Tête-à-tête: Christina Dean
Hey remember that time you decided to pack it in as a dentist and save the world? Wait . . . what the?!
Meet Christina Dean, the Founder and Chair of Redress – the NGO with a mission to reduce waste in the fashion industry – and Co-Founder and CEO of The R Collective – the social impact upcycled fashion brand*, that debuted at Barneys New York and Lane Crawford.
More than ten years ago, Christina had a series of life-changing events that saw her switch from being a practicing dentist ("Ultimately I hated pulling teeth!") to retraining as a journalist. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Hong Kong and started writing about environmental issues, while simultaneously giving her passport a good old hammering, travelling to various remote parts of Asia.
"I was so saddened by what I saw across all of Asia," Christina said. "I once cycled from Hong Kong to Vietnam, passing through the hellhole of manufacturing. It is nothing short of devastating. And China's environmental pollution - most of which comes from the fashion and textile industry - is catastrophic. The impact this has on communities is almost unimaginable.
"It was the horrible depredation that gave me the balls to set up Redress, and dive head-on into the complicated world of trying to make the fashion industry more sustainable,” she said.
And dive in, she did!
Join me on my tête-à-tête with Christina . . .
Christina on REDRESS
What are the main goals of Redress?
Redress educates and inspires industry and consumers that there is a more sustainable and less polluting way to design, produce and wear clothes.
We don’t point fingers, yet instead we explore and invite people to create and enjoy clothes in a more considered and sustainable way.
Ultimately, we are promoting the circular economy so as to reduce waste and drive more efficient use of resources up the supply chain and into consumers’ closets. Our pure ideological goal is to make fashion ‘good’, yet more realistically we are probably just making fashion less ‘bad’.
What have been your biggest Redress achievements to date?
I’m really proud of The Redress Design Award, which is the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition for emerging fashion designers - which we've now made into a TV documentary series, called Frontline Fashion.
I’m also pretty chuffed about the consumer book that I co-authored, Dress [with] Sense, (pictured above) which has proved to be a great success. In fact, a new Korean version of it has just been released in Korea!
How can consumers support Redress?
Consumers can support Redress by being curious about sustainable fashion and by getting their heads and bodies around sustainable and ethical fashion. That’s our mission – to invite more people to enjoy fashion in ways that will allow us to shop our way into a better future.
On a more practical tone, consumers can buy our book, follow our social media accounts to spread the word, and they can – of course – donate to help us! We are a charity, so we work very hard for our funds, and donations really do help us to drive this big mission forwards.
Christina on The fashion industry
How does transparency in the supply chain result in superior, more ethical designs, fabrics?
Transparency is a foundational value that underpins all efforts for a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry. If you don’t know what’s going on in the supply chain – from the very basics of knowing who’s making the clothes or manufacturing and supplying the textiles – then it’s difficult to make changes.
Transparency is also about accountability; if we turn a blind eye to what’s going on in the supply chain, then bad practices will continue. Without transparency, it’s like squinting through a filthy window to try to see the view outside. We need to clean the windows to see the real view so as to raise up good practices and banish bad practices.
Which designers are leading the charge in the area of fairer supply chains?
The good news is that there has been an explosion in designers who are integrating ethics into their supply chains, so it’s hard to pinpoint just a few.
Designers and brands that I value for their social stance in the supply chain include the likes of Honest By, Korra, Maisha Concept and Carcel.
And who is ahead of the game with recyclable/reused fabrics?
Likewise, we are seeing a vast increase in brands and designers who are reducing waste in fashion through sourcing waste or recycled fabrics, from all walks of fashion life, from the big luxury players, the independents, the start ups and to the fast fashion brands.
Personally, I’m most excited about the pipeline of upcycling* brands and designers that Redress is cultivating, from the number of brands that have cropped up by alumni designers from The Redress Design Award.
Some of our alumni upcycling brands based in Asia include Angus Tsui, Classics Anew, Mikan by Clémentine Sadnery and Pat Guzik.
I’m also super proud of The R Collective, the upcycling brand that Redress ‘gave birth to’ that upcycles luxury brands’ waste and which has been retailed in Lane Crawford and Barneys New York.
The R Collective collaborates with award-winning emerging sustainable designers to rescue surplus luxury materials and transforms these into beautiful, enduring upcycled designer collections using innovative sustainable design techniques, socially respectful supply chains and brave business practices. I.e. fashion and environmental genius!
Which countries are the biggest pioneers for ethically produced fashion?
