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


How you can help save precious water?

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By Emma Reinhold


Emma Reinhold, Trade Relations Manager at Soil Association, looks at how sourcing organic cotton better manages water and can help to avoid disasters like the shrinking Aral Sea basin.

In some parts of the world cotton production is putting unsustainable pressure on our precious and vital water resources. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where recent satellite images from NASA show a large section of the Aral Sea has, alarmingly, dried up for the first time in modern history.

The eastern basin of the Central Asian inland sea – once the 4th largest in the world – was left completely dry in August, with water levels believed to be less than 10% of what they were half a century ago.

Even more worryingly, looking at the same area just 15 years ago, in 2000, satellite imagery showed an expansive area of water in the same region. All that is left now is a graveyard of abandoned fishing trawlers, relics of a once-thriving fishing economy, and large expanses of highly salted sand, which is carried as far away as Japan and Scandinavia by winds, and is claimed to have caused numerous health problems among local populations.

So what’s happened?

Two words: cotton production.

Back in the 1950s, the region’s two major rivers were diverted to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, leaving the Aral Sea lacking vital water supplies.

Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops we farm, using 11,000 litres of water on average for each kilogram of cotton produced.1 Most cotton is irrigated, draining groundwater, lakes and rivers, threatening ecosystems, wildlife and water availability for other humans needs, as in the case of the Aral.2 Of all the water used in cotton production, up to a fifth could be used to try and dilute pollution. [3]

Intensive use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers in non-organic cotton production means that they can drain into water systems. Pesticides used in cotton have frequently been found in rivers, lakes and streams of cotton producing countries across the world.4 These chemicals pollute rivers and precious groundwater stores, upsetting fragile ecosystems and posing a toxic risk to wildlife and people.5

Organic cotton, quite simply, saves water. Up to 80% of organic production is rain fed rather than irrigated, so organic cotton preserves important groundwater stores.6 The water pollution impact of organic has been shown to be 98% less than non-organic cotton production.8

What’s more, organic practices require that cotton farmers keep their soils healthy – healthy soils are better at holding on to and soaking up water that comes from rain or irrigation, so organic soils make better use of water inputs and are more resilient in drought conditions.7 By eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, organic cotton keeps waterways and drinking water safe and clean.

By choosing organic cotton you can help prevent another environmental disaster like the Aral Sea from happening again. It’s something that the 60 million people that live around the Aral Sea basin and depend on it for water supplies will thank you for.


1) Chapagan, A, K., Hoekstra, A, Y., Savenije, H, H, G and Gautam, R. (2005) The water footprint of cotton consumption. Value of Water, Research Report Series No.18

2) Soth, J (1999) The impact of cotton on freshwater resources and ecosystems: A preliminary synthesis. C. Grasser and R. Salemo, eds. World Wildlife Fund.

3) Chapagan et al (2005) The water footprint of cotton consumption.

4) EJF (2007) The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton.

5) Soth, J (1999) The impact of cotton of freshwater resources and ecosystems.

6) Textile Exchange. Water Footprinting. [Accessed on 7 July 2012]

7) Niggli, U., Slabe, A., Schmid, O., Halberg, N., and Schlüter, M. (2008) Vision for and Organic Food and Farming Research Agenda to 2025: Organic Knowledge for the future. Platform Organics.

8) Torres, E, Z., Zeng, Z., Hoekstra, A, Y. (2011) Grey water footprint as an indicator of levels of water pollution in the production of organic vs conventional cotton in India. A study in collaboration with C&A, Water Footprint Network and Cotton Connect. Unpublished.

**This post first appeared on SOURCE INTELLIGENCE here.

Five materials for sustainability at scale

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Contributor Katharine Earley

Image: Cocccon
Image: Cocccon

From organic silk to recycled polyester, high street fashion brands are increasingly seeking high-performing materials with a low impact on the environment.

The quest for high-performing, sustainable materials continues apace as the more progressive high street fashion brands seek to create garments using fewer natural resources and generate a lower impact on the environment.

More than 1,000 sustainable materials were showcased at the Future Fabrics trade show in 2014. Meanwhile, designers can compare the impacts of diverse materials using interactive tools, and multiple collaborations are forming to develop healthier, low impact materials, pioneer closed loop models or prevent waste, including Fashion Positive and Reclaim to Wear.

“We’re seeing an increasing appetite for innovative, sustainable fabrics, and a growing interest from brands in transforming waste materials into a resource,” explains Sarah Ditty, SOURCE Intelligence editor-in-chief. “With many bio-based and synthetic options available, the real challenge for businesses, particularly big fashion brands, is integrating new materials into the design process from the outset.”

Here, we highlight five innovative materials on the market today:

Organic silk

Organic silk is produced by silk worms living in organically cultivated Mulberry trees. The worms consume the mulberry leaves, converting them into body mass, which they then use to spin their cocoon. Some 500 cocoons are required to produce one T-shirt, according to Swiss silk supplier ALKENA.

The company claims that feeding worms on leaves free from harmful chemicals yields larger, healthier cocoons and subsequently more consistent, better quality silk. Organic silk can be sourced in different weights, weaves and colours, and its production often takes place on a small scale among developing communities, including in China and India.

Farmers save money by avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, while protecting the environment and producing a fibre that is kinder to human skin. The material features in H&M’s new Conscious Collection, with garments including a black silk tuxedo jacket. You can source beautiful organic silks from suppliers such as Cocccon and Seidentraum.

diagram from ALKENA

Recycled rubber

Rubber trees are traditionally grown in plantations in deforested areas of rainforest (although small scale projects to tap rubber using traditional techniques are in place). Opting for recycled rubber offers a more sustainable alternative, as it avoids deforestation and its production generates fewer carbon emissions.

Outdoor clothing brand Timberland recently formed a partnership with tyre manufacture Omni United to create a new line of tyres designed to be recycled into Timberland footwear when the tyre treads wear out. Indosole, a collaboration between US social entrepreneurs and Indonesian craftsman, also produces shoes from tyres destined for landfill. Elsewhