Self-confessed fashion nerd and innovator Vincent Djen finds his jam in trying out new technologies for the fashion industry, especially those in the fields of materials and techniques. Other activities include: Running a family sourcing company, hosting the Fashion Knowledge Network, managing a menswear brand in U.K. and paving the way towards more trendy and trending sustainability with fashion incubator FashionEx. Let’s go!
Note: A “Fashion Incubator” is a company that helps new and startup fashion companies to develop by providing services such as business training or work space. Or in the case of Djen: An education in sustainability.
Born in Hong Kong to Shanghainese parents, Djen received his education in North America and has been living in Shanghai for the past decade. As the industry that is fashion at long last takes more sustainable approach to design, the trend for maintaining a lower social and environmental impact as you’re sketching and sowing and dyeing and processing and manufacturing away is here to stay. A wide and varied host of new sustainable materials, business models and brands are popping up like daisies and along with the support of bigbang brands and powerful industry associations, the time has come to push the industry into a more sustainable future.
Sustainable innovation in the Middle Kingdom is on the undeniable rise. Both sustainability and circular economy are both part of Beijing’s initiatives — think the “Made In China 2025” strategy.
From Factory To Ruler?
China, the world’s factory no more — or at the very least to a lesser degree so, it seems. With a more sustainable approach to production, manufacturing must be reconfigured. And thus the question arises… How are brands and designers coping? Djen explains:
“China is still an important manufacturing hub for the world and we now have more knowhow than ever. Garment factories are investing in more productive sewing machines and equipment that require less physical involvement from workers. They are also investing in the hiring of industrial engineers in order to design more efficient sewing lines, tools and templates for production. Brands and designers are trying to meet the demand of younger consumers who demand more function, more eco-friendliness and more unique products by working with more sustainable materials and dyeing methods such as plant dye and organic cotton, working with small community factories and artisan handloom fabrics.”
Sustainable innovation in the Middle Kingdom is on the undeniable rise. Both sustainability and circular economy are both part of Beijing’s initiatives — think Made In China 2025. People like ecopreneur Hans Galliker and Djen himself are bearing witness to more and more innovative concepts entering the textile industry such as solution dye, plant dye, cotton cation dyeing, bio based polymers, etc., one by one coming in from Chinese companies. As Djen elaborates, “An increasing number of places now features community factories to help the underprivileged groups to earn more to get by in their daily lives; help them get more buck for their bang, if you will. I am also seeing more and more fashion tech wearable sportswear seeping in from Chinese startups”.
“We can create some great runway or media show pieces, but in order to broaden their scale and get adopted by consumers, they must fit certain criteria,” Vincent Djen
Incubation And Innovation
For the record: Recycling is turning waste into new material while upcycling is reusing the waste as is. Enlightenment a la carte.
Djen in November 2017 told us the story of one local textile upcycling program Shan Gong Fang. An excerpt courtesy of The Fashion Knowledge Network:
“Shan Gong Fang started as a social project for the local community. The idea came when Shude Textile and Garment Association had the goal of making the local textile industry more sustainable so they reached out to local Junxing charity to see any possibilities. In the end, both sides found each other shares same the vision on sustainability and community development and then that’s how the project got started.
Shan Gong Fang means ‘Good textile workshop’; they upcycle leftover fabrics from the local jeans factory and turn them into products that people want. The majority of proceeds from product sales will go back to the workers who actually made the products. The workers usually belong to local underprivileged groups or retired garment factory workers who have trouble in improving their living condition
At the same time, Shan Gong Fang hopes to use their mission and value the promotion of a sustainable mindset with local factories. This program aims to help them realize that they need to upgrade their factories to create less waste, to be more environmental and to create a long term sustainable business model.”
“Sustainable innovation” is an idea, a mindset that usually proves highly effective. Nevertheless, we still need better ways to scale niche innovation. There are plenty of good ideas, but few of them reach their full-scale, let alone their full potential. As Djen sums it up, “Fashion innovation ideas have to 1) solve problems, 2) look great and 3) come at a reasonable price. We can create some great runway or media show pieces, but in order to broaden their scale and get adopted by consumers, they must fit the criteria I mentioned earlier: More function-ability, more eco-friendliness and more uniqueness”.
Sustainable fashion in China: Reality or Lala Land? Just like the rest of the world, China too is moving into the lands of more sustainable fashion. A rising number of Chinese brands are adopting organic cotton materials and natural dyeing techniques — especially in the kidswear and home textile area. Labels like Li Ning have become signatory brands of the ZDHC programme (whose mission is the “widespread implementation of sustainable chemistry and best practices in the textile, leather and footwear industries to protect consumers, workers and the environment”). As the year 2020 closes in, Djen is convinced that more and more local brands in China will express their commitment to the use of sustainable textile. Knowledge is power.
Featured Image: Vincent Djen, courtesy of The Fashion Knowledge Network
All images come courtesy of Vincent Djen and The Fashion Knowledge Network