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Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

Last Updated on 2022/03/17

Fashion designer, founder, and creative director of FashionClinic by T

Toby Crispy is a Hong Kong sustainable fashion advocate. Founder of Fashion Clinic by T, Toby Crispy has worked in different sectors in the fashion field. She worked ranging from magazine editor to designer for international brands after graduating from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She worked as a design manager at French label Agnes b. , before launching her upcycling label, LastbutnotLeast. Since 2013, Toby has been focusing on educational services to redesign fashion pieces. Toby demonstrated the various possibilities of upcycling fashion through redesign service and collaboration with NGOs, art groups, brands & corporate for exhibitions, workshops, events with various fashion brands, corporate groups, shopping malls, and green groups, in order to reconnect wearers with their clothes and mend those relationships. Believing that the fashion industry is sick and needs prescriptions for change. She truly believes that upcycling is the best way to make the best use of resources. The process of transforming unwanted products into something valuable again is challenging but also rewarding to creators.

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Have you always had clear your career as a designer? How and when did you get into fashion design?

Not really, everything seems to evolve naturally. I have been fond of art and drawing since I was a child. When it came to choosing a major subject for the university, the design was an inevitable choice for me, and I thought that I like observing human figures, that’s why I started my journey of fashion design.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

Who influenced you as a person and as a creative?

My family, my father, mother, and my grandmother have high standards and personal ideas about clothing and lifestyle. Of course, throughout the creative journey, I have been influenced by different masters at different stages, it’s a bit hard to list them out at a time. At this stage, I would say Yohji Yamamoto, who is very dedicated to the relationship between fabrics, tailoring, and fashion. Carolyn Denham, who tenderly illustrates the respect and meaning for every person and object within the clothes-making process through her Merchant and Mills. Thich Nhat Hnah and Jane Goodall, who teach me love all lives in nature with a dedicated and pure heart.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

How does Fashion Clinic come to life? What is the philosophy behind it?

In 2016, Fashion Clinic was brought to life in my first solo refashion exhibition with the support of my first retail customer, Sam Fung of XiaoShiGuang and Francesca at FL Place, at Central. At that time, upcycling fashion was very new, this name just popped up in my head in a second, which sounds so simple and straightforward to be understood. We all know that the fashion industry is sick, we need prescriptions for change urgently. I hope to provide services to heal the industry, the closets, and the hearts correspondingly through my redesign, workshops, and curation.

Fashion Clinic by T is playing an important role in the fashion industry attempting to make it more sustainable and providing an alternative to people who are not familiar with the concept of upcycling. Fashion Clinic by T’s mission is to fight fashion waste using a human and personal approach to resonate with audiences. Fashion Clinic by T aims to repair and restore unwanted clothes by redesigning, reshaping to be re-experienced by consumers. Founder Toby Crispy is a local pioneer in fashion upcycling. Instead of throwing out, “fashion surgeons” can redesign everything from garments to handbags to lengthen their lifespan. Change of mindset can help start circularity and sustainability. A change of mindset can bring new creations from already existing
fashion sources.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

What were the biggest challenges you encountered at the beginning?

As I said that it was very new at the beginning, people always mixed it up with ‘recycling’ and compared my bespoke service charge with the pricing of the mass-produced fast fashion. All the respect for creativity, quality, and craftsmanship has been washed out by the marketing strategy for overconsumption. It takes me a long time to turn the mindset around through talks, interviews, collaborations and even making video documentaries.

What are the goals you have achieved so far?

Since 2013, I have been focusing on my refashion services & illustrating various possibilities to advocate upcycling design concepts, such as creating upcycled textile art, curating exhibitions, SLOW STiTCH NOMAD, workshops and events with various key players in the industry, like JOYCE Boutique, Lane Crawford, New Balance, Patagonia, K11 Art Mall, M+ Museum, The Mills, Oi! ArtSpace…., writing SLOW STiTCH column for a bilingual magazine OBSCURA to connect with the slow stitch designers/artists around the world, in order to extend the life span of usable materials and reconnect the relationship between the clothing and the wearers, simultaneously stitch up a sustainable future. Since 2020, I changed the brand name to FashionClinic by T to keep on to
(T)rans-fashion (T)ales of (T)ime in (T)extile by (T)obyCrispy & (T)teams.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

Can you tell us more about how the recycling, up-cycling, and re-using process works? Where do you get the discarded clothes and/or other materials and how do you give them a new life and design?

All the materials are from my customers or project partners, as I aim to let the participants go through the process of upcycling. Before getting started, I’m used to listening to their wearable stories, then asking them what they like/dislike about their preloved clothes and their wishes for the change. There are many variations of techniques I use to redesign, such as visible mending, hand embroidery, reconstruction and fabric manipulation, etc.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

In a world of constant change and uncertainties, due to climate change and pollution, new sustainability is a priority, especially in the fashion industry. What kind of role does a fashion designer play?

Due to the problem of overproduction, everywhere is filled with excessive clothing and consumers’ respect for quality and craftsmanship has been washed out by fast fashion culture. I think that designers should make use of our creativity to save the ‘usable waste’ and breathe their new life to close the loop of the fashion cycle. More important is to urgently preserve and pass on the craftsmanship that has been accumulated over centuries. What we need now is more of the redesign with consciousness and reflective experience instead of the blindly produced new products. Last but not least, proposing a better lifestyle with our profession is the mission of a designer.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

Do you think people are conscious that tonnes of clothes are discarded and landfilled each day? From your perspective, do people are getting worried about the environmental or ethical effects of fashion?

Consumers are getting more conscious about the problems but they are still the minority, and some may think that they are passive and can’t make any difference with their little effort. I think that the biggest responsibility is for education from school, government policy, and the fashion industry to solve the problems it created.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

Do you think there are some people interested in sustainable fashion but don’t know how to reduce fashion waste? How can these people be helped to become more fashion-conscious? How to raise awareness?

Actually, there’re more and more social media sharing creative ideas of a sustainable lifestyle. I would suggest they to follow these platforms and give them true support. And the tips from me are:

Think overnight before you buy anything to get rid of your impulse of buying things you don’t really need
Organise your closet every season to review what do and don’t suit you and understand your personal style
Find your favourite refashion designers/tailors to give a fresh look to your preloved clothing and give your support for the refashion career development
Buy what you need not what you want. And purchase for quality over quantity with the cost-per-wear theory
Hold more swapping parties with friends with similar tastes
Make sure your clothes go to the right people who really need them when you give them away
Be conscious to understand more about the production process and be mindful to reconnect yourself with your clothing and the people & objects that brought them to life.
Learn a few basic skills to repair/refresh your own clothing.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

What are the main barriers currently to a sustainable fashion in your opinion? Ethical VS affordable. Is this one of the main challenges? Or, do you believe that there is misinformation and therefore prejudices on the quality of the up-cycled products?

Honestly, I do think that the most sustainable fashion is already in our wardrobe. As long as they are in good condition, refashion is a new luxury, cause it’s like a bespoke service custom-made only for the one-of-a-kind by professional designers and tailors, the cost is definitely higher than the mass-produced garments. Ethical VS affordable are never opposites. Being ethical can sometimes even be free if you keep wearing your clothes already in your wardrobe, or cost only a few hundred HK dollars for making a simple repair or reshape. Based on the theory of cost-per-wear, the better quality (in terms of style and craftsmanship) you buy, the less cost you spend. I believe that what we need is warmly handmade beautiful and long-lasting clothes that carry wearable stories to be passed on from generation to generation.

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

How has the sustainable fashion industry has changed during the years and with the pandemic? What has been achieved and what significant challenges are still to be done?

Frankly speaking, although it’s encouraging to see more brands in different levels are showing their concern for sustainability, I think the change of the fashion industry is way too less than what is required to resolve the crisis. Their most obvious change in the pandemic is their sales tactics to e-commerce and the greenwashing marketing strategy instead of the improvement of the problems. The biggest challenge is still the selfishness and greed of the producers, we need to urge for the change with a bigger voice from the customer power!

Interview with Fashion Designer Toby Crispy

What are your boldest predictions in sustainable fashion? What advice would you give to individuals to help and take actions to make fashion more circular?

  1. Refashion as after-sales service must be added into the fashion cycle, cause I truly believe that upcycling is the best way to make the best use of resources and to close the loop of the consumption cycle. In this way, it cuts down over-consumption and waste of resources at its root.
  2. Recycling technology will act as an important role in the circular economy.
  3. Fast fashion must decline as the public’s awareness of cherishing increases.
  4. More and more creativity for sustainable fashion will be evoked.

My tips would be what I mentioned for the above question.

Photos courtesy of Toby Crispy and Fashion Clinic by T

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