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Desire fuels spiralling fashion problems

 An abandoned garment factory in Phnom Penh is reclaimed by artists in a haunting exhibition that depicts the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. Photo credit Von Wong & Laura Francois, Clothing the Loop

An abandoned garment factory in Phnom Penh is reclaimed by artists in a haunting exhibition that depicts the impact of the fashion industry on the environment.
Photo credit Von Wong & Laura Francois, Clothing the Loop

Written by Tobey Chung, HK01

Can Hong Kong's cultural desert be transformed into a sustainable fashion oasis?

An abandoned garment factory in Phnom Penh is reclaimed by artists in a haunting exhibition that depicts the impact of the fashion industry on the environment.

Fashion – in essence – is the popular way of dressing among a particular group of people. By definition, it embodies cultural values as well as periodicity. I once heard that as a society becomes more and more culturally diverse, fashion trend cycles get shorter and shorter. It’s therefore ironic when we think about it – Hong Kong, infamous for its reputation as a cultural desert because of its lack of arts and cultural scene, has an

astonishingly short fashion cycle. According to the city’s latest waste statistics, Hong Kong discards approximately 125,195 tonnes of textiles per year[1] – that’s an equivalent of 16,908 garments going into our landfills every hour. What’s more shocking is that the average consumer now buys 60 per cent more clothing items per year and keeps them for about half as long as they did 15 years ago.[2] It turns out that Hong Kong’s attachment to clothing is comparable to its dwindling attention span in the Digital Age.

It is well known that the textile industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries. Production processes throughout its supply chain release large amounts of chemicals and greenhouse gases into our environment. What’s more, the rise of consumerism, and specifically fast fashion has led us into a crisis. Redress has spent more than a decade working to reduce textile waste in the fashion industry in a myriad of ways – inspiring designers to create fashion out of textile waste, promoting sustainable manufacturing, establishing clothing recycling programmes, as well as encouraging a secondhand clothing culture. All of Redress’ work promotes improvements along the fashion supply chain, while increasing environmental awareness among various stakeholders. It is unfortunate that for some, desire still takes precedence over environmental concerns.

Hong Kong is famed as a shoppers’ parade thanks to many global fashion brands vying to set up stores in the city, and with media constantly promoting consumption, it is natural for the general public to succumb to the temptation of buying. However, things must change. Hong Kong people need to have some self-control. For the sake of all our futures, we need to resist mainstream materialism and realise that shopping is not the only way to deal with daily stresses. When we take out our wallets at the cashdesk, evaluating whether it’s actually a need is a basic step to take. And instead of finding ways to store more and more things, why not first reconsider personal aesthetics and taste? We should consider the story behind each garment, including its production process. We show sympathy towards animal welfare; but clothing too has life – the production of each garment involves countless individuals. A spur of the moment purchase should not forget the workers who cash in their sweat to make our clothes. When we discard an item, are we not also ignoring the needs of those who are living in poverty?

There is hope - in Hong Kong and attitudes and outlooks are shifting. The multiple events taking place, the media and influencers, who are starting new conversations around ethical and environmental challenges and solutions available to us all are contributing to this awareness. object a first started working with Redress in 2017 for the ‘Get Redressed x Miele Clothing Drive’ - setting up collection points at the HK01 office and 01 space, as well as recruiting volunteers for the clothes sorting. As official digital media partner of the Redress Design Award 2018, we are thrilled to be part of this movement for change – and are bringing our readers with us. Global pollution is reaching critical levels, and along with consumers, this should serve as a wake-up call to the fashion industry – much of which operates out of Hong Kong. Could this be the start of a new cultural shift for fashion? My hope is on yes.

[1] Hong Kong SAR, Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (2018) Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong - Waste Statistics for 2016

[2] McKinsey & Company (2016), Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula

 object a, HK01 is a media partner of the Redress Design Award 2018


This article originally appeared in the Redress Design Award 2018 Magazine.

Hannah LaneHK01