The lion’s share of fashion production happens in Asia, which is the manufacturing hinterland for the world. Within Asia, there are many exemplary sustainable and ethical practices, from big manufacturers in China to small social enterprises in Sri Lanka, so it’s hard to pinpoint one mega leader.
As well as this, many ethical brands like to produce locally – to reduce the carbon impact from shipping and also to generate local employment – so increasingly there are ethical supply chains cropping up anywhere from NYC to Sydney from people’s sittings rooms to larger factories.
How are they doing this?
Some of the big manufacturing players are making their mega factories more sustainable by investing in cleaner water processes, more energy efficient machinery, and textile waste recycling facilities.
Whilst these processes don’t scream ‘ethical or sustainable’, the significant investment that the fat cats are doing within their big businesses - and I am talking about those factories that can make over 100K pieces per day - do have a big positive impact at their scale. So it’s exciting, even though their efforts may not be so visible to the consumer.
Other examples of ethical supply chains may include working more closely with the craftsmen and women to provide regular and fair employment with consistent contracts or working with artisans and craftspeople to drive small businesses. So there’s many different ways.
Does sustainable fashion makes good business sense?
Yes! At a corporate level, a sustainably-minded fashion brand makes much more sense than the opposite, which would be hammering a business likes there’s no tomorrow!
There’s a lot of evidence that sustainably-run businesses have better returns and profitability, so it obviously makes sense at the corporate level to manage a company with a longer-term view of the world.
At the product level, creating more sustainably-made fashion is also a must for brands.
It’s like the carrot and stick analogy to make the donkey walk. The carrot is the consumer. Consumers – particularly millennials – have much greater demands from fashion companies, when it comes to brands’ practices and there’s a lot of evidence that suggests consumers will actively seek out sustainable brands and reject unethical practices.
The stick, in this example, is the realities of the world. We have a growing population with increased competition for land for food and greater competition for natural resources and meanwhile we have gradual tightening from governments on social and environmental performances from brands and their suppliers.
So if the lack of natural resources – and the spikes in prices for raw materials – doesn’t catch business leaders out, then legislation will, one day, beat it’s tough head down.
Which designers initially led the industry - and how far have we come since?
The early days for sustainable fashion, so about 13 years ago, were led by the early pioneers. I’d call these the very ethical and conscious activist type designer and whilst their sentiments were spot on, often the movement was considered rather tree-hugger-ish.
The ethics of the clothes somehow became more important than the design. Now, we have the opposite. We have a strong consensus that the design must be forward-thinking, appealing, and really ‘mainstream’ and then the sustainability is integrated into the design.
Crystal-ball-gazing . . . what will the industry look like in ten years time?
Much more diverse. We will see the rise of more independent brands and a less homongenised mainstream industry that is currently dominated by the big players.
We will see sustainability and ethics being expected within fashion, and consumers will increasingly vote with their dollar and the cloth on their back.
We asked Christina The 12
Electric city of Hong Kong and the leafy village outside London
Define your personal style in three words
Comfortable, personal, powerful
Words to live by
Don't leave home without your courage and conviction
What is your favourite aspect of your work?
Three people you want at your dinner party and why
Stella McCartney - to ask about how to succeed in the business of fashion; Mother Theresa - to ask how to remain compassionate; My Granny from the dead - to ask what is in the afterlife
Depends on the time of the day! Black coffee in the morning. Espresso mid afternoon. Occasional red wine in the evenings.
Favourite movie or book
Life is Beautiful
Three things always found in your hand bag
Currently my lipstick and a breast pad (not iPad!)
When you're not working, we'll find you . . .
Being the conductor of a large and complicated family of four kids
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO IMPROVE THEIR PERSONAL STYLE?
Have a good look in the mirror - going to the inside - to dig around on who you really are and how you want the world to see you.
Warning: you may need a therapist!
AS well as being the Founder and Chair of Redress and Co-Founder and CEO of The R Collective, Christina is a regular contributing columnist to numerous publications today, including Huffington Post, and is widely quoted in the Vogues, ELLEs and The New York Times.
She was listed as one of the UK’s ‘Top 30 Inspirational Women’ by British Vogue, is a wife and a mother of four wonderful kids!
Through Redress and The R Collective, as well as her work as an author, columnist and television host, this incredible woman dedicates her life to promoting sustainable fashion and reducing waste in the fashion industry.
Without pioneers like Christina, the art of mindful consumerism and the industry's push towards sustainable fashion simply wouldn't be where it is today. She is an inspiration and a conqueror, and we at JoLorenz.com are proud to be working with her.
Christina Dean, we salute you!
* Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.