I met Rachel because she wrote to me. She was responding to a newspaper article on food banks that I filed for a former employer, the South China Moring Post. “Food banks may provide food aid to the poor, but the right solution should include saving tonnes of wasted food from supermarket chains, restaurants and hotels, and passing them to the hands of the needy,” Rachel told me.
She included in her email information on a programme that collected vegetables discarded by hawkers at Tai Po’s Po Wu wet market and turned what’s otherwise destined for the landfill into delicious meals for a group of unemployed. Rachel hoped I could introduce this programme to the public and make the issue of food waste more visible. This was long before civil society began to take on the supermarket chains for dumping – and effectively destroying – food that is still edible.
However, what impresses me about Rachel, and has made us friends, is her one-person carbon reduction enterprise: a highly successful clothes recycling project known as “Adopt Me”.
Rachel is a lawyer specialising in intellectual property rights. When we met for the first time in the summer of 2011, the straight-talking lawyer, whose office is in Central’s Jardine House, had gone 18 months without shopping for a new outfit. As a green enthusiast, she believes the only way to save the planet from human destruction is for individuals to cut their energy emission, and that includes not falling into the trap of endless consumption.
Her one-person green enterprise started with a causal conservation. “There is this friend, she is addicted to shopping, so I said, ‘why don’t you give me what you no longer wear?’ Soon afterwards, she came with a suitcase of outfits, they are new. Inside the suitcase, there were also French-made leather handbags – I’d never had one of those before,” Rachel said.
Since then, she accepts “out-of-vogue outfits” from her friends and their friends. As the word spread that Rachel had generously gone on a mission to help others free up precious wardrobe space, she started to accumulate more fashionable and nicely-tailored clothes than she needed, and this is how her “Adopt Me” programme began.
Whether it is a blouse, a dress, a skirt, a suit or a pair of pants, Rachel measures and photographs them. Later, she tells her friends and acquaintances to check out her latest collection on Facebook. If an outfit takes their liking, Rachel will deliver it by post, or personally. She doesn’t charge for the service, and her customers don’t even have to pay for the postage. The fashion stocks are stored in her office and her three-bedroom apartment in Fanling.
More storage space was needed as the stocks grew. Rachel and her husband Hui Fai moved to Fanling in April 2011 following the latter’s decision to change profession from an IT consultant to a full-time organic farmer. Living in Fanling allows them to stay close to the farm. Fai usually cycles to the farm while Rachel goes to work in Central on the train. With a bigger apartment, Rachel has more space for her collection.
To date, she has given away more than 300 outfits, and her expanded service now also covers male outfits, kids wear, handbags, shoes and accessories. The “Adopt Me” Facebook page has given way to a blog that the couple runs together. The blog promotes responsible consumption, on top of the “Adopt Me” programme, and the husband-and-wife team also uses the site to review reasonably-priced vegetarian restaurants, green products, books on the environment.
Rachel has no plan to charge for the clothes adoption service. “This is what I should do, it is my little part on easing climate change,” she said. But as the popularity of “Adopt Me” continues to grow, Rachel is struggling to keep up with the constant stream of new customers and donors. “There are dozens of new arrivals still waiting to be measured and have their photo taken. If my customers find that there are no new stocks, it is because I haven’t got time to update the collection on my blog.”
Equally, Rachel has no time to entertain the workings of consumerism, and that’s what’s giving her the determination to continue her modest but significant planet-saving campaign. “Shopping culture is a scam created by the big capitalists. In order to get the hard-earned cash out of our wallet, they use manipulative advertisements to play around with our vanity, creating a culture in which having a particular handbag will make us the envy of everyone. By packaging the money-making business as art, the capitalists get richer. Consumption is just something shallow once we see through the gimmicks,” she said.
Q: What do you like the most about Hong Kong?
A: I like our countryside the most. I used to go hiking in the country parks every Sunday. I like walking in the woods and wandering along the streams. So beautiful and quiet. Indulging in the countryside is the best way to recharge after a week’s hard work. Now I work in Fai’s farm on Sundays. I am still in the country though I am no longer hiking along the nature trails.
Q: What do you dislike the most about Hong Kong?
A : Over-crowding and the extremely annoying, super high-density development. I lived in Shek Kip Mei when I was small. It is a neighbourhood dominated by public housing estates. When I was a kid, the housing blocks only had 12 floors. Now I visit Shek Kip Mei from time to time. New, much taller buildings have replaced the old housing blocks, and the entire neighbourhood is crowded with buildings that are three to four times taller than the old ones. The scale is completely out of proportion. I can’t breathe at all.
I am also annoyed by the congestion on the trains. It is because the passengers are not just people like me, people who commute to work, but there are also many mainlander tourists who come here to shop. They leave home early in the morning, cross the border and get on the trains in Lo Wu for the shops in Tsim Sha Tsui. They take with them suitcases, they run with their suitcases and they are noisy. I can’t hear Cantonese on the train. Then in the evening, when I go home from work, I see them on the train again.
Hong Kong is already a very populated city. Now, with tourists who come to shop on a daily basis, and the so-called integration, I don’t know what is going to happen to Hong Kong. A friend said Hong Kong is like Tibet and Xijiang. The integration may dilute the local population. I am worry that eventually the locals could become the minority, the core values we treasure would then change. Hong Kong’s core values would no longer be human rights, rule of law and freedom. If it happens, I will have to move to Canada. Fai is from Canada. I don’t want to but if it happens, I will have to leave Hong Kong.
Q: What does Hong Kong have to do for it to be sustainable?
A: Our countryside, our core values and our farming are equally important to Hong Kong’s sustainability. How can a city claim it is sustainable when it’s not even able to produce its own food? Farming is key to our survival. The government and some people think we don’t need farming because we can shop our food from other places as long as we have money. But the time will come that even if we have money, there is no food available to buy. The drought in the US has pushed up prices of soya bean. Money is no guarantee to our food security. It is important we have our own farming in Hong Kong. There are farms in the New Territories. Stop saying they have no economic value and that we need to be building more skyscrapers and shopping malls.