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Interview: Michelle Bang on being a Chivas Venture finalist

The co-founder of BYT tells us why Hongkongers should support sustainable fashion and vote for her company in the competition final

Since starting in 2014, 6,000 applicants have applied to be a part of the Chivas Venture, a competition that allocates US$1,000,000 annually to help get inventive startups off the ground. BYT, an up-cycled fashion brand that transforms textile waste from luxury brands into beautiful sustainable clothing, co-founded by Michelle Bang and Christina Dean of local charity Redress, is this years finalist from Hong Kong. 

Three-quarters of the prize fund is allocated by judges following presentations later in the year but the remaining US$250,000 is given out according to a public vote that starts on Monday May 8th – thats where Hongkongers come in and can support this fledgling local enterprise. In a city that doesnt exactly have a sterling record of backing startups, this sort of funding can be crucial. Ahead of public voting, we catch up with Bang to learn more about BYTs work and why Hongkongers should lend them their vote...


What exactly is BYT, in your own words?
‘BYT’ is code for a new attitude and lifestyle around fashion. For my partner Christina Dean, it means ‘Be Yourself Today’ and for me it means ‘Become Your Tradition’, but for our customer, it can mean their own individual code. We are taking a creative approach to the letters of BYT – as we do with the surplus materials that we have on hand.

Redress is a fairly well known local charity, so how did BYT come about?
Redresss mission is to reduce waste in the fashion industry. I worked there as chief operating officer, where I focused on strategy and operations, and saw the challenges that the charity has attempting to prove the business point for a more sustainable fashion industry.

So we made BYT, which is a for-profit extension of Redress’ work, addressing the waste-reducing methods championed by Redress, with our first collection focused on up-cycling discarded luxury fabrics into sophisticated apparel and accessories for women at an affordable price point. We want business to sit up and watch what we’re doing in making a positive impact through business and to hopefully follow suit!

What exactly are the environmental problems created by the fashion industry
Textile waste is a huge issue globally. Globalisation and cheap price points have led to an explosion in fashion production. As a result, textile waste has rocketed. China is thought to generate 26 million tonnes of industry and consumer waste every year, and Hong Kong dumps 306 tonnes into landfills – every day! What’s staggering about this textile waste is that textiles are almost 100 percent recyclable, so in BYT’s dream world, none would be wasted.

What can ordinary Hongkongers do to help?
We need to love fashion and buy fashion from the heart; this means clothes that we love, will wear for a long time, want to take great care for – and want to be proud of. We can also support companies making an effort to be more sustainable. This way, we can promote better consumption values, which will in turn reduce textile waste and also upgrade fashion to what it’s supposed to be: a creative and expressive layer that reflects our individuality.

What appealed to you about the Chivas Venture competition?
The Chivas Venture competition has provided BYT an incredible platform of support – from world-class mentorship with industry leaders and professors to global promotion. It’s also enabled us to be part of a wonderful community of like-minded individuals who want to make deep social impact through business.

What did you have to do to win the Hong Kong leg of the competition? 
We had to make a local pitch back in January. BYT had to prove that we are poised to make serious and meaningful global impact through a robust business strategy acting on environmental and social concerns. And we’re demonstrating that we can catalyze change in the industry thanks to our significant expertise and networks from Redress’ 10-year legacy working in this field.

What do you hope to do with the winnings if you succeed?
If we succeed we can use funding to expand our logistics and warehousing solutions for the surplus materials we rescue, which is critical to reducing waste. The funding would also allow us to use these materials to expand into menswear, a sector that currently doesn’t have many sustainable options, particularly in Asia.

What can we look forward to regarding the first BYT collection, which should be debuting in September?
Well present an affordable luxury womenswear collection that is design driven, with a real high fashion twist that is unexpected. Think gorgeous luxury fabrics like lace and tweeds.  Our collection will be available for immediate retail on our BYT e-commerce platform, which we’re building at bytlife.com. We have an exciting line up of stores wanting to carry BYT as well, so watch for our launch! You can also follow our journey on building our brand at our Instagram account @bytlife_.

To vote for BYT visit the Chivas Venture homepage or for more information check out their dedicated Facebook page.

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