Fashion With a Conscience

While it is hard to avoid hitting up “high-street” stores from time to time — especially in Hong Kong, where pricey designer stores seem to be the only alternative — the impact “fast fashion” has on the environment is severe. Options are few for chic clothes that are also affordable and ethical. One Hong Kong Mom is on a mission to make us all conscious consumers without sacrificing style. Michelle Bang, a New York native and an 11-year Hong Kong veteran, has channeled her business background, her work at Redress (an environmental NGO) and her impeccable aesthetic to launch BYT, an “up-cycled” clothing and accessories collection set to hit the market in September. Here, she speaks with Hong Kong Moms on the inspiration behind this endeavor and how she handles the work-life balance.

Michelle Bang at work choosing fabrics for BYT

Shed some light on all the current terms used today when it comes to responsible consumerism. What does it mean for a product to be eco-friendly? Define sustainable? This is a great question because with global climate concerns increasingly weighing on people’s minds, there is an ever-growing lexicon of words being used around sustainability. For me, “responsible consumerism”, “eco-friendly”, “sustainable” simply refer to making conscious decisions, which take into account the social and environmental impact of a product or service.

How is fast-fashion impacting the world? Over 150 billion new garments are made every year to meet our growing demand for clothing and ephemeral tastes in fashion. Fast fashion has led to an explosion in fashion production, resulting in over utilization of the earth’s natural resources. There is a staggering amount of textile waste left behind despite that textiles are almost 100% recyclable. China alone produces 26 million tons of waste every year, which is the equivalent to 11,400 buses filled to the brim EVERY DAY. The urgency for change is now.

Why is it important for consumers to become more conscious about what they buy? Because the personal choices we make while shopping have a significant impact on society and the environment. The clothes we wear, from how it’s produced to how we take care of them and dispose of them, have a carbon footprint, which ultimately leads to impacting global climate change. We as individuals can all take action to minimize this negative impact in our daily choices in fashion and in the other aspects of our lives.

What are some simple ways we can become more responsible shoppers? Although the challenges are complex, the solutions on an individual level can be simple. We can all make small changes in the way we buy, care for, and discard our clothing. We can still love fashion, but we can do this with a more considerate approach at each step — buying clothes we love that will have a long life-span in your closet, accessorizing or modifying clothing to rejuvenate your wardrobe, donating clothing to charities or corporate take-back programs for recycling. Clothes that you no longer use can be reborn without creating more waste. These days there are a number of ways to approach updating your wardrobe i.e. renting, buying second hand/vintage, swapping and buying responsibly produced clothing. We can all use our spending power to support these alternative ways to be fashion forward while supporting companies who are engaged in making a positive environmental and social impact like BYT.

Why and how did you become passionate about this issue? While working in fashion as a buyer for womenswear, my job was to search globally for products to fill stores. From contemporary to luxury brands in all categories including apparel, accessories, shoes, handbags and jewelry, my purchases were driven by fashion trends and tastes without a true understanding of the exponential waste in textile.

While working at Redress, I became aware of a dire need for change in fashion and setting new standards in the fashion industry. Fashion and textile is the world’s 2nd biggest polluter behind oil; textiles are the 2nd biggest polluter of clean water behind agriculture. Almost one hundred percent of textiles can be recyclable. Eighty to ninety percent of waste in fashion can be reduced with the right design process. Once you start delving deeper into the inner seams of fashion, it can change how your perspective on the lifecycle of your clothing from manufacturing, consumption, and disposal. Now that my eyes are open to the pressing issue of change in fashion, I have never looked back. This knowledge of what’s happening in the industry has forever changed the way I consume and relate to fashion.

A look inside the BYT factory

What was the impetus behind BYT? BYT is borne from the work of Redress, a Hong Kong charity with a mission to reduce waste in the fashion industry. BYT is an extension of Redress’ work, addressing the waste-reducing methods championed by Redress. Together with our sister charity Redress and their EcoChic Design Award, the largest global sustainable design competition for emerging designers, we nurture the future of fashion by supporting budding young sustainable design talent, providing opportunities and mentorship to nurture their careers in sustainable fashion.

