Interview: Hong Kong finalists for the 2016 EcoChic Awards Fan Yu Tsang and Esther Lui

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The Hong Kong finalists for this year’s EcoChic Design Awards, Fan Yu Tsang and Esther Lui, talk to Kaitlin McPhee about their collections, as well as their views on creating a sustainable future in the fashion industry 

We live in a city that is, unfortunately, at times, defined by shopping. The ebb and flow of our daily lives is constantly bombarded with sales, sales and more sales alongside the latest season must-haves. Sometimes we’re left with a pair of eyes that are glazed over as we stare at a shop window. We can’t even exit an MTR station in peace without glimpsing a pair of shoes we’d like from across the street. Behind all the glamour, gltiz and dazzle, however, is the dark side of excessive consumerism, which amounts to 253 tons of textile waste sent to Hong Kong’s landfills each day, according to Redress, a local NGO which is on a mission to promote sustainability and social responsibility in the fashion industry.

One way that Redress is trying to raise awareness of how much is wasted and what we can do about it is with its EcoChic Design Awards, a competition that encourages the creation of eco-friendly fashion by minimising textile waste. The annual event, which has expanded across Asia and Europe over the past five years, involves a roster of emerging fashion designers and students from both continents who are first educated on the negative environmental impacts of today’s fashion industry and are then provided with tools to source textiles and design collections in line with the concepts of zero-waste, upcycling and reconstruction.

This year’s competition is fierce and the 10 finalists have each created a six-piece minimal waste collection to showcase in the finale on January 20 as part of the HKTDC’s seasonal Fashion Week at the HKCEC. The grand prize is a coveted opportunity to design a sustainable capsule collection for Shanghai Tang. Our hopefuls in the SAR are Esther Lui, a design assistant at a bridalwear house, and Fan Yu Tsang, a student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who is beginning to learn about the female form in all its glory. They both sit down with Time Out to talk about their collections and the actual feasibility of eco-fashion...

Congrats on making it to the top 10! What were the inspirations behind your collections?
Fan Yu Tsang: I am influenced by Japanese culture and I want to emphasise that in my designs. In my research, I read many books about Japanese philosophy and elements of zen that I am very familiar with in my life, and I found an interesting concept of ‘wabi-sabi’, which emphasises a very subtle mood and simplicity that I want to bring to my collections. So that was the starting point of my menswear collection for the Young Designer’s Competition [which he won earlier this year] and now I am using that concept for my first womenswear collection. I named my collection San, which means Mr and Mrs.

Esther Lui: Before EcoChic I had no interest in eco-fashion because I thought it would be really hard to make beautiful clothes from rubbish. But then I was inspired by how designers could use textile waste to design new clothes, and I started testing different textiles and drawing sketches to see what works. I thought ‘maybe I can make something a little bit crazy’, so I made my designs in 3D form.

How would you describe the aesthetics of your six-piece sustainable collection?
FYT: I like floating and flat designs. I always concentrate on pants and I also used wraps instead of buttons. They are flexible, loose and flowing. It’s very Japanese.
EL: To describe it in one sentence, it’s meant to let people ‘find themselves!’ I don’t want people to feel embarrassed or nervous when they wear my clothes.

Where did you source your materials for your collection?
EL: My collection started by accident when my mum brought home some unneeded care labels from her factory. I began sewing them together. From there, I started sourcing labels from vendors who had them as surplus and were not going to use them.
FYT: I used organic pineapple textiles that came from Manila. I actually went to an international event called FITE (the International Festival of Extraordinary Textiles) in Manila to find these textiles. I thought they would be good for sustainable design. I focused on minimal cutting for low waste and I also used the remaining rolls of scrap fabrics from the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar. (See timeout.com.hk for our article on the bazaar from Issue 195).

What was the biggest challenge that you came across during this whole process? 
FYT:
It was very difficult for me to understand the body of a woman! A woman’s body is very three-dimensional and it was a good opportunity for me to explore womenswear. But knowing about the body and the silhouette isn’t enough. I had to think about what being a woman actually means,
how they think and whether or
not they would like the clothes that I’m designing. 

EL: For me, the biggest challenge was money! But it was a good challenge. When you take money out of the picture you will think in other ways to get what you want. Another challenge was thinking whether people would accept my design because it doesn’t follow trends. Eco-fashion is all types of different fashions all in together. But I didn’t let this affect my creations.

Has working in this competition influenced how you think about designing clothing in terms of creating sustainable collections in the future?
EL:
I am already starting to re-use some fabrics from my old collections [points to a mannequin that’s dressed in strips of textiles that have been sewn together]. I have a lot of valuable textiles that I don’t want to waste. At my work at the bridal design house, I started to collect the textile waste and I noticed there were pieces of satin and fabrics that were of good quality that I can use again inmy creations.
FYT: This competition has made me think about what’s ‘necessary’. It’s meaningful to think about using only what is ‘necessary’. I will continue to research and use
zero-waste cutting techniques in the future.

Do you think there are common misconceptions about sustainability, in that people think it limits the quality and aesthetic of the clothing?
FYT:
Yes. Some people think that sustainable means ‘use less’, instead of thinking ‘use what is necessary’.
EL: I think more people are accepting this concept in Hong Kong, though. If we, as designers, can modify old clothes to make new clothes, people will be more accepting of eco-fashion and won’t think of it as secondhand clothing.

What are you hoping to come out of this competition?
FYT:
For me, it is not only about the prize because I am very concerned about the future of fashion design and the creative industries in Hong Kong. This is a very unique opportunity for fashion designers because local designers have few opportunities to ever collaborate with an international enterprise. In Hong Kong, we don’t have a comprehensive system of mentor-mentee relationships. We have the chance for internships to follow designers but it’s rare to get production line experience. 
EL: It’s great if Shanghai Tang or another brand supports me. But, if not, I will still continue to design with sustainability in mind because, right now, eco-fashion is a big trend. I am not really expecting anything. I just want to enjoy the show and I hope my fellow competitors have also been enjoying the process.

EcoChic Design Awards Wed Jan 20, HKCEC. Live streaming of the event takes place on redress.com.hk

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