Hopefuls from 55 countries entered the 2018 Redress Design Award and on September 6 that year the 11 finalists presented their collections before a capacity audience at the gala finale in Hong Kong.
All were impressive, but the winner of the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition stood out like a beacon: Australia’s Tess Whitfort, whose exuberant punk-inspired pieces in black, white and acid yellow captivated the judges. She also raised the sustainability bar by creating patterns that resulted in zero fabric wastage.
Her bold, edgy streetwear will be exhibited at Fashion Exposed Now in exciting new attraction, The Sustainable Edit. It’s the perfect showcase for the 25-year-old Melburnian who scored a double triumph in 2017: Degree Student of the Year at the Box Hill Institute and Melbourne Fashion Week Student Designer of the Year.
Last September, Tess celebrated her new label Pendulum Studios with a launch party. There are some great shots of it on Pendulum’s website, but make no mistake: this is a super-serious young designer passionate about reducing the fashion industry’s punishing impact on the environment – and changing perceptions about sustainable fashion while she’s at it.
“It’s usually about wholesome options like linen sack dresses in natural colours and that has limited appeal,” says Tess. “My grudge clothes embody the idea that being a total badass and a good person aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Her lecturers at the Box Hill Institute where she took her BA in fashion design were influential. Even more so have been her parents.
“My dad is an engineer and my mum is a nurse and artist – both strong, creative individualists who have been tremendously supportive.”
The complex skills that go into those Pendulum dresses and separates emerged early. “As a three-year-old I was already doing 100-piece jigsaw puzzles,” says Tess. “Creating zero waste patterns has been a bit like tackling a jigsaw. It’s also been an important challenge. The industry norm is 15% fabric wastage.”
Sustainability underpins Pendulum – measures include biodegradable elastic and compostable packaging – though Tess, who has recently perfected a ground-breaking technique for producing her zero wastage styles in five sizes, has also become savvy about fashion’s commercial demands.
The big catalyst was her Redress Design Award. As a winner, she became part of elite upcycled fashion brand, the R Collective, which represents the competition’s top talents, and was invited to design a commercial collection for Hong Kong’s premier luxury department store, Lane Crawford.
She spent three intensive months working on the project and her collection, titled Avoidance, hit the mark – six eminently wearable pieces including an aviation-inspired jumpsuit, a dress with adjustable belted detailing and a retro varsity style jacket.
Why “Avoidance”? Two reasons, Tess Whitfort explained in a report for the R Collective’s magazine: The obvious one – that her collection was about avoiding waste – and because the word resonated with her on a personal level.
“I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life and avoidance is my biggest coping method and mind trap … (it’s) something I’ve had to overcome a lot in order to be where I am now,” she revealed.
A few other things about Tess Whitfort: She’s vegan (but not judgemental about those who aren’t), works with Carbon Neutral Australia on their Plant A Tree initiative and prefers seeing her clothes on “regular people” rather than on models. She’s the real deal.
Story by Zelda Cawthorne
Fashion Exposed Now
Australia’s only dedicated womenswear buying event. Registration is free and includes access local and international labels, seminars and round table sessions to help build your business.
Sunday 2 – Monday 3 February 2020
Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne