The 2015 EcoChic Design Award Finalists Have Turned Upcycling into Art
Upcycling Collides with High Fashion at Hong Kong Fashion Week

The 2015 EcoChicDesign Award has 10 finalists — 5 eco-designers from Asia and 5 from Europe. From the outside, EcoChicDesign might look like just another high-fashion show, but there’s an important distinction that makes all the difference: all of these inspiring and inventive outfits are created through upcycling waste materials and assuring minimal textile waste. It’s the creation of sustainable fashion without the negative environmental impact that the fashion industry is infamous for.

Who’s behind the EcoChicDesign Awards? ReDress is an NGO promoting environmental sustainability and upcycle fashion in the fashion industry by reducing textile waste, pollution, water and energy consumption. The awards are a culmination of all their efforts in educating and inspiring young fashion designers and students to create mainstream clothing that is environmentally conscious.

From its Hong Kong roots, the NGO has spread throughout Asia and Europe, with their latest zero waste and upcycling competition being held in 2015. Below you can take a look at these international designers and their upcycled creations.

Patrycja Guzik hails from Poland, where her Fashion Degree from the Cracow School of Art and Fashion Design has served her well in her career as a stylist and graphic designer. But there’s something more to her upcycled and reconstructed fashion design.

She lets her additional Philosophy and Sociology degree strongly affect her design by deconstructing the saying ‘Heaven as a place on Earth’. Inspired by this phrase, she began hand-weaving damaged textiles and applying unraveled second-hand garments to create a thick, tufted jacket and trousers with a powerful aesthetic

“To me sustainable fashion means living in balance. We need to slow down consumption and stop creating new, new, new. We need to change our thinking around clothes and more designers need to show consumers that we are able to make beautiful clothes using old clothes and damaged textiles.”

Although still just a young Fashion Design student at Central Saint Martins in the UK, Danish national Sara Kiani has already got a bright future in fashion. It’s no wonder she got chosen to intern for the likes of Christian Louboutin, Hillier Bartley and Craig Green.

Her EcoChic design was inspired by simplicity and the powerful versatility of white sheets. In a rather eccentric move, she trawled the hotels of London, acquiring bed sheets and duvet covers to use for her zero-waste, upcycled design.

“I became deeply shocked at having followed the big environmental and social issues caused by the fashion industry and for a moment I was demotivated and had doubts about the career I am now pursuing. But I realised that I can turn my career around for something better and help contribute solutions to the billions of tonnes of textile waste that we have created. I want to be proud of my job, not ashamed. Previous generations have left a lot for us to clean up and I want to be a part of changing the future of fashion.”

Sara Kiani isn’t the only Central Saint Martins’ student chosen to participate in the EcoChicDesign Awards; Annie Mackinnon is a UK born Fashion Design student who combined second-hand and end-of-roll textiles with her upcycling and zero waste techniques.

Inspired by artist Henri Matisse’s ‘The Cut-Outs’ and his cutout technique, she began applying the process and reintegrating scraps from luxury garments into her collage-like outfit.

“I am against the stigma that sustainable garments need to be plain, practical or simple. To me, sustainable design means making informed choices and developing more environmentally-friendly means to express creativity, minimising waste and increasing recycling. Growing up in a family that works in conservation, I’ve always felt that environmental protection is a priority that I need to integrate fully into my work. I want to be a sustainable fashion designer to raise awareness and change the way people think about consumption and waste and I want to develop alternatives to an industry that is primarily based on ephemeral trends and mass production.”

Although a Brit from birth, it’s the ESMOD Berlin University of Art for Fashion that Amy Ward considers her ‘Fashion Design Dojo’. After attaining a Master’s degree in Sustainability in Fashion, she returned to the UK where she gained a degree in Fashion and Textile Design from the University of West England. Having a strong resume at such a young age made her prime interning material for the likes of BS8 Bristol, Katcha Bilek and Elvis Ellis.

With second-hand garments and surplus textiles (sourced from friends and local flea markets) she created her homage to the artwork of Sui Jianguo, a contemporary Chinese artist who uses pop references to create vibrant and colorful modern works with a retro culture twist.

“I want to make sustainable fashion accessible to everyone. I want it to be fun and engaging and not critical. Sustainability needs to be considered across the entire supply chain, from fibre growth to manufacturing, to the way the user interacts with the garment and all the way to its end-of-life and its potential for re-use. I want to be part of the new revolution of designers who rethink the process of fashion design and who have a genuine and positive impact.”

