When slipping on a pair of denim jeans, little thought is given to the impact the fabric has on the environment. That's not the case for Hong Kong designer Alex Law Kam-on. He knows the damage denim production causes and wants to do something about it. Few people are aware of the immense environmental impact of denim production Alex Law "Everyone has a pair of jeans but few people are aware of the immense environmental impact of denim production," says the 24-year-old. "Loads of heavy metals and chemicals are used to dye denim, which damages the environment and people's health." Law is one of eight finalists in the running for the EcoChic Design Award 2013, a sustainable fashion competition encouraging designers to create mainstream clothing with minimal waste. The award was launched in Hong Kong in 2011 and this year was opened to overseas candidates for the first time, making it the world's first international sustainable fashion design competition. The other finalists are Catherine Hudson (Britain), Xinyin Dai (China), Louise de Testa (France), Chiang Tsung-chin (Taiwan), Karen Jessen (Germany), Phee Ng Swee Yee (Singapore) and Clémentine Sandner (France but working in Britain). All finalists used a combination of up-cycling and reconstruction design techniques such as reshaping secondhand garments sourced from flea markets, to using leftover textiles and clothing samples sourced from factories. "It was a bold decision to open up the competition, but we wanted to reach a wider group of emerging designers with our educational message and create a regional, more powerful and collaborative voice to push textile waste reduction into the forefront," says Christina Dean, founder and chief executive of Redress, an NGO that promotes environmental sustainability in the fashion industry and organiser of the event. "We want to bring the issue of wastage to a larger audience and by extending the competition to include other regions; we want to unite European and Asian emerging fashion design talent and stakeholders] with a more potent and collaborative vision of a lower-impact fashion industry." Dean says the event was born as a result of the huge amount of waste generated by the fashion industry. "We all know the fashion industry is polluting, but we are concerned that not enough is being done to educate emerging fashion designers into changing this." She says it is forecast that 30 per cent of the fashion market's growth will come from China in the next five years. "The reason for starting it in Hong Kong is particularly important. China creates such vast quantities of textiles and garments for global export, and in the process generates much textile waste." It's estimated that 20 million tonnes of textiles, from industry and consumers, are wasted every year in China. During the next 21/2 months, the finalists are required to put their sustainable design concepts into reality, with each making a six-piece collection. They will present their creations in January at Hong Kong Fashion Week, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, where the winners will be announced. The overall winner will design a recycled textile collection for Esprit, while the second prize winner will visit the Bali workshops of sustainable jewellery brand John Hardy. The winner of the special prize will create an outfit for artist Sandy Lam, to be featured in ELLE Hong Kong's 2014 green issue. "We are excited to see that sustainable thinking is sticking with our previous finalists, with some having gone on to launch their own sustainable brands. From our first competition in 2011, four out of the six finalists have launched their own brands," Dean says. Previous finalists and their labels include Aman Cheung Ching-man (A Black Cigarette); Eric Wong Wai-chun (Absurd-Laboratory); Janko Lam Chun-kuk (Mutt Museum); Tina Ho Wing-ying (What's Next in the House); and Yuri Man Yuk-yee (Yuri Craft).