.

"We hope it is a demonstration of how fashion can be a force for good."

To lower her carbon footprint, Dean likes scouring second-hand stores or pop-ups for clothes made from recycled or upcycled material.

"Style is a much deeper thing than how much money you spend on your clothes. It is about who you are: your values, personality, aspirations and lifestyle."

She is passing down this ethos to her four kids. Her eldest son, 15, buys and sells vintage garments online. Her eight-month-old daughter wears clothes from a decade ago.

To give her husband's leather shoes a new lease on life, she recently dropped them off at a shop. "It cost HK$400 to get them repaired, but a new pair can cost about HK$4,000. My son can now fit into them," she said.

She cited Redress ambassadors Amber Valletta, Bonnie Chen and Cara G as her fashion icons. "They are incredibly stylish, high-profile women but they manage to have a very sustainable closet at the same time. For me beauty is about ethics."

Now Dean spends her time fund-raising, holding events and meeting key players in the fashion industry. "If you think about the dominance of the fashion industry, there is actually no end to the amount of people I could be sitting talking to," she said.

She hopes to make sustainable fashion go mainstream in China, "the backbone of the global fashion industry."

To recharge, she travels with her kids to places with limited internet access. They were in Mongolia last year and Cuba this year.

She hopes to visit her sister in Cape Town more frequently.

"As I get older, I am more conscious about resting," said the 40-year-old. "The job of a founder is to found an organization and let it run without you."

She constantly tries to improve herself. "I always want to be a better person. A good life, for me, is not going to a fine restaurant, but being excited by what I do in the day and feeling that it is worth being on the planet."

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