Eco Fashion Week 68 Pound Challenge - Carlie Wong

All Images by Peter Jensen Photography
Video of show at bottom of page courtesy of Fashion Pause

The second show I always make sure to see is each season at Eco Fashion Week is the 68 Pound Challenge. This is truly a trial by fire for the designer who accepts the task. They have only 6 weeks to select their raw materials, pick a direction, design, sew, fit and show 20 complete looks on the runway. It's an overwhelmingly difficult challenge involving long, long hours. And if they are working at the same time, sleep is probably a thing of the past. Each designer who has taken this challenge has approached it differently.

For the 68 Pound Challenge, a designer has to pick 68 pounds of fabrics - the amount of clothing thrown away by the average North American each year - only from amongst the heaps of unsellable items at Value Village. This can be used clothing of any type, tablecloths, curtains, and more. Using these items as the raw materials, the designer can completely deconstruct items and just use as regular fabric, or they can upcycle the piece by reshaping it into a new silhouette with details of the original intact, but used in different ways. Often there is a mix and match process with bits of several different garments combined in new, unique ways to make a new garment.

This season the challenge was accepted by the very talented Carlie Wong. I have been following her career since graduation from the Kwantlen design program and had the privilege of interviewing her way back in 2010 (Click HERE). It was such an honour to be in the audience. The collection was absolutely her aesthetic - something she decided to embrace from day. Hard to believe it was created from used materials. Hands down - it was stunning and I was one of many on my feet at the end offering a standing ovation.

Now for the real fun - a walk behind the scenes with Q and A!

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Where were you born/where did you grow up?

I was born in Hong Kong. I moved to Vancouver when I was 4 months old and been here ever since.

Have you always been interested in fashion? Can you share an early memory?

I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was probably 10 or 11. But even earlier than that, I was very much interested in making things with my hands and making things aesthetically beautiful. When I was 4 years old or so, my sister and I were playing with my grandma's box of scarves. She was wearing them in different ways and pretending to be different characters. I was taking the scarves and decorating the house. She became an actress and I became a designer. I think making things beautiful was always in my blood.
Talk about your journey to become a fashion designer.

I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a designer so all throughout my high school and university, that's what my focus was. I worked part time during my studies at Manuel Mendoza and continued after I graduated making custom couture gowns and bridal dresses. I then switched to design for Mac + Jac Clothing and Kensie Clothing to gain a completely different experience working for a giant company. After being there for a year, I went on to participate on Project Runway Canada and subsequently quit my job to start my own line of high end womenswear. Ive had my own label for 8 years now. 

How are you currently working in the industry?

I currently do a lot of custom design work. I also teach design at Blanche Macdonald. I have been there for 5 years. I always have ideas for new collections because there's still so much I want to try. I've done sportswear, evening wear, bridal and even mens wear...but I want to do a resort line with bathing suits. That might be next, but I haven't got the time. 

How did you become involved in EFW's Value Village 68 Pound Challenge?

I was asked by Myriam to do it, and I told her I couldn't. I am working full time and I only had 6 weeks. She convinced me and I haven't slept until last night. (The night after my show) The materials and resources was most definitely a challenge, but the timeline was 100 times worse. 

Shopping had to be a real challenge. Talk about your process - how often did you shop, how many stores did you visit, did you have a theme going in or did it develop as you were drawn to specific garments?

Shopping was very tough. The first time I went, I had no clue what I was doing in terms of concept. I was in an athletic sporty mode and I started picking out weird mesh fabrics in a yellow and blue colour scheme. I took bags and bags of stuff, but when I laid it out on the floor at home, it just looked very cheap and nothing matched. It was also not very me.

It was hard because you are so limited. I wasn't allowed to take anything I wanted; I was only allowed to go through the rag-offs, which is the stuff that hasn't sold, so you can imagine how infrequently you would find something that was usable. It was frustrating, but I regrouped and decided to stick to what was true to myself - eveningwear. The second time I went to Value Village, I focused on high end fabrics with texture and shine in black and that worked out. I went scour the rag offs at various stores maybe 4 or 5 times.

Please share details on the final collection we saw on the runway. 

There was no real concept or inspiration to this collection other than the situation itself - having limited resources and time to create original work. My own mini challenge was to create a body of work that looks comparable to what I would normally make without these seemingly impossible limitations. I feel like at first glance, the pieces are quite commercial, but the story behind how they came to be and how the individual pieces were utilized is what I think would be noteworthy.

What did you gain from this experience and what advice do you have for stylists hoping to take part in future 68 Pound Challenges?

I would recommend not working other jobs. Doing this collection in addition to working and teaching meant I was working 80 hour weeks for 6 weeks straight. It was exhausting and could have been a tad easier. Normally when I do a 20 look collection I take 6 months, not 6 weeks. Its tough enough doing the challenge without a time limitation. In terms of the challenge itself. My advice is to stick to your aesthetic and do what you know. Going into a Value Village and looking through piles of junk is very overwhelming. Sticking to what you know and going with your gut feeling works best.