At the heart of Sham Shui Po, the reinvigorated neighbourhood in Hong Kong, stands the environmental NGO Redress. Through passion and persistence, Founder Christina Dean has dedicated herself to transforming textile waste and inspiring positive change in the fashion industry since 2007.
We spoke to Christina on her journey building Redress, how she overcame biases and her message to young women.
I think having more business leaders who are female across all parts of our world economy is really important. Having more voices, particularly those from women in the sustainability field, brings different colour palettes and different sets of criteria and considerations to many challenges.
I founded Redress after a career in dentistry and journalism. It was through those two previous careers that I got the belly. The passion for my work in sustainable fashion came from the research and writing about fashion's negative environmental impacts on the planet and on people's health.
The connection between those two careers really gave me the drive to start Redress, which has a mission to reduce waste in the fashion industry. My journey through Redress has been a rollercoaster, as all journeys in one's career tend to be. Starting with a belly full of passion and the belly full of fury, I had to learn everything on the job and become an expert in both fashion and in sustainability.
Now, I can never say that I'm an expert because I’m still perplexed and learning every day even after doing this for 16 years. When I look back at my career at Redress, I could tell you this is one story that got lost.
That's why when I meet women today and they have the fire in their belly and their eyes are sort of glistening with delight around their chosen dreams and ambitions, I always take that very, very seriously because I think I'm living proof that you can get somewhere even without professional qualifications and experience, though really just learning on the job.
I admire so many female entrepreneurs working within sustainability, fashion, tech, you name it. There's one particular woman that I'd love to be around, and her name is Kresse from the sustainable accessories brand Elvis & Kresse. It's a brand that rescues materials, including fire hoses from the fire brigade in the UK.
I really respect her for she's very, very honest. She's an amazingly busy woman and a very successful entrepreneur. But she has always helped other people around her and has been incredibly supportive. And it's that spirit of collaboration which makes me admire her so much.
Throughout my career, I have experienced some bias, but surprisingly, I have not experienced that from being a female. The bias I've actually experienced has been a cultural one - entering the fashion industry in the APAC region as a Westerner with very little prior fashion experience.
I had to break the fundamental bias of being the woman who knew nothing about fashion, who didn't speak any of the Asian languages, and didn't really understand the supply chain coming to work in sustainability in fashion.
I understand those biases are natural judgments that the industry would have had of me many years ago. I had to battle against that to prove my understanding and ability to drive change.
With cultural biases, I think the way forward is to be highly respectful of different cultures. I think that is ingrained in being in business. But there also needs to be persistence in proving that you mean business. Taking yourself seriously is really important. So many of us have self-doubts and hesitations, but you have to believe in yourself.
One of the greatest pieces of advice that I was given and I didn't believe it at the time, but I do believe it now, is that whatever you're going to do, it's going to take a very long time. And that persistence, respect, honesty and authenticity always shines through.
I would love to inspire younger women to have a go, to be brave, to be courageous, to pull your socks up, to have fun and really to dream big. Most of all, to find female mentors.
I could never, ever have reached where I am today, which is a very humble place, without many female leaders who took me under their wing, gave me a shoulder to cry on, gave me advice and inspiration. As one becomes older and more mature in both our careers and in our personal lives, there’s also a responsibility of women to guide, inspire the younger female leaders and to show them that there is a way and it is the best way.
I would love to see more women on more boards and senior leadership positions. And I think that's a very likely outcome in the short term because already we're seeing the drive towards that.
At the same time, we also need to see women fight for those positions. It's not just a one way street, it's a two way street where the women have to go for it.
To celebrate International Women's Day 2022, we sat down with seven female trailblazers in the fashion and sustainability industry to talk about their struggles and challenges, career learnings and advice to young women.