A behind-the-scenes view of the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition
The thing about fashion design competitions is that they are usually about the fashion and antics of the competing designers. Rarely do these competitions have a bigger cause to support. However, the EcoChic Design Award is a refreshing exception to the rule. The award is focused on sustainable fashion, namely, clothes made with minimal social and environmental impact.
Started by Hong Kong-based environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) Redress, the EcoChic Design Award is the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition for emerging fashion designers today.
The NGO has produced a 50-minute documentary called Frontline Fashion detailing the 2015/2016 cycle of the competition. This happened to be the sixth cycle of the EcoChic Design Award, as well as the biggest, as it was open to fashion designers living in Asia and in Europe.
While the documentary is short by the usual documentary feature standards, I found that it did effectively convey the message that Redress is trying to get across: that sustainable fashion is necessary and that there is a place for it in the fashion world.
Christina Dean, founder and chief executive officer of Redress, is the narrator of Frontline Fashion and what she says at the very beginning of the film is impactful: “…since we are now buying 400% more clothes than we did two decades ago, the consequences are huge.” She was talking about the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry, a large part of which comprises consumer buying habits.
What I liked about Frontline Fashion is that it refrains from being preachy or overbearing. The main focus is on the designers and the competition, but there are also facts about sustainable fashion cleverly woven into the narrative so as to spread awareness about sustainable fashion.
For example, the documentary gives simple definitions of sustainable fashion, as well as terms such as reconstruction and upcycling so that viewers understand the importance of these practices. While I am no stranger to sustainable fashion terminology, even I was surprised to learn how deeply our fashion decisions affect the environment. One nugget of information that blew me away was that approximately 2,700 litres of water and 5.5 kg of Co2 are used throughout the life of a shirt!
I also liked the fact that the competing designers also spoke about sustainable fashion. Finalist Sara Kiani from Denmark, for one, pointed out that “the challenge about making sustainable clothing more commercial is to trick them (consumers) into buying something they don’t know is sustainable, because it looks so amazing!”
Other highlights of the documentary include the portrayal of the challenges the designers had to go through, including their visit to a warehouse in Hong Kong full of textile waste and their visit to a factory in Dongguan, mainland China, to visit a factory that is leading the way in sustainable practices in the textile industry.
As for the competition itself, all competing designers were encouraged to design their collections sustainably, including sourcing materials and making the outfits sustainably. The build-up to the finale of the competition, namely a showcase of their designs at Hong Kong Fashion Week, was handled well and the pacing just right, in my opinion.
Ultimately, Frontline Fashion focused on sustainable fashion, without the hammed-up dramas that you normally see on reality shows. The documentary was just a simple account of the EcoChic Design Award competitors and their work, which makes it an easy and relaxing watch. It doesn’t try to force-feed viewers information on sustainable fashion, which will appeal to viewers who are neutral or have low awareness levels towards sustainable fashion.
Overall, Frontline Fashion is a well-made, though all-too-brief documentary on sustainable fashion that should appeal to newbies to the subject. Would I watch it a second time? Probably not, as I remember too many details (but that’s just me). I’d highly recommend that you watch it with a group of friends though, especially if they haven’t heard of sustainable fashion. It’s a lighter introduction to the subject than The True Cost and more palatable to the masses.
Frontline Fashion is available on iTunes here. Watch the trailer below: