On the Up and Upcycle

Brands Choosing Planet Over Profit

According to UpcycleThat.com, upcycling is “the act of taking something no longer in use and giving it a second life in and new function.

The United States Economic Commission for Europe found 92 million tons of waste in landfills was produced by fashion industries in 2015. Recently, Burberry also made a statement about ending their incineration processes after burning almost $40 million in stock. Coupled with growing awareness towards eco-friendly products are doing (H&Ms recent controversies are a prime example) and waste piling up in back rooms from the pandemic, upcycling became a priority. Balenciaga, a designer known for sustainable fashion, made a coat out of shoelace fur and dresses out of basketball nets, while Coach reinvented a vintage design on their handbags. Creators were finding alternative means of getting fashion out there.

Amongst luxury brands’ recent clamors for change, however, smaller companies have already been working towards a sustainable reality for the last few years and getting significant attention. Retailer JJ Vintage started out as a Depop site before becoming it’s own entity in 2019 and offering reworking sales of classic designs. Using deadstock fabric, Christy Dawn honors Mother Earth with flowy cottage couture. Especially interesting is Cafe Forgot (which was started by the owners as a promotional outlet for their friends) because it features designers who put their own work into already-made pieces. Staying true to the DIY aesthetic, they aim to introduce fresh ideas into the industry. They even have a documentary that was released December of last year.

“Many of the designers we work with bring in one-of-a-kind pieces,” according to their website’s bio, “so it’s great to have them come into the shop and tell us how each design came into fruition and for everyone to try on the garments.”

Younger designers are showing works not only preserving resources but pushing the boundaries of clothing in new ways. iD Magazine took on the task of profiling some of them in a story titled “The young designers elevating upcycled fashion.” Sweden-based designer Ellen Larsson launched HODOKOVA (her middle name) after graduating from the Swedish School of Textiles two years ago. Inspired by a disdain for mundane school uniforms, she set out to challenge norms by using inspiration like musical influences to upend expectations and challenge understanding, prompting the ability for both designer and wearer to question the creative process.

“I’m always influenced by music, art, and architecture,” she said in an interview with the magazine. “I want a pair of suit pants to play the same role as a feat of architecture – but worn on the shoulders.

Another featured designer, Alexandra Sipa, captured the essence of joy in her Romanian roots and shied away from the dark, gloomy patterns traditional in the culture during a presentation at London Fashion Week.

“I have so much freedom in the creative process,” said Sipa. “I can make things up as I go.

The upcycling trend has continued from last into most of this summer. One thing for certain, however, is the desire to normalize the use of deadstock fabrics. Organizations like Fashion Act Now are calling for an end to constant use of new materials. In a Zoom call with Vogue, co-founder Sara Arnold emphasized importance of reuse.

“We have enough textiles that we’ve already produced to last us, and yet we’re still producing masses of clothes from virgin materials,” said Arnold.

There’s a lot to learn from upcycling, which is showing the slow deterioration of fast fashion and the birth of something new and, potentially, a huge stepping stone in sustainability.

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