We all know someone like my friend Grace. She’s fair and focused and her actions are laden with her genuine personal values in which honesty, kindness and generally ‘doing the right thing’ rule supreme, even after a slog of a week, bad PMT or if her boss or boyfriend (or both) are getting her down. She’s insightful about most things - from the healthiest food, fashion to fitness and she’s always got something to say about feminism - and this all makes her so damned attractive (on the inside and outside) that people can’t help but be drawn to her - perhaps hoping that her original and authentic personality is contagious and that some of it will rub off on us. Quite honestly, we’d all like to be more like Grace.
It’s not everyday that you have an ethical fashion and style epiphany whilst standing on top of a filthy Hong Kong landfill watching a queue of rubbish trucks dump their trash out. But this happened to me. This unlikely, and somewhat smelly, moment gave me such a seismic wake up call about my relationship with my clothes and how much rubbish I created that my entire appreciation of fashion was whiplashed into radical change. In that moment, with countless birds flying afoot and swooping down to eat scraps, I became an ethical fashion consumer and I committed to only wearing secondhand, vintage, upcycled or recycled clothes for the rest of my days. I have never looked back, or looked or felt better, since.
When it comes to writing about fashion, I’m probably not your typical columnist. I’m an ex-dentist (I’ve drilled and filled my way through London’s well-heeled Harley Street jet setters before moving to Hong Kong 11 years ago) and an ex-journalist (I’ve written about anything from the state of my sex life at eight months of pregnancy to how to spend the entire weekend naked in Tokyo). When not authoring carnally focussed articles, I’ve also written extensively about environmental matters; from China’s rampant environmental crisis to the appalling eco-footprint that the fashion and textile industry is tramping across the planet. Naturally, it was this line of journalism that led me 10 years ago to start Redress, a Hong Kong-based NGO with a mission to reduce waste in the fashion industry. I’ve never looked back.
I’ve just recovered from my December’s whistle-stop travel schedule. This saw me brave the snow as New York’s twinkling Christmas lights winked at Christmas shoppers; cut through Hong Kong’s haze whilst being lured by exuberant mall displays that look more Hollywood than Hong Kong: to cozying up by warm pub fires in Britain oldest villages, where short days and long nights put you in the festive spirit. And I assure you; the party season is here. From the city to the country, whether you’re in the mood for it or not, the world is calling out for celebrations, from office parties, Christmas, New Year’s eve, family occasions to Chinese New Year.
No one knows the true scale of ‘deadstock’ clothing waste — in other words, clothes that are unable to be sold at full or discounted price and must be gotten rid of somehow.
We know that around 100 billion garments are manufactured annually. Let’s say the sell-through rate (both full and discounted) is a generous 90%, then potentially 10 million items of clothing become ‘deadstock’ every year. That’s a lot of clothes to miraculously make ‘disappear.’ So what do brands and retailers claim to do with the products they can’t get customers to buy?