We have ambitious plans for BYT which will be exciting to set new standards in fashion to effect change from design, up-cycling with exemplary social standards to innovative business models. We want BYT customers to feel as good on the inside as they look on the outside by wearing clothes that reflect a conscious closet.

For BYT, we define sustainability around the following three pillars:

• Transforming waste: Every BYT product is made using waste materials, whether it is surplus fabric, yarns, buttons or packaging from make to finish.

• Transforming values: Every BYT product is made to inspire new values in fashion, from design by emerging sustainable fashion designers to supporting social enterprises which employ disenfranchised workers. We also share 10% of our profits with our sister charity Redress to enable the amazing work that they do to advance sustainable fashion.

• Transforming supply chain: Each BYT product has at least one — and often many! — innovations to be proud of. We also pride ourselves being pioneers leading fashion towards a new business model around waste.

Describe the BYT aesthetic. It is clothing with an attitude — affordable luxury wardrobe pieces with an unexpected twist. Our fabrics are made with unused surplus fabrics from luxury houses; think gorgeous lace, tweeds, and wool pieces. We design for the BYT woman who trail blazes from the corporate boardroom to her personal life and with her family. Our clothes are designed to tailor to the BYT woman who can wear accessible luxe clothing while making a difference in her daily life, whether it’s being the best parent for her children or passionately advocating for a cause; it’s celebrating the hero in the good that we do in our every day. You can follow us at @bytlife_ on Instagram to see sneak peaks of our pieces and follow ups on our journey in building our new startup, prior to our official launch date.

What is your plan for the roll out? BYT launches with an initial focus on womenswear with the intention to expand into men’s, and kids, and accessories in the future. We want everyone to be able to dress sustainably! We also have some amazing collections planned for 2018 with beautiful materials and exciting collaborations.

As a busy Hong Kong Mom and entrepreneur, how do you make it all work? My life in Hong Kong is busy, and I wear a lot of hats. I am a board member of both Redress and Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, and volunteer with the HKIS PFO Board and PAG, and I’m the CEO of BYT. But I am first and foremost a mother and a wife. I would not be able to do this without the support of my wonderful husband Richard, who lends a hand with everything from cooking dinner, to taking my children Elliot and Amber to baseball and kungfu. He is a great father to my two children and a supportive husband through thick and thin. He is definitely my rock and I am so grateful for his support. And my two children support and encourage me. They help to empower me to be a role model for them to follow your dreams despite any barriers that might come along the way.

And I think like every mompreneur, I have learned to improve my time management and organizational skills, both critical to lead a life with balance. However mostly, I have learned to be easier on myself for not getting things done perfectly every the time. While I am passionate about what I am doing, I have learned the value of laughter and take a positive note from every challenge in both my personal and professional life.

What tips / advice can you give other moms who are itching to pursue a business endeavor? I would say, “believe in yourself!” With any business idea, there will be many challenges to overcome in balancing your professional goals while being a present mother and wife. Your inspiration for your business will need to drive you to overcome these challenges and it will empower you to take risks to be a pioneer in your field. People can be inspired when they see your conviction in a cause, and follow suit.

Take every opportunity to be positive despite difficulties. There is value and lessons to be learned in every encounter. There are mentors and teachers everywhere and often in the most unexpected places. I often learn pearls of wisdom from my two children who can distill big world problems into untainted perspectives with a simplicity that can be refreshing. When looking for advice, I look to all generations for advice and often mixing the two perspectives I end up with magic.

To every mother, be inspired, be passionate, and be fearless in life. You never know what can happen until you try.

Michelle on set at a photo shoot for BYT

BYT proudly represents Hong Kong in the global finals of the Chivas Venture, the social impact venture competition in which almost 3,000 passionate start ups apply to but only 30 of the best make it through. BYT is now competing for a share of US$250,000 prize money through public voting — and need your help to win critical funding so that we can make a difference. The crowd funding competition runs for 5 weeks from 8 May to 12 June and each voter can cast ONE VOTE EACH WEEK. Each week, US$50,000 is divided proportionally to all finalists by the number of votes they receive. So every vote counts!

Click here to CAST YOUR VOTE

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