Wang Di might be just a student at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, but this designer from Mainland China has already interned for Claudia Li and will soon complete her degree in Fashion Design.

For this upcycled design, she was inspired by traditional Chinese philosophy and the interconnection of the four seasons. By upcycling discarded textiles, sourced from her university’s studios, she’s proven her concept that everything has a purpose and nothing should be wasted.

“Growing up and working in our hugely waste-generating fashion industry has made me develop a habit of utilisation ever since I was young. Plus my concept of equality and love for all makes me shoulder this responsibility even more. So now, designing sustainable fashion and facing these waste challenges not only feels like the right thing to do, but it has also boosted my design sensitivities even further.”

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Although he already had a Social Work degree from the City University of Hong Kong under his belt, Hong Kong resident Tsang Fan Yu began pursuing his passion by studying Fashion Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His talent became apparent soon after, when ‘Hong Kong Young Fashion Designers’ awarded him with the Best Accessories Design Award in 2015.

For EcoChic, he created a zero waste outfit that leans heavily on Zen philosophy: finding a harmonious balance between nature and human life. For the creation of this outfit he sourced surplus textiles, organic hemp blends and even organic pineapple textiles from Hong Kong, Mainland China and the Phillippines.

“I believe in the Zen philosophy and so I respect the balance between natural and human lives. When the Zen philosophy is combined with sustainable fashion, the concept and design style all enhance the quality and reflection of the product. This helps to maintain sustainable fashion in simple and high-end styles, much like wabi-sabi, which is the aesthetic that accepts and celebrates imperfection. As a fashion designer I believe less is more.”

Central Saint Martins in the UK is a staple university in the Fashion Industry, and it is also where Mainland China national Pan Wen completed her Fashion Design degree. After this, she interned for big names such as McQ by Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane.

Inspired by the contrasts she witnessed between the luxurious lives of British nobility and the often brutal leisurely activity of hunting, she created an upcycled outfit from second-hand materials sourced in Mainland China.

“I love nature and it pains me to see people endlessly emitting industrial waste for the pursuit of superficial vanity and harming animals and plants in the process. I have always felt that there must be ways to balance one’s needs with the burden we put on our earth. I want to keep exploring this balance through sustainable fashion design, a field which I am passionate about, and spark a deeper reflection through my work.”

Hong Kong national Esther Lui turned to the United Kingdom for her study in Fashion Design, completing her degree from Nottingham Trent University before returning back to her home country. There she works as a fashion design assistant at a Hong Kong bridal wear design house.

Now, inspired by the Chinese heroine Mulan and her reputation as being strong with a gentle heart, she has created this upcycled outfit.

“As a designer witnessing our earth’s resources diminishing and the increasing amount of textile waste discarded day-by-day, I’ve become very motivated to utilise every piece of textile waste into my creations. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to give a new life to previously discarded textiles.”

After successfully attaining her Master’s degree in Textiles from the UK’s Royal College of Art, Thai Belle Benyasarn returned to Thailand where she completed another degree, this time for Design and Architecture at Chulalongkorn University. After interning at Faustine Steinmetz, Nishiyama Silk and Tamiya Raden, she brings us this upcycled outfit.

The material? Surplus textiles and leathers from Thailand. The technique? Creating something new from something old through hand-weaving.

“To me sustainable fashion is about the social and environmental standards in the fashion industry. As a designer I believe it is my responsibility to understand the long-term effects of the products I make. We typically learn so much about designing and making, but we rarely think about the impacts we cause through our production and about what happens after we have sold our designs. I want to be part of the new generation of designers who raise the standards in the fashion industry.”

Although an Italian national, artist Cora Maria Bellotto is currently working as a freelance fashion designer in Spain, after working with brands such as DINN! and Capucci. With a Master’s degree in Fashion Design from the Domus Academy and a Fashion and Textile Design degree from the New Academy of Fine Arts in Italy, she was an ideal choice for EcoChic.

She found this particular piece inspired by heartbreak, love and the potential for new love stories in life. Upcycling and reconstruction techniques applied to second-hand wedding dresses, production offcuts and bed sheets, created her EcoChic style.

“As a designer, I feel some kind of responsibility for what I do. It’s like I am designing my ideal future world. I love it when the creativity comes from the constraints of something already in existence or damaged. Over the last few years, I’ve been investigating secondhand clothing and textiles and trying to figure out ways to give them a new life.”

Check out the photoshoot for 2015’s EcoChic awards in the video below and see zero waste fashion in action!

Originally published at thesquirrelz.com on January 7, 2016.

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