Fashion Stylist and Consultant, Founder of Handknit Label, Knotti, and Restyling Accessory Kitdo.
Denise Ho is one of Hong Kong’s most respected stylists and fashion consultants, who took her passion for fashion to new heights. She has worked in the fashion industry for many years, from founding her own knitwear brand, Knotti to directing new concept collections for The R Collective. She evolved her work in fashion to become more sustainable – environmentally and socially, concerned about textile waste and believing in the importance of encouraging a circular economy for the next generation. As creative director for The R Collective, she was involved in upcycling luxury excess materials and trying to figure out the most sustainable way to create a collection using these rescued materials. This includes working with sustainable fashion designers from the Redress Design Awards, designing out waste by using sustainable design techniques like upcycling, striving for zero-waste design, deconstruction, etc. She is also the founder of Kitdo, a brand new environmentally friendly accessory, that can help people restyle garments in many different ways. For the last few years, Denise Ho has been reinventing her craft as a fashion stylist and also as a sustainability enthusiast. Throughout her career, Denise Ho worked with countless celebrities, including James Franco, Luke Evans, and Michelle Yeoh. She has styled iconic fashion campaigns and editorials for a vast range of publications.
This interview first appeared in Planet China Vol 15, March 2023
Kitdo | Instagram
You are a fashion stylist and consultant. Can you share with us where your passion comes from? How did you see the world in your childhood?
That’s such a great question because no one has asked me about my childhood before lol. I was actually in touch with fashion at a very young age because of my mother, who was a buyer for Jean Paul Gautlier and she was responsible for bringing the brand to Hong Kong. By the time I was 7 years old, my mom had already taught me what fashion is, showing me the beautiful fabrics/craftsmanship/finishings and I was obsessed with it. I know a lot of young kids say they love fashion because it’s a fantasy or an escape; but to me, it’s due to the fact I have a deep appreciation for beauty. When I see a beautiful piece of clothing, regardless if it’s in a magazine or in real life, my heart skips a beat and it still does to this day.
Who has influenced you as a person and as a creative?
There are so many but the first one that came to my mind will be Sarah Richardson. I didn’t have any experience in styling but she took me on and taught me everything I needed to know about styling. For example, how to really push boundaries, be good with people and work as a team. This was back in 2002 when stylists weren’t as common as it is now so that was definitely a special time for me. Another one will be by a Buddhist teacher whom I met through my mom. He really showed me the importance of service, and how to live life with a purpose. He also showed me how to stay mentally healthy and clear-headed with meditation and I really benefited from that.
Can you share with us when you understand the importance of sustainability in fashion industries?
Two key events triggered my passion in understanding fashion sustainability. First, reflecting on my first-ever brand, a kids fashion line, I now realise the amount of waste you created through samples that we had to get rid off each season. Secondly, during my time as creative director at Redress, I had first-hand experience of witnessing the mountain of clothing waste at a HK packing facility. The combination of both really urged me to do something about it.
Knotti, Denise Ho’s knitwear label, is a sustainable brand that uses only biodegradable yarn and employs home knitters, allowing them to work comfortably from home with flexible hours. The fashion label specialises in combining traditional hand-knitted crafts with a modern twist. She decided to start Knotti because she wanted to create something that was thoughtfully crafted, and embody the values of slow fashion. The main goal is to create the ultimate “timeless” knitwear that is stylish yet versatile enough as a closet staple. Each piece is unique, with a traceable story that reconnects the consumer with the producer. Each piece is produced locally and takes around 3 weeks to complete. Knotti only uses biodegradable yarn from a company in Gostwyck, Australia, that produces exceptionally high quality fiber on the most environmentally and ecologically responsible farms. They also spin and dye their own yarn to ensure that high standards are met throughout the manufacturing process.
You have founded Knotti and Kitdo. How do these projects come to life? What motivated you?
I started Knotti back in 2015, it was a project combining giving back to local communities and my initial effort into sustainability/slow-fashion. I, along with my assistant, began to learn knitting from experienced individuals (and YouTube videos). Once we had accumulated enough skills and knowledge, we taught and employed other ladies, who otherwise may not have skills to be hired, to give them a chance to better their lives. The collection we created was small, but it was picked up by luxury retailers such as Lane Crawford. While I enjoyed all aspects of Knotti, it was unfortunately not a scalable business, which led me to my next passion project. Soon after Knotti, I consulted for sustainable labels, dove deep into research, and realised we are currently wearing only 10-20% of our wardrobe with some pieces of clothing only being worn 7 times before being discarded, which results in a massive waste problem. With so much waste still being generated every year, I wonder what our world will be like if everyone restyles more instead of buying more. My idea of a beautiful piece of accessory that would both replace all the safety pins we use on sets and give consumers confidence in restyling was born. Kitdo, winner of 3 international design awards, is a unique restyling product that I am very proud of.
