Ecouterre is a media sponsor of the EcoChic Design Award
Clothing, like people, can contain multitudes. Take Esther Lui’s upcycled looks, for instance. Inspired by Hua Mulan, the bold woman warrior of Chinese legend (and at least two Disney movies), the 2015/16 EcoChic Design Award finalist transformed surplus fabrics and clothing labels into garments that embody both strength and tenderness. Lui was initially iffy about using textile waste as a resource. Her time with Redress, the competition’s organizer, however, was a revelation. “Before The EcoChic Design Award, I had no interest in eco-fashion because I thought it would be really hard to make beautiful clothes from waste,” Lui, an assistant at a bridal design house in Hong Kong, where Redress is also based, told Ecouterre. “But then I became inspired by how designers could use textile waste to design new clothes, and I started testing different textiles and drawing sketches to see what worked for me.”
HONOR TO US ALL
One of the excursions Redress organized led to a garment factory in China that specializes in “zero waste,” a design technique that espouses creative methods of cutting that utilize most, if not all, of the laid-out fabric.
“I had tried the zero-waste technique on my designs, but had found it really hard,” Lui, who has a degree in fashion design from England’s Nottingham Trent University, admitted. “I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly work in a factory.”
The secret? Computers, specifically a program that helps designers optimize the surface of a textile so that next to nothing is wasted. “We had a good time learning and practicing those processes and seeing possibilities for implementing zero waste in the factory,” Lui said.
Piecing together her capsule collection for the EcoChic Design Award finals, Lui found herself channeling China’s most celebrated heroine in more ways than one. Mulan’s dual—and dueling—qualities, her iron will and gentleness of heart, served as Lui’s guiding star.
Using traditional hand-weaving techniques, Lui conjured up distinctive looks that subtly recall armor: a silver-and-ivory fishtail gown; a sleeveless jacket with dramatic, masculine lapels; a vest with accordion-pleated epaulettes.
Even now, the spirit of the maiden-turned-soldier manifests itself in Lui’s advice to burgeoning designers, particularly those who wish to integrate ethics into their practice.
“Have persistency and passion,” she said. “You really need to stick to it and keep going, as it is never easy to develop your design or even brands, whether it is sustainable fashion, or just fashion itself.”
Now on the other side, Lui approaches fashion in a whole new way. “I am now putting more thought into recycling, and reducing waste from how I cut out my fabrics,” she said. “As a designer witnessing our earth’s resources diminishing and the increasing amount of textile waste discarded day-by-day, I’ve become very motivated to use every piece of textile waste into my creations. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to give a new life to previously discarded textiles.”