The R Collective is a brand modeling high-end upcycling at every step of the process. Repurposing textile waste from world leading luxury brands into innovative and timeless designs is the foundation of their vision to bring sustainability to the world of fashion.
1. How did you go from dentistry to revolutionizing the fashion industry?
Quite a strange journey! I first moved to Hong Kong in 2002 and worked as a freelance journalist writing about environmental issues and, at the same time, I was still working as a volunteer dentist around Asia providing free dental services to very needy communities, from visiting prisons and slums to working with orphans.
It was the unusual marriage of being a journalist and having a profound commitment to public health that were the foundations for sustainable fashion. I saw with my own eyes how both fashion, and other sectors, create dreadful environmental pollution and simultaneously how this, and other issues, impacts health on the neediest people in Asia.
With fashion being one of the largest global polluters - and China, which is on the doorstep to Hong Kong, is the biggest exporter of apparel and textiles - I was really moved into trying to raise awareness and action to reduce fashion’s ugly impact on the planet.
2. What prompted you to launch The R Collective after Redress?
For 10 years I ran Redress - and we had incredible successes and impact at advocating and educating for change. But the waste situation just kept getting worse; I’ve seen a lot of waste over the years and what with the growing population and how people shop - the reality, which is backed up with stats - is that waste is getting worse.
Meanwhile, I’ve always believed that business, when done ‘right’, can be a driver for change. So The R Collective was born - to prove that fashion can be a force for good. I’ve seen so many passionate sustainable designers, seen so much waste, and also come to know many incredible manufacturers - which was fertile ground for the brand’s inception.
So The R Collective is a culmination of 13 years’ work to show that fashion is a force for good. We upcycle luxury brands’ excess, that might otherwise go to landfill or incineration, we collaborate with award-winning sustainable fashion designers, who are the winners of our Redress Design Awards and we donate 25% of our profits back into charity Redress.
3. What inspires The R Collective’s designs?
We believe that “Rescue, Re-use and Reimagine” holds the power to transform fashion. Our mission is to create beautiful clothes using excess luxury materials, catalysing a circular fashion revolution to help drive sustainability in the fashion industry. We design for longevity so that our products enjoy a long use-phase in fashion. Our durable products are easily styled, allowing for our customers to reimagine fashion too.
We are always inspired by curious, courageous women who love style first and who also want to integrate more meaning, or purpose, into their closets.
4. When people see and wear your pieces, what do you hope they’re gaining, on top of a great new addition to their closet?
Central to reimagining fashion, our products inspire customers to create a conscious closet to love. Ultimately, The R Collective wants to reduce waste by creating an upcycled, beautiful product that satisfies a section of the market who do wish to shop and buy new clothes. Those are the people we are catering for: people that desire clothes and do want to consume ‘new’ things, and we can satisfy their demands in a sustainable way.
People who buy The R Collective are really becoming part of our cause. We need a lot of heroes to transform fashion - and we can’t do this alone. So I like to think that our customers wear their sustainability values on her sleeves. She might not have a cape, but we think our customers are superheroes! With 92 million tons of textile waste generated every year, the fashion industry needs many heroes.
5. Do you have any advice to those aspiring to work in the fashion industry in any aspect designing, styling or publications?
Yes - go for it with all of your heart and soul! The fashion industry is littered with opportunities, as well as challenges, and the fashion industry needs new voices and points of view that challenge it.
Nothing is easy - everything takes hard work - and you will need to graft hard and take a long term view of your career. My experience has so far been 13 years of dedicated work, ducking and diving within textile waste, and I feel like I’m only just getting started!
So the advice that I would give is: look for your passion, be committed to finding it, and be patient.
6. Sustainability encompasses everything from sourcing, designing, manufacturing, to consumer care; it all requires collaborative effort, as you’ve done with partnering with brands like LEVIs for your latest collection. How can everyone be working together toward sustainable fashion being the norm and not just a trend?
Anyone who thinks sustainability is a trend should wake up - it’s here to stay. Being collaborative is part of this process. The fashion industry is so big - it’s like a planet of its own - and it has many stakeholders so getting anything done, in a significant way, requires collaboration and a honest, sometimes humble, approach to getting things done.
7. What is your favorite work from home pieces to wear?
With the countless zooms, my favourites are comfortable shirts and tops with some details, and hair accessories, which (try to but fail to) hide my roots, many of them grey! I always feel more snappy if I’m dressed for work on my top half, even if I’m in my jogging pants on the bottom!
8. What are your favorite on-the-go pieces to wear?
I’m a fan of being comfortable - which to me makes me feel more comfortable in myself; read: confident and attractive. So it’s always flat shoes (I’m always rushing, running) a loose fitting pants/skirt and an interesting top. I’m definitely a fan of jackets - almost whatever the weather - as they get me in the mood for serious business!