Climate change and pollution are huge issues, and new sustainability is a top priority, primarily in the fashion industry. What role can Kitdo play for people that have to choose between ethics and good taste?
According to an article by BBC.com, continuing to actively wear a garment for just 9 months longer could diminish its environmental impact by 20-30%. This highlights the importance of restyling, and we need more people who want to be a part of the restyling community. Restyling is a fairly new concept to the general public, and I feel most people get a little intimidated by it, thinking it’s difficult to do. I believe Kitdo is a great gateway tool to ease consumers into the lifestyle of restyling. There is no right or wrong way to use it and it’s really up to the user on how creative they want to go, that sense of freedom is how you develop a personal style. And guess what, your personal style is the best style.
Kitdo, a restyling accessory used to “re-envision pieces to create newness in clothes’ offers solutions to restyle and reinvent existing wardrobe pieces. This tool is Denise Ho’ ultimate vision of sustainable fashion. The new accessory hopes to reduce waste and fast fashion by encouraging users to restyle pieces in their closets instead of “compulsively buying ‘’ new items. Kitdo can add a playful new spin on old wardrobe staples by looping, double looping, bonding, and cinching, thanks to strong magnets to bond clothes’ tissues together, creating new shapes and textures without making holes in the fabric. Since the fashion industry generates 92 million tons of textile waste each year and the average person only wears 10 to 20 percent of their wardrobe, it is important to speak to consumers about the importance of restyling. Kitdo redefines the concept of newness by thinking outside the box. Kitdo is a versatile accessory that can bring people to value every piece of clothing with a long-term vision that can make a positive impact in their life, and on the environment. Kitdo can give buyers the same fix as buying new, without compromising the planet. It is a unique product that has already won 3 international design awards.
Could you walk us through the Kitdo design process, from concept to final product? What were the biggest challenges?
The concept is to introduce a piece of product that can ease consumers into the world of restyling. With the concept in mind, I shaped different moulds with playdoh and magnets and started using them as prototypes. When the design matured, I finally showed my manufacturer the prototype. The challenging part is when you start sampling and doing production, which can be costly because we are just pouring money into R&D without knowing whether it will work or not. In addition, I have no experience in accessory production so I was quite lucky that my manufacturer was willing to work with me. Until today, I still haven’t fully figured out how to reduce cost because Kitdo is so complicated to make but I know one day I will.
What improvements have you observed in the fashion industry, and what more should be done?
As consumers become more environmentally conscious, major players in the industry are shifting away from the wasteful practices of the past and embracing sustainable fashion technology to help bring major improvements. There have been a lot of exciting happenings in eco-friendly technology in fashion, from virtual sampling, digital dressing to edible materials which is very exciting. I do feel there is a lack of focus on post-consumer which is equally important. We need to invest more in educating consumers to stop discarding their clothes and develop a habit of extending the life of the clothes we already have.
“Less is more” scares some people. A minimalist lifestyle sometimes has become more complicated, because some people try to fit various standards to be part of and be accepted by different groups. How can people incorporate sustainability practices in daily life to be more aware, without giving up on socialising?
I am by no means advocating for 100% refrain from buying new. But I believe everything you do or believe in, you have to find the balance. You can’t just go to one extreme or another. For example, even though I am restyling clothes/ shopping second-hand, I am allowing myself to buy a new pair of shoes once in a while. Also, everyone is different when it comes to what makes you happy, if less is more means having less but a collection of quality things that bring value to the bigger picture then why not. Sometimes we don’t think that even kids are exposed to trends and to the abundance of fashion.
Since you’ve also worked as a children’s clothing designer in the past, what do you think is the key to helping them to learn the importance of a sustainable wardrobe?
It is difficult to not buy new things for children as they grow and change so fast. But it is never too early to teach them the importance of treasuring everything we are lucky to own and not be wasteful. In this material world, we often forget that once we buy something, it becomes our responsibility to keep them well and not see them as disposable objects. All these small lessons planted in our kids can one day steer them to value the clothes in their wardrobe and all of their belongings.
Consumers that believe in sustainable fashion and are looking for solutions are conscious of the problem of “Greenwashing”. How can they spot it? What is your opinion about this topic?
First of all, I commend all brands that are taking steps forward in sustainable fashion. I am certainly not here to define what is right or wrong as there may be many unseen factors that outsiders do not realise. With that said, I think it is up to the consumers to be curious, to want to learn more about the statements being published. At the end of the day, if we ask more questions, that will uncover the truth for all to see.
Photos courtesy of Denise Ho