Patrick Lam on Hong Kong Sustainable Fashion's New Frontier


Homegrown Designer Patrick Lam on Hong Kong’s New Frontier in Sustainable Fashion

Taking part in the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition, Patrick Lam was shortlisted as one in 10 finalists of the Redress Design Award and was the sole Hong Kong designer to make it this year. He had edged out hundreds of other applicants to enter the competition, then 20 other semi-finalists, and went up against talents from eight different regions spanning from Italy to India, with three of the shortlisted members returning as experienced alumni from past award cycles.

Speaking to The Beat Asia at the Redress Design Award showcase in early September, Patrick touches upon the burgeoning opportunities for sustainable fashion in Hong Kong, and the use of historical stories and old materials in new design possibilities.

Hong Kong Sustainable fashion designer Patrick Lam
Photo credit: Redress Design Awards

Patrick’s come up in the industry took shape of a conventional path. “The first time I came in touch with the world of fashion was during high school, when I took a sewing class. I was given the chance to make clothes by myself and to make my own designs. It was the first experience that inspired me to keep going and to enter the fashion industry,” he remarks.

“Not long after, I graduated with a higher diploma and a top up degree in Hong Kong. Then I got myself a fashion job. It was at a kind of huge company in Hong Kong that was also kind of a big name in the fashion industry. I focused on licensed brands and in-house brands.”

However, it was the time he spent as part of a fashion enterprise that led him to uncover the darker side of production. Coming face to face with piles upon piles of fabric samples and garment prototypes that saw the inside of bins rather than of closets, Patrick gathered the wastage and headed off to garment district Sham Shui Po to find fabrics that could help transform the unwanted pieces.

Hong Kong Sustainable fashion designer Patrick Lam
Photo credit: Redress Design Awards

Diving into his creative process, Patrick explains: “My inspiration is mostly drawn from history, especially something with a storyline. Whether if it’s in movies, music.” His collection entered into the Redress Design Award consists of boxy cuts, industrial outerwear, and simplistic colourways that are easily wearable for today’s dress sense yet show touches from a bygone era.

“Mod culture has been particularly inspiring for me. I love designs that tell a story, and to design a coherent story means you have to understand the reasons and backstory to what you’re doing very well.”

“Initially, the inspiration came from my working experience. I was affected by the styles that I came in touch with through my work, it was a lot of military and utilitarian, which contrasted my personal style that lies closer to the formalwear side. The clashing of these two led me to discover the Mods, it’s common to see them mix a suit with a cargo jacket and drew me in to exploring their subculture.”

Embracing the functionality of garments, Patrick reinterprets the army jacket worn by Mods while on Vespa bikes as protective gear into a core centrepiece of his looks, with added elements of reworked denim and blockish patchwork. An additional layer of the collection’s significance also came from the sociohistorical positioning of the Mods as a working-class subculture, making the designs a nod to blue-collar fashion.

“There’s a reason behind everything I’ve designed, there are no stitches that exist solely for just a look.”

Hong Kong Sustainable fashion designer Patrick Lam
Photo credit: Redress Design Awards

Though Patrick’s journey in the Redress Design Award unfortunately ended in the finalists round, he reflected upon the time as a fruitful and multi-faceted learning experience. “There were different challenges given to us over the course of the competition, like a zero-waste pattern making session that required us finalists to get into groups. There was discussion, then a design process, then a digital presentation.”

Other than rewarding emerging talent with a platform to introduce environmentally conscious changes into fashion, taking part in the Redress Award gave entrants the chance to get involved in the fashion pipeline with perspectives that prioritised sustainability.

“Designing with zero-waste, upcycling, reconstruction; these were all techniques I picked up from online classes Redress organised that was open for all the designers.” Taking part in the Pathway Course and the guided curriculum on circular design put out by the Redress Academy, Patrick was able to build upon his passion for sustainable design with a growing arsenal of practical skillsets.

A “wow moment” discovery, the new techniques were a far cry from the debris-filled production that drove Patrick into the sustainable fashion frontier. “Zero-waste patterns is something that mainstream fashion typically steers away from. It takes more time to make, since it requires forethought during the design process to make sure there won’t be any unused fabric from the initial draws and measurements.”

“This technique was something totally new to me before this competition and being able to get my hands on this process helped me to not only learn how to master it but also that putting my mind to it is what can help me to achieve new things.”

“After the Redress Sustainability Award I’ll be looking to enter even more competitions. I want to continue spreading the practice of sustainable design, and let people know that fashion in Hong Kong can be sustainable.”

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