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Hong Kong fashion NGO’s documentary shows progress on sustainability

Did you know that fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world or that 293 tonnes of textiles are dumped each year in Hong Kong alone? These are just a few of the facts addressed in Frontline Fashion, a new documentary released by Hong Kong-based fashion NGO Redress.

“Tomorrow’s leaders have a new design palette; they are being creative and caring about their designs’ environmental impact. We wanted to tell this story because among all the fashion industry’s bad news there is positive change. We’ve seen this firsthand and this story needs to be told,” says Redress founder and board chair Christina Dean, who has a major role in the documentary.

Although the film had been fermenting in Dean’s mind for more than six years, it was a chance meeting with local producers Mustard that brought it to life. Filmed over a 10-day period during Redress’ annual EcoChic Design Award Competition, which also happens to be the world’s biggest sustainable fashion design competition, the film follows 10 young designers who are hoping to make a change not only in their own lives but the world at large.

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The film opens with these bright-eyed talents descending onto Hong Kong to take part in the competition, which is now in its sixth cycle. Some have never left their home countries before and their excitement is contagious.

The filmmakers shadow the group in the days leading up to the finals, as they embark on various design challenges and workshops including rummaging through discarded clothing at a warehouse in the New Territories, which they are then tasked with reconstructing into modern, wearable pieces. Later, they head across the border to Dongguan and go behind the scenes at TAL, one of China’s biggest shirt manufacturers and leaders in sustainable working practises.

“We wanted to illustrate what these passionate and talented designers go through to innovate as they put their ethical values on their sleeves during their journey, which starts at their homes as they create their competition collections, to when they come to Hong Kong to uncover their collections to the world,” says Dean.

The film comes to a climax as the designers send their final designs down the catwalks of Hong Kong Fashion Week before an international audience and team of judges including international blogger Susanna Lau (Susie Bubble) and sustainable designer and British-based advocate Orsola de Castro.

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“We want viewers to come away feeling inspired that there are positive changes happening in spite of the problems in the fashion industry and that we all have a part to play in this by being more conscious consumers. They watch this talented army of designers fight for something better and this leaves audiences wondering what their role is. It’s like a relay; our designers are handing over a virtual baton and viewers are left wondering how they can carry it forward,” says Dean.

After a successful debut in Hong Kong last week, Dean says there are plans to launch the film on iTunes as well as at various film festivals around the world (it is currently being screened in Europe). The film, however, is a small part of her ambitions to make Eco Chic even bigger and raise awareness about the importance of sustainable fashion.

“This is just the beginning. We have ambitious plans to expand this documentary format in our next cycle. We’ll need a lot more funding to get there, but experience has taught us that persistence and passion pays off – so watch out for more to come,” she says.