Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Eco-friendly Hong Kong fashion label BYT debuts at EcoChic Design Awards, pushes upcycling and sustainability

Sustainable fashion brand wants to make a difference to a wasteful industry in a city with a throwaway culture, by crafting clothing from textile waste and upcycling and reworking old pieces

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 1:23pm

Sustainable fashion has had a bad rap over the years, as designers struggle to create collections that are commercially viable, fashionable and relevant to the consumer. This week, however, the industry opened a new chapter with the launch of clothing label BYT, which made its catwalk debut at the EcoChic Design Award competition in Hong Kong.

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The Hong Kong start-up is the brainchild of Christina Dean, founder of environmental NGO Redress and BYT chief executive, and co-founder Michelle Bang. Dean, a passionate advocate for sustainable fashion, has been on a mission to reduce waste in the industry via Redress for more than 10 years. BYT is the culmination of her efforts.

“What we’ve been doing on the educational front is promoting the concept that sustainable fashion is the future, and can be marketable and profitable. We’ve been talking about it, but now it’s time to prove it with the launch of this brand,” she says.

As founder of the EcoChic Design Award, Dean’s first step was to tap into the competition’s pool of emerging designers who are committed to working within the sustainable fashion realm. For BYT they narrowed in on Hong Kong-based Victor Chu and Swiss designer and Central Saint Martin’s graduate Kevin Germanier. Both competed in EcoChic’s 2015/6 cycle and have since worked in the industry in various capacities – Chu as a designer for a famous Hong Kong fashion brand, while Germanier has worked with labels including Shanghai Tang and Louis Vuitton.

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In terms of concept, BYT takes fashion “waste,” in particular, surplus luxury fabrics, and transforms them into beautiful, affordable clothing using sustainable and socially responsible supply chains. Everything is produced in Asia, using sustainable manufacturers and social enterprises.

The debut collection was inspired by Dean’s 365 challenge several years ago, which saw her style and wear clothes discarded by Hong Kong consumers every day for a year. One of the items she fell in love with was a jacket featuring cut-outs at the back – a piece that forms the foundation of BYT’s first collection.

“Basically it’s a collection of upcycled jackets partly inspired by one jacket. What we’ve done is add details onto the pieces, making the styles more modern. Its elegant but timeless. From the front the jackets appear classic but at the back there is a playful and fun element thanks to the cut-outs. It’s about creating clothes that generate interest but are still wearable,” says Germanier.

The collection features several styles based on wardrobe staples such as the biker jacket, trench coat or tailored blazer – all which are been crafted from fabric waste sourced from luxury brands and suppliers. The look is modern with a twist, allowing each piece to be styled individually depending on the wearer.

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Chu says: “The biggest challenge for us was the fabric. We sometimes get restrictions on certain fabric quantities, which means we have to be creative with design and production to achieve the numbers. As we focused on jackets for the first collection, some fabrics weren’t suitable and were hard to drape. BYT is an affordable luxury brand, not a fast-fashion brand, so our goal is to make a luxurious and beautiful product using waste. This is the challenge that we’re up for.”

The response has been promising. BYT will launch in luxury department store Lane Crawford on September 18. It has also been picked up by Barneys New York, bringing the brand to a more global audience (it’s also available via its own e-commerce site, Prices range from HK$1,950 to HK$2,700.

“Fashion is an aspirational product, and we wanted to position sustainability as a strong component within the affordable luxury market, where there is a big opportunity for growth. We have an incredibly detailed design product, and sustainable fashion deserves to be in that market. Upcycling cannot be seen as a lower quality product,” says Dean.

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Looking ahead, there are plans to roll out more BYT collections, including limited edition capsules and a knitwear collection. Rather than follow traditional fashion seasons, the brand will focus more on product drops – a natural consequence of working with surplus fabrics.

“This is a very serious endeavour for us. It’s been an enlightening experience, and we’ve had to eat lots of humble pie. We have been dictated somewhat by the waste we bring in. Then you have the usual challenges – such as brand identity. On the flip side, sustainability is about reducing waste, so we really needed to create a product people want. It’s important that they love it and keep it,” says Dean.