Originally from the United Kingdom, Christina Dean pursued careers as both a journalist and a dentist before making her way to Hong Kong in the mid-2000s. She established Redress, a nonprofit organisation focused on sustainable fashion, in 2007. And in the 16 years since, Redress has made significant strides in the industry: the organisation successfully launched a secondhand fashion store supplied by its city-wide clothing take-back programmes, initiated the Redress Design Award, and introduced the R Collective, a fashion brand dedicated to upcycling with textile waste.
Receiving applications from designers in over 40 countries, the Redress Design Award, which concluded its 13th cycle in 2023, is the largest sustainable fashion design competition in the world. The award offers opportunities to collaborate with sponsors such as VF Corporation and Timberland, among other partners that support Dean’s vision.
Through these initiatives, Dean has crafted an ecosystem for sustainable fashion that aims to showcase the possibilities for circular practices. Retail in Asia travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam, joining the Redress team for one of the final challenges of the Redress Design Award.
Here, we speak with Redress and the R Collective founder and CEO, Christina Dean, on her organisation’s journey and path forward.
RiA: Tell us how you arrived at Redress’ mission and why you chose to focus on sustainable fashion.
Christina Dean: On a bad day you can think that there are many problems – and indeed we are plagued by many problems. The purpose of focusing on clothing is that we are all consumers, wearers, makers of the product. Therefore we are also linked to the industry – and that is at its most functional level. On an emotional, aspirational, intellectual perspective, wearing clothes can be, for a lot of people, a true reflection of themselves, their values, aesthetics, their portrayal of selves to the world.
I have always thought, and continue to think, that in all of us is a person who wants to do the right thing. I think that fashion can be a way to do the right thing. By dressing in a way that shows who you are as an individual and your values, we can transform supply chains and sustainable development goals. The beauty of fashion is that it’s more than a second skin, it’s more than a functional layer to protect our privacy – it’s actually a way to show who we are.
RiA: Many start-ups begin with a mission, and at times that mission evolves after encountering both the challenges and opportunities. How has your mission at Redress evolved since you founded the organisation in 2007?
Dean: We’ve had three missions since 2007. The first mission was to promote sustainable fashion, and then the problem with that eventually was understanding how we define, measure, and sell that vision. The term ‘sustainable fashion’ has lost its lustre because no one knows what it means anymore. That was the first change in our mission, two years since starting Redress – from promoting sustainable fashion to reducing waste in the fashion industry. The reasons we made the change was a) sustainable fashion became too confusing, and b) waste reduction is so obvious.
To reduce waste benefits everyone, whether you’re a designer, manufacturer, mill, or customer. Equally as important is its effectiveness. We are in a crisis, and we’ve got to act fast. Reducing waste and finding solutions to waste need to happen quickly.
Because we’re a Hong Kong-based, Asia-focused nonprofit, we are working within the Asian region primarily, which will continue to have a textile waste crisis. Since I founded Redress, you could argue that much of the waste was industry-generated, but now with emerging markets, it is consumer waste as well. We’ve recently adapted our mission one more time, which is to promote the transition to a circular economy through educating designers and consumers.
RiA: You have built a kind of ecosystem, first with Redress as a nonprofit organisation, followed by the Redress Design Award as an educational platform for emerging designers, and finally the R Collective as an upcycled fashion brand. Can you share how these separate concepts work toward a single vision?
Dean: There is a master plan here, which is to create an ecosystem of change. However, I didn’t mastermind this in 2007. When you build a start-up, you think it is going to be [plan] A, and then it goes on to [plan] B, C, D… I am on [plan] G now.
Particularly in sustainable fashion, you have to keep moving, because nothing is straightforward or simple. I started the R Collective because I saw that the nonprofit could do only a certain amount of educational and advocacy work. It is an enormous undertaking because there is no end to it. At the same time, what I had witnessed is that the industry had an enormous excess of materials we call waste. But it’s not waste, it’s resources. I saw that Redress was not going to be able to work with industry groups as it is a charity. But there is also a huge opportunity to work with brands and mills, and I started the R Collective to become an industry partner to co-solve challenges on waste with for-profit businesses.
The R Collective also collaborates with the Redress Design Award – not just with the winners, but with other designers. The thing about sustainable fashion is that you need to keep evolving because the solutions are complicated.
To make a circular economy work, all the pieces in the puzzle need to come together at the same time – and all the players need to be lined up and ready to go. The vision with this ecosystem is that we are building all of those partners and players at the same time.
RiA: What are some key milestones or achievements at Redress?
Dean: The Redress Design Award development, which is really thanks to Create Hong Kong’s support. We are on our 13th cycle now and we have been able to see how our winning designers have made an impact on the industry. Starting our takeback programme, secondhand store, and pop-ups have also been very successful because we have been able to invite more Hong Kong public to be involved. If you ask me what the milestones are, I think it’s the fact that we are still here. Even if we have been around for some time now, I still think we are just getting started. The problems and solutions are so complex that it takes a very long time to get to a solution, build on that solution, and make that solution have impact.
We can only do what we do because of our partners. Working, for example, with a world-leading company with global influence such as Timberland and VF Corporation, for us as a relatively small team that means our work has greater impact. The power of partnerships helps us get our work out there.
RiA: What’s next for you?
Dean: With the R Collective, we are closing our first fundraising round, and that first round is very hard to get. That’s a big catapult into the business so we can invest in the places we need. At Redress, we have a three-year strategic plan that we are now putting in place. I am also very excited about developing our board. All organisations need a good board, and the more mature I get about running these organisations, the more I see the true value of having a board involved.