What you need to know
Two young Taiwanese fashion designers share their experience in doing sustainable fashion.
Sustainable fashion is becoming a trend; brands like H&M, Zara and MUJI already have their own "eco" fashion collections and related design awards are being held annually around the world.
The EcoChic Design Award, organized by Hong Kong-based environmental NGO Redress, started out as a sustainable fashion design competition in Hong Kong six years ago. Since then, it has expanded to a competition cycle open to designers in Asia, Europe and the U.S. Winners have the chance to work with fashion brands on their sustainable collections and receive mentorship with prominent designers.
Taiwanese designers Hung Wei-yu (洪威宇) and Sung Yi-hsuan (宋怡萱), both 24, are among the 10 finalists in this year’s EcoChic Design Award. The News Lens spoke with the two young designers via Skype to learn about their experience in the industry and what inspired them to start creating sustainable fashion designs.
The News Lens: What sparked your interest in fashion and then onto sustainable fashion?
Hung Wei-yu: I studied fine arts through middle and high school. During that time I would always think about how fine arts could interact with people more or how it could be integrated into our daily lives. So then I started thinking about how to combine arts with product design. It just so happened I was involved with theater in high school and started doing costume design. This sparked my interest in the industry and so I went on to study fashion design at Fu Jen Catholic University (in Taipei).
I currently do branding for a cosmetics company in China and also freelance a bit. I used to work at a wedding dress company and was always thinking about ways to reuse the sample dresses. A friend of mine rents out kimonos, and he was telling me how they were unable to rent out the kimonos that had stains on them. This was when I came across The EcoChic Design Award and started thinking about whether there was a way to put all this into a new collection that the general public would like and wear.
Sung Yi-hsuan: In high school, I would read various fashion magazines and gradually developed an interest in the industry. And then I got into fashion design school at Shih Chien University.
I’m currently working as a womenswear design assistant in Zhejiang, China. When I was in college, I would always try to work with resources I already had to save the cost of materials. Being able to use these resources to design clothes gradually transformed into a sense of accomplishment for me, and I just kept doing this kind of work.
TNL: Is The EcoChic Design Awards 2017 your first time creating a sustainable fashion collection?
Sung: My final collection in college was made out of notes I had taken from kindergarten through college. Before that, I had made a collection out of the huge bag of rubber bands I had collected from eating so many bento boxes during college. This helped me save the cost of materials. So two collections: one made out of paper and the other with rubber bands.
Hung: Last year, I worked on a collection with some Taiwanese handicraft masters. We used the weaving techniques of Austronesian people to put together wasted tree bark with clothing.
TNL: What are the differences in designing sustainable fashion?
Sung: I didn’t really think about the practicality and functions of my designs when I was in college. I just did whatever I wanted to. But now, having some work experience and being in this competition, I have started to really think about whether or not I would wear a piece of clothing or if it can be worn at all.
Hung: The biggest challenge is the constraint on materials. It’s like trying to dance with handcuffs and shackles. We need to use a lot of our work experience to maintain the narrative and texture of the entire collection.
TNL: What are the techniques you’re using to create your EcoChic collection?
Sung: I’m modifying secondhand clothes. This saves the process of patterning and making samples, which means I can use more time and energy on reworking the material I have.
Hung: The material I’m working with is more complicated. So I’m using up-cycling to take apart wedding dresses and create a new fabric. Then I’m reconstructing and reinterpreting it.
TNL: Both of you are currently based in China; what led you to make that decision to live there?
Sung: When I was a senior in college, I had the opportunity to intern at the company I work for now. After working there for three months, I saw that China has many international fashion design events (like China Fashion Week in Beijing and Shanghai Fashion Week), more factories and very large markets. I thought I could gain more experience working here, from production to sales. Though Taiwan has a better starting salary and living conditions, the areas I get to explore working in China are different, so I chose to stay here.
Hung: It was a coincidence, I guess. I had presented my designs in some fashion weeks in China when I was in college, and from these experiences I saw that China’s fashion industry is thriving. It not only has a huge market but also the techniques and global connections. So, compared to Taiwan, a lot of times what we see in China is on a different level. It’s not that one place is better than the other, but in China there are more opportunities to see different perspectives.
TNL: Both of you received fashion design education in Taiwan and are currently based in China. From your observations and experience, what improvements could be made in Taiwan’s fashion design education?
Sung: Students often face an unaffordable material cost, so I believe schools can work more with the industry. Companies produce a lot of sample and inventory waste each year, and students can use these resources. Having such a platform would lighten the pressure students have when designing and they might come up with more creative ideas.
Hung: I agree with what Yi-hsuan is saying about more collaboration between schools and the industry. The fashion industry in Taiwan is at more of a disadvantage, I guess. For example, there are more opportunities in China to interact with large companies. From these interactions, designers can learn about new techniques, crafts and so on. The more you learn, the more distinct your thoughts will be. So there will be more opportunities if the schools have good relationships with the industry.
TNL: The two of you are still very young and just starting out in the fashion industry. What future plans do you have at the moment? Will you continue to work with sustainable fashion?
Sung: Sustainable fashion is becoming a trend. I think every brand will be heading in this direction — at least they will have a sustainable fashion collection. But creating an eco fashion brand requires a lot of thought, from the fabrication process to brand concept. So at this stage, I’m looking to accumulate more experience in the industry while continue to be involved with sustainable fashion.
Hung: I agree that sustainable fashion is becoming a trend. For example, H&M and MUJI both have a sustainable fashion line. I’m very interested in continuing to do eco fashion but creating a brand isn’t easy. I’m not ruling out any possibilities at this point but I think I need more experience in the industry. That being said, I will still probably add elements of sustainable fashion in future projects.
Check out The News Lens Radio's podcast with the founder and chair of Redress here.
Editor: Edward White