Move toward sustainability
For Li Bin, contact with the textile industry was rather accidental.
Born in 1989, Li used to work in branding and PR, but got involved in sustainable fashion in 2020 amid the global pandemic, after developing a sudden interest.
In recent years, China’s second-hand clothing market has been attracting more and more young people, driven by a changing global environment and the growth of second-hand resale apps. Second-hand clothing recreation has become a hot topic on Chinese social media platforms such as Xiaohongshu and Sina Weibo.
“This is a big and long-term issue, as well as a sustainable and inevitable one: That is the sustainable development and environmental protection of the clothing industry,” Li told the Global Times at a coffee shop in Beijing.
In early September, he took advantage of the International Panda Protection Day and announced a new project that will soon be launched: Providing customized, fashionable, and convenient functional protective clothing for more than 200 wild giant panda rangers in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province.
This is one of the projects undertaken by his company, Green Challenge. The young co-founder of the company has helped develop a platform-oriented organization that focuses on environmental protection and sustainable development of the fashion industry.
The underlying logic of the company is to serve as a bridge for the textile industry to move toward sustainability, and to urge clothing companies to purchase good fabrics from the public level.
Whether it is the annual clothing innovation competition or ranger clothing design, Li hopes to expand people’s awareness of the clothing industry through these projects.
“There are only three final destinations for a piece of clothing: Reuse or recycling, landfilling, or incineration, but from the very beginning, maybe we have alternatives. I hope to let more people understand the meaning and value of the sustainable clothing industry, and help designers and enterprises to find and use sustainable fabrics and technologies,” he said.
Mortise and tenon dress
Li’s platform is also a brand that gathers people with the same vision of sustainable fashion. They hope to show their credibility and professionalism to consumers and recommend products that meet sustainability standards.
According to Li, their platform has four aspects of work: Promoting the development of recycling technology in the front end of fabric production; proposing scientific and systematic ways to optimize the recycling and regeneration field; providing consulting or guidance services to textile enterprises that have the demand for sustainability and green development; and conducting some social activities to raise the awareness of consumers and encourage them to buy sustainable fabrics.
To achieve these goals, Li’s company held its first contest called Sustainable Fashion Design Contest in 2020, inviting nine independent designers to create works based on the concept of sustainable design.
The concept is to consider the recycling and regeneration of clothes from the beginning of the design process, following the three R principles (reduce, reuse, recycle), lowering the cost of recycling, improving durability and consistency, and reducing purchase and waste.
In the competition in 2020, the designers used nine kinds of birds as inspiration, creating nine pieces later showcased in a fashion show without an audience in the Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve in Shanghai, advocating for harmony between humans and nature.
Li said that the contest is one of their most important projects, which has different themes each year, such as “China Chic” and “clothes for forest rangers.” Before designing clothes for the forest rangers in the panda conservation area, they had already customized clothes that met the dry and cold needs of the patrol officers protecting the Amur tigers in northeastern China.
“The contestants need to create works that are innovative and sustainable according to the theme. After running two successful competition seasons, the just concluded third season received more than 500 works and involved colleges in China and abroad,” noted Li.
The gold prize winner of the last session was a piece of clothing made with mortise and tenon structures, a type of joint that connects two pieces of wood or other material by inserting a tab (tenon) into a slot (mortise), a very strong and durable joint that has been used for thousands of years in China, which requires sewing and allows for a piece to be freely assembled.
“It is incredibly seamless,” Li said.
As the concept of sustainable consumption becomes more and more popular in China, second-hand clothing stores are also seeing remarkable growth.
More young people choose to look for unique styles and personalities in second-hand clothing stores, while also saving money and resources. Second-hand clothing stores not only offer a variety of brands, styles, and prices of clothing, but some also specialize in selling vintage, ethnic, or designer brands, attracting many consumers who have a passion for fashion.
In addition to the indie stores, “many brands are launching sustainable products now, but consumers’ accessibility is not enough. They don’t know how to identify and choose, or how to practice the concept of sustainability,” Li said, adding that their platform hopes to play a role of popularizing and promoting, letting more people understand the meaning and value of sustainable fashion.
“We certainly face many challenges, such as the price and supply of fabrics, and the innovation and expression of designers, but I still have confidence in the future of sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion will definitely become the trend of the future, because it is the demand of the time, and also the responsibility for the environment.”