Eco-Friendly Designer Janko Lam Creates “Salvage Chic”

Hainan-Born, Hong Kong-Based Designer Won 2011 Ecochic Design Award

Janko Lam receives the 2011 Ecochic Design Award

Though the fashion industry in China is more often associated with excess than eco-friendliness, Hainan-born, Hong Kong-based designer Janko Lam is showing that recycling can be chic. Winner of last year’s Ecochic Design Award in Hong Kong, for which she won the chance to design a collection for Esprit, Lam recently debuted a line using only fabric scraps and unused items that would otherwise be headed for a landfill. Lam’s distinctive patched pieces, which blend together bits and pieces of multicolored fabrics, have been purposely left as-is, with no redying, in order to be as carbon-neutral as possible — a task that, for Lam, was no walk in the park. As Lam told China Daily, “Using discarded materials really entails more discipline and creativity…You have to follow sustainable guidelines, as well as experiment with a lot of patterns.”

However, Lam is more prepared than most young Chinese designers to work with scrap materials, having founded the fashion label Mutt Museum in Hong Kong in 2010. Mutt Museum primarily uses salvaged materials in its collections, crafting accessories out of wood scraps and cheongsams out of recycled fabric.

Janko Lam's winning designs from the 2011 Ecochic Design Contest

Organized by the Hong Kong-based fashion NGO Redress, the Ecochic Design contest is heading this year to mainland China to bring attention to waste in the fashion industry. According to the NGO website, the mission of Redress is “to promote environmental sustainability in Asia’s fashion industry by reducing textile waste, pollution, water and energy consumption.”

Though it’s a fun way to call attention to sustainability and the environment, the Ecochic contest is serious business. As Ecouterre recently noted, both the Hong Kong and mainland China contests, which run for five grueling months, are packed with judging rounds, seminars, exhibitions, and workshops overseen by the likes of From Somewhere designer Orsola Castro, Hong Kong Elle publisher Dodo Cheung, and Esprit’s Margaret Kutt.

Though eco-minded fashion is becoming commonplace in fashion capitals like Paris and New York, it’s in its infancy in newer markets like China. As Timo Rissanen of the Parsons School of Design in New York recently pointed out, “In general, the wealthy, developed countries produce the most waste, and perhaps for this reason, [the eco-friendly fashion movement] is happening more in them.” However, we are seeing hints of a growing interest in environmentally friendly design among some labels and young Chinese designers, such as Jenny Ji and JNBY.

The 2012 Ecochic Design Award winner for Hong Kong will be announced this week, with the winner in mainland China set to be announced at this year’s Shanghai Fashion Week in October. As in Hong Kong, the winner announced in October will also get the chance to create a collection for Esprit. As with Janko Lam’s collection, these “upcycled” items will be available at selected Esprit stores in China next year.

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