Green Queen recently sat down with Christina Dean, a sustainable fashion hero and the founder of charity Redress and The R Collective who is on a mission to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Dean has changed the landscape of fashion in Hong Kong, bringing sustainability to a market dominated by fast-fashion and defined by entrenched consumerism. The R Collective’s new collection dubbed “Start From Zero” proves that upcycled ethical clothing can be gorgeous, chic, trendy and upmarket. Below is our exclusive interview with Christina, discussing the brand’s new collection, the evolution of her zero-waste fashion projects, what it’s like being a woman leader, and what’s in store for the future of the industry.
The R Collective is a circular fashion brand that uses rescued textile waste, sourced from luxury brands, mills and manufacturers and upcycling these materials into elegant clothing pieces. Operating with the motto to “Rescue, Reuse, Reimagine” when making fashion in collaboration with sustainable designers, The R Collective was born out of Redress, an NGO that works on inspiring positive environmental change in one of the world’s most polluting industries.
GQ: It’s really great to be talking with you, Christina. Let’s get started: What inspired you to start your zero-waste projects, The R Collective and Redress?
CD: I was inspired to start The R Collective because accidentally and inadvertently, after 12 years of Redress, I had a real direct window into the problems, solutions and the partners that could make a fashion brand sustainable and profitable. I had been talking for a decade about how fashion can be a force for good and how sustainable fashion deserved its position on the rails. It hit me that in the absence of enough other brands doing it successfully, why didn’t we go out there to do it ourselves – to be the pioneering case example of how sustainable fashion could be done? It was a pretty scary thought, and I was really scared to start.
Another part of why I started The R Collective is also to raise money for Redress, with 25% of our profits going back there. Redress was started in response to shocking environmental data on water, soil and air pollution to do with the fashion industry. I was a journalist at the time, and had accidentally meandered through lots of research, upon the terrible impact of fashion. I looked at this and asked: “Is the fashion industry really worth the devastation it is causing?” And it was another question of why could it not be done better? To a certain extent, we all need to satisfy our desire for creativity, but it should not come at the cost of the planet.
GQ: What future innovations do you see in sustainable fashion? What’s the next level up from here?
CD: I think that the word “innovation” is being tossed around as much as “sustainability” – it’s just a word people use all the time. One of the solutions to sustainable fashion is not very innovative. It is literally using the resources that we already have. It’s about old fashioned, waste management. There is a lot of innovation that could then spring around this old fashioned concept that has been around for years, such as incorporating better waste management in business operations.
On the tech-side of innovation, there is a lot of technology that is ramping up in different parts of the business, whether it be the supply chain, logistics, management, recommerce, blockchain, transparency. The world is awash with tech – it’s great and going to be wonderful, but we need to find ways to scale these up. We have these resale sites, artificial intelligence to identify counterfeits in the luxury market, 3D digital sampling. All these little explosions of technology are brilliant, but we need to build it up, make it affordable and people have to use them more. Basically, applying some tech to a good old fashioned concept.
READ: Green Queen Heroes Interview with Christina Dean in 2015 on Redress
GQ: Outside of fashion, what do you think is the most urgent issues facing the planet you wish had more attention?
CD: I would say overconsumption. Whether that is food, consumer electronics or travel. I think that in many cities, overconsumption – especially of the wrong things – is the ultimate problem that is wreaking a lot of destruction upon our environment.
GQ: As a woman leader, what do you see are the key issues that young women and girls face today, and what advice would you give?
CD: I can’t really think of the main challenge that young women today might be talking about, but I think the key thing is this. The solution to many of our problems is to find something that you really enjoy doing. Even that can put a lot of pressure on people – the whole world is out there now for meaning, purpose and fulfilment – and we’re supposed to get all these buzzwords right. What I’m trying to say is, seek it, enjoy the process and you will find it. It might take a bit longer, and that is okay. I did 5 years at university training to become a dentist, 2 years in high-pressured private practice and hated it, then spent 2 years as a journalist, which I loved. And that became the launchpad for my passion today. It took me some time to get there, and required me to give up everything I knew and start something I had never done before. So the advice that I would give is: look for your passion, be committed to finding it, and be patient.
GQ: If you could pick one action that people could adopt in their daily lives, what would it be? What is the easiest thing someone can do if they want to adopt a more sustainable approach to fashion?
CD: Fall in love with your clothes and see your closet as an entry point to a beautiful, creative industry that can be a powerful force for good. It’s a mental switch – to see yourself as a fashion citizen. Don’t call yourself a fashion consumer – to say “to consume” in Latin means to destroy through use. Engage yourself, your mind and see yourself and your closet as a power for good. You’re not just a blip on a spreadsheet trying to generate GDP, you are a conscious, well-meaning, aspirational person. So let that rip into your wardrobe and have fun with it!
This will mean different things to different people too. For some, it will mean ditching shopping altogether. For others, it is to do clothes swap, buy better sustainable products. For some, it is to buy only sustainable lines in fast fashion brands. This is important – we all have a slightly different relationship with fashion, and it is okay. Wherever you are within the fashion industry, make your bit more sustainable. If you buy fast fashion, how do you make that more sustainable? Organise more swaps with your friends!
GQ: What is your ultimate/goal hope for R Collective?
CD: Ultimately, what The R Collective wants to do is to reduce waste by creating an upcycled beautiful product that satisfies a section of the market who do wish to shop and buy new clothes. Those are the people we are catering for: people that desire clothes and do want to consume new things, and we can satisfy their demands in a sustainable way. The success of The R Collective is also pegged to our impact. As a business, in addition to reducing waste and pollution, we want to raise money for the charity Redress.
GQ: Do you think a totally zero-waste fashion supply chain is possible?
CD: My quick answer is no. I think that zero-waste is a positive philosophy to live your life by, but it is very difficult, near impossible to achieve. Our new collection is called Start From Zero – it is our starting point to work towards zero-waste. I don’t believe in anything too militant – but we are working towards it. Setting yourself a challenge to reduce waste gets harder the better at it you become. But it’s fun once you start!
GQ: Team Rice or Team Noodles?
CD: I’m going to have to go with noodles!
Lead image courtesy of Vanda & The R Collective.