Johanna Ho is one of the city’s most prominent sustainable fashion designers. Known for upcycling garments and using eco-friendly materials, she’s also been on the judging panel for the EcoChic Design Awards (an international sustainable fashion design competition) since its launch in 2011.
She’s wary of any labels, however. “I don’t try to claim myself as an ‘eco-designer’,” she says, “because people don’t really understand it fully yet. My focus is making those baby steps happen—on how to educate people bit by bit.”
She didn’t start with the intention of becoming an eco-designer. Like many of her peers, Ho’s interest in sustainable fashion began with vintage clothing, back in her boarding school days.
“[Back in Camden, London] you can get a leather jacket for one pound, you know,” she said, “It was amazing. And then,” she laughs at the memory, “my mum would take a look at it and be like, ‘somebody has died in that, how can you wear something like that?!’”
Upon graduation, she moved to Japan, licensing her brand to Sanyo Shokai from 2004-2009. She credits her time in the country, with its penchant for innovation as well as tradition, for her approach to sustainable design.
For her, creativity in sustainable fashion is about ways to make it practical—how to seamlessly incorporate it into our lives and change the negative perceptions that come with the “eco” label.
She was considering her next steps and brand direction when she came back to Hong Kong in 2009—and then the tsunami hit.
“That had a huge impact on me, because I had friends who were living in Sendai—had friends, you know, so that hit me quite badly.”
The natural disaster got her thinking about human impact on the environment: “When you really put this kind of thing into perspective, you start to wonder—worry, even—what are we doing to our planet?”
As a fashion designer, she’s keenly aware of the industry’s impact on the environment. In Hong Kong, however, the conversation about sustainability is still in its early stages, which is why Ho believes education and awareness are so important.
“I think it’s important because [the competition] gives hope,” Ho concludes. “For designers in Hong Kong, at least the sustainable aspect is implanted into their brains a bit more—that this is something they can do in addition to just normal fashion. Now, in fact, it’s more like eco-fashion is the norm.”
(This story originally appeared on HongKongTatler.com)