ReFashioned: Cutting-edge Materials and Processes for Upcycling

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Sass Brown has been a leading voice for ethical and sustainable fashion design for many years. In addition to being the Acting Assistant Dean for the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, Sass is also an author and journalist. Her book ReFashioned: Cutting-Edge Clothing from Upcycled Materials features 46 international designers who work with recycled materials and discarded garments, reinvigorating them with new life and value.

This compendium from Sass Brown is not just about reimagining and reinventing materials but the reinvention of the fashion industry as a whole towards a more sustainable and beautiful world – proving that good design doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Here, SOURCE speaks to Sass about fibres, fabrics and processes used for upcycling. She sheds light on some of the most exciting developments in upcycled fashion and suggests what the future might look like for upcycling and sustainability for the fashion sector.

1.) What are some of the most exciting ways that designers are using upcycled materials?

Schmidt Takahashi in Berlin source used clothing from their garment drop off box and embed each garment with a QR code that documents the garments history. Their upcycled designs often juxtapose multiple contrasting garments into one, each piece carrying with it a unique code that tracks its history and allows the new wearer to look up their clothing’s history with a simple smartphone app.

2.) What surprising materials are being used to make new innovative fashion products?

One of my favourites is Berlin-based brand Steinwidder, who produce an amazing, edgy, urban collection from used socks! Piecing the socks together like a giant jigsaw puzzle and constructing her designs directly into three dimensions without the aid of any backing material.

Controversial British designer Rachel Freire produced an extraordinary collection from delicate rose-coloured leather flowers attached to S&M corsetry stays. The collection is fashioned from waste leather, a part normally discarded and not sold on the skin, that of the cows nipples.

The collection caused a furor at London Fashion Week when admirers were drawn in by the delicacy and strength of her designs, only to be disgusted by her materials. Despite the visceral nature of her material choice, her work is true to the concept of upcycling, by using materials that are discarded, and revaluing them through design.

3.) In your research, what new forward thinking processes are designers employing to turn disused materials into quality products?

Austrian brand km/a produce a capsule collection of jackets and coats from micro-scraps of cotton jersey. Literally tiny offcuts and selvedges that would normally be considered trash. They crazy-stich them together over a backing fabric, and construct these amazing tailored jackets from these otherwise entirely worthless cuttings.

4.) How do you think upcycling can be taken to scale for bigger brands and retailers?

I think this is one of the biggest opportunities that brands have yet to fully explore. The bigger the brand, the greater the amount of waste, and the greater quantity of standardised waste, making it easier to scale its reuse. Orsola de Castro said it best, why not have an upcycling unit embedded into the production structure of every big manufacturer?

5.) What do you think the future of upcycled fashion might look like?

I am waiting for the first High Street fast fashion brand to partner with a high profile designer to reimagine their waste material. Why shouldn’t H&M or Topshop, for example, challenge Stella McCartney or Vivienne Westwood to design a capsule collection from their wasted fabrics? Promoting and featuring it as they currently do with their designer collaborations.

6.) What are some crucial things about textile waste that you wish more designers would think about?

That your talent and your labour can transform what others consider worthless into something desirable, fashionable and inspirational. You are only limited by your imagination, and not the materials!

7.) What about producers – what do you think they should think more about in terms of textile waste?

Simply how to utilise it, and partner with those who are willing to work with it. This is a difficult industry for any emerging designer to succeed, so why not have a system where the larger more successful manufacturers donate their out of season waste fabric to the next generation of designers in need of materials at little or no cost?

8.) Where do you think the sustainable fashion movement is headed? What other developments do you think are most promising?

I think we are at a tipping point, where the myriad of emerging designers, committed consumers and talented communicators are finally being heard in the mainstream.

9.) Tell us a bit more about your book, ReFashioned. It’s a wonderful compendium on recycling and upcycling for fashion.

My intent is the same as with all my writing, to honour and promote the work of a global range of designers doing truly worthwhile work in conceptual, cutting-edge design with a conscience. There is groundbreaking work being done – cerebral, intelligent, inspiring and aspirational, and the stories of the designers need to be told, and their work supported.

*This story first appeared on Source

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