Redress Design Award 2018 | Tess Whitfort

Australia Takes Centre Stage for Emerging Sustainable Design

Melburnian Tess Whitfort has won the Redress Design Award in Hong Kong, reports Vogue’s sustainability editor Clare Press

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Zero waste patterns. Bark lace using waste from the wooden furniture industry. A rain coat pieced together from broken umbrellas. And a skirt patch-worked from old socks. Fabric formed from silk off-cut waste. Thread deadstock (try saying that, fast, after three martinis). Swatch scraps and even bits of unwanted silicon.

These were some of the surprising innovations shown at the Redress Design Awards in Hong Kong last week. I was delighted to join the international judging panel charged with picking the winners.

 

Eleven Emerging Designers

Eleven emerging designers from around the world competed, presenting their upcycled, sustainable collections. The competition culminated in a runway show staged during the Fashion Summit Hong Kong and the city’s Centre Stage trade show. There, everyone was talking about sustainability, which is big news in the region—thanks to the opening of a major new clothes recycling facility by the H&M Foundation and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel. 

But if we’re going to tackle fashion’s waste problem, we need creative solutions at the start of the process as well as the end. Design is key. Redress, a Hong Kong-based NGO, encourages the next generation of fashion creators to design for circularity.

“I’m pleased to see the growing number of creative talents from around the world who realise that they have the power to make a positive difference to the environment through their designs and through textile waste innovations,” said Roger Lee, a Redress judge, and the CEO of TAL Group (a shirting manufacturer that counts the likes of Brooks Brothers and Burberry as clients).

Our fellow judges were Fashion Revolution’s co-founder Orsola de Castro, Hong Kong designer Johanna Ho and stylist Denise Ho.

 

Finding Solutions through Design

Each entrant impressed for different reasons, be it the Kingston University alumnus Jesse Lee—he of the socks skirt and umbrella coat—who took out the second prize. Or Spanish designer Lucia Alcaina, who employed Fujimoto pleating (an origami folding technique) in her zero waste patterns.

We loved the beauty of Melissa Villevieille’s pieces, but what about her use of recycled polyester? Micro-fibres are top of mind right now. How can we stop them shedding? What is the industry doing to keep them out of the oceans? Japan-based Sarah Jane Fergusson was awarded a special prize for her refined collection upcycled from old kimonos. But in the end, we all agreed that Australian Tess Whitfort ticked the most eco-innovation boxes.

“Her amazing zero waste technique blew our minds. Brava!” says de Castro, who for many years ran her own upcycled label, From Somewhere. “Design should be about finding solutions.

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Tess Whitfort

Whitfort graduated from Box Hill Institute last year and interned at Harlow. She has the problem solver’s brain. “I always loved puzzles as a child, I was weirdly good at them,” she says. “Sustainable fashion is vital for the environment; it’s something we all need to focus on. But it also appeals to me because it’s problem solving that requires deep thinking.”

Her work seeks to eliminate textile waste from the outset, incorporating complicated zero waste patterns that utilise every centimetre of cloth. Said cloth, in this case, was mostly organic linen (end of rolls) printed with eco-friendly Permaset inks. Punk trims were sourced from scrap metal and hardware store waste.

“Like most people, I am utterly horrified by the state of the environment and what we’ve done, as a species, to our earth,” says Whitfort. “But also, I used to worry that fashion was a little superficial. Purely focusing on aesthetics feels like missing something. Sustainability gives it more meaning. I feel like I have a mission now.”

Next up? Whitfort will design a capsule collection for Redress-backed brand The R Collective.

Clare Press presents a podcast on sustainable fashion. Listen to Wardrobe Crisis here.