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The student on a mission to create sustainable faux fur

Last year, YOOX NET-A-PORTER’s Runway Collection collaborated with the British Fashion Council, inviting students to offer innovative solutions to a key industry challenge: sustainability and faux fur. Here, we announce the competition winner, who impressed the judges with her original design…

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London College of Fashion student Hong Zhao, the winner of British Fashion Council x YOOX NET-A-PORTER’s ‘The Runway Collection Competition: Faux Fur’

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, it has never been more vital to support the brilliant work of the diverse creatives in the fashion industry, particularly that of the next generation of talent rising through the ranks. With universities around the world having to pivot to remote education and digital courses over the past year, we at YOOX NET-A-PORTER have been keen, as ever, to support fashion students in new ways, and partnering with the British Fashion Council on a competition to discover and nurture the stars of tomorrow was the perfect opportunity.

Each year, the BFC runs a competition inviting a different brand to set a brief for willing students at BFC-affiliated universities. For 2020, YOOX NET-A-PORTER was delighted to join forces with the BFC for this competition, tasking students with developing a product that would interrogate faux fur by coming up with an innovative idea for an alternative, in line with the Group’s commitment to sustainability and nurturing young talent.

Applicants were given access to YOOX NET-A-PORTER’s Runway Collection – a fashion-footage archive spanning four decades of catwalk shows – to base their research on how fur and/or faux fur have been traditionally presented, what image they communicate to the consumer and how designers manipulate them as a material.

[The] winning submission showed originality of thought, with respect and consideration for the past and a fresh eye looking towards the future
Tara Tierney, digital collection curator, Runway Collection at YOOX NET-A-PORTER

The production, use and end-of-life practices around synthetic products can have environmental impacts. With this in mind, the research project – open to all fashion students and courses that are part of the BFC Colleges Council – focused on one of three areas: Short Life Cycle (throwaway culture); High Chemical Use and Processing; and Use of Synthetic Materials (and subsequent environmental impact). Students were encouraged to suggest an innovative solution to combat these environmental concerns.

Presented as a Proof of Concept, the winner of the competition – judged by an esteemed panel including the BFC; Tara Tierney, digital collection curator, Runway Collection at YOOX NET-A-PORTER; Giorgia Roversi, director of sustainability and inclusion at YOOX NET-A-PORTER; and Orsola de Castro, co-founder and global creative director at Fashion Revolution would be awarded with a £1,000 cash prize, plus a Private Label Workshop Presentation, giving them the chance to talk through their background work, thought processes and how they drew these components together to create a winning idea.

Zhao’s faux-fur textile development
The level of talent and creativity displayed across the entries has shown the huge potential to create fashion that is kind, sustainable and beautiful
Giorgia Roversi, director of sustainability and inclusion at YOOX NET-A-PORTER

“There has never been a more crucial time to spotlight the work of young talent,” says Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council. “Through this collaborative brief, the BFC Colleges Council and YOOX NET-A-PORTER gave students the opportunity to engage in an exciting project, tackling the negative impact synthetic materials impose on our environment – a project that also reflects some of the work of the BFC’s Institute of Positive Fashion.”

Today, we are delighted to announce the winner of the competition: Hong Zhao, MA Womenswear Fashion Design Technology student at London College of Fashion. She impressed judges with her thoughtful, thoroughly researched and beautifully concepted entry, which demonstrated the strength behind traditional skills being re-imagined in contemporary ways.

“I created a fur effect using mille-feuille” explains Zhao, elaborating on her exceptional submission. “Inspired by the traditional lion dance [performed at traditional Chinese festivals] and my mom’s old photos, in which she is wearing a fur garment, I created the fake fur by layering organza and pulling the thread out to make the edge fuzzy. I presented different cliché elements such as dragon [motifs] and fur by using the mille-feuille technique, and the craftsmanship will make it [more] desirable.

“By changing the layer of organza, you can easily adjust the thickness of the fabric. It can be used to make a reversible garment, increasing the styling potential, while adding value because of the craftsmanship. By changing the stitching line, you can also create a different silhouette through the strength of organza.

“It’s such an honor to win this competition. I learned a lot during the digital presentation and was given [access to] factories’ resources to help me develop my textile further.”

Intricate detailing of the winning faux-fur design

“Hong’s winning submission showed originality of thought, with respect and consideration for the past and a fresh eye looking towards the future,” Tierney explained. “Her approach to the brief was both innovative and creative, and presented a sustainable and desirable option for faux fur, which all judges thought could either be produced locally or upscaled as desired.

“Hong drew inspiration from many elements to create her final garment – researching archival Galliano fashion shows and exploring her Chinese heritage through the traditional lion dance and vintage photos of her mother from the 1990s. Her brushed mille-feuille fabric emulates faux fur beautifully; and printed with a contrasting opulent ‘cheesy chic’ dragon print, the result is a striking piece of contemporary craftsmanship relevant for a Generation-Z market.”

The vibrant colors and motifs were inspired by Zhao’s Chinese heritage

“This competition has drawn on YOOX NET-A-PORTER’s extensive digital Runway Collection fashion-footage archive, allowing young designers to seek inspiration from the past to inspire their ideas for innovative and environmentally friendly solutions,” adds Roversi. “The level of talent and creativity displayed across the entries has shown the huge potential to create fashion that is kind, sustainable and beautiful.

“Hong’s exploration of her own heritage and personal story inspired her beautiful hand-stitched fabric solution, and showed that history can play a role in creating fashion that will have a lasting positive impact.”

More information on our ongoing commitments to sustainability and nurturing future talent can be found here.

The judges agreed that Zhao presented a sustainable and desirable option for faux fur

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The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown