Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sustainable Fashion Profile: Esther Lui

Redress is getting ready to launch a new search for this year's young talented sustainable fashion designers. Normally, they'd be gearing up for the Grand Final of the Eco Chic Design Award this month, but they've changed the timing of the cycle so that the Grand Final will take place in September/October to coincide with HKTDC's CENTRESTAGE activities. This year's cycle has expanded to now include up and coming designers from all countries in Asia, Europe and the USA. Designer applications are due in April.

In the meantime, Redress continues to work on some exciting projects.  Most recently, they released their first documentary entitled Frontline Fashion, documenting the last cycle of finalists and their journey to the Grand Final. I was able to preview a copy to write a review which you can read here.

They're also authoring a consumer guide to a conscious closet called Dress with Sense due to be released in March this year. You can pre-order a copy now from Amazon. I can't wait to read it.

But, in the meantime, I was able to interview Esther Lui, one of 2015/16's finalists, to find out what she's been up to since the show wrapped up last year. Esther represented Hong Kong in the Grand Final, and I particularly liked how she incorporated care labels to develop her collection. Care labels are often just cut out and discarded, so I was pleased to see her make them an integral part of her designs.

Can you share a little of your background? How did you get interested in fashion?
I studied fashion design in HKDI and NTU. The first year in HKDI, I had no idea about fashion. Then, when I studied my second year in HKDI, I was inspired by Dior haute couture fashion show 2007 by John Galliano. I started to find my way in fashion. Then I started to work for a wedding brand as an assistant and that helped me to build up my passion in fashion. The first time that I learned Eco Fashion and the weaving techniques was in my third year at HKDI. I put the weaving and textile wastes together for my graduation fashion show. I was so glad that I was chosen to be one of the finalists, even though I didn't win the prize. At that time I realized that in my collection there was a shortage of commercial elements. Luckily, I learnt more about commercial design skill after I started to study in NTU. The knowledge that I learned from the college helped me to compose my collection for ECDA. During the several years I spent working for a wedding brand, I created my first sustainable couture dress. I enjoyed the experience immensely. I then hoped I could develop more in this way in the future.

What hopes do you have for the future of the fashion industry?
Last time, we went to visit an Eco- friendly factory in Dongguan through the Redress Forum. I was quite surprised that their recycling system is quite good. I very much appreciated the fact that the factory makes the greatest effort to recycle their textile wastes, although it cost them a lot. If we all contribute a little effort, then it could do a lot to help save our planet. Therefore, I hope there will be more factories producing Eco friendly products. I hope it could be a trend for the fashion industry.

I really loved your idea to use care labels in your designs for the ECDA. How did you come up with that idea? What was your vision?
It all started when I saw the waste from a clothing label vendor. I took some of the unwanted labels home and weaved them into a fabric. During the weaving process, I was reminded of the legend of Mulan, a woman warrior who was known for being strong on the outside but had a gentle heart. The concept for collection was then born.
In my final collection, I applied the up-cycling design technique using surplus textiles and discarded clothing labels, which I sourced from garment manufacturing factories in Hong Kong. I also applied traditional hand-weaving techniques and 3D cutting technology in my work.

How did you learn about the sustainable fashion movement and how has it shaped your practice?
I first heard about sustainable fashion design through Redress at the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI). I debuted my first sustainable collection for my graduation project, where I recycled textile waste from several garment factories to make my collection. I now put more thought into recycling and reducing waste through various fabric cutting techniques.
As a designer witnessing our earth’s resources rapidly diminishing and the increasing amount of textile waste discarded day-by-day, I’ve become very motivated to utilise every piece of textile in my creations. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to give a new life to previously discarded textiles.

What have you been doing since the ECDA Grand Final? What are your plans for the future?
I am starting a collection of gowns in which I am using textile labels as the fabric  Why gowns? It is because I worked for a wedding brand for 5 years and I found that I really love to make gowns! Besides, I want to use the textile waste to make couture dresses because I think it seems like turning trash into gold for me.

Thanks again Redress for facilitating this interview with Esther Lui and thank you for all the great stuff you do to move the fashion industry towards a more sustainable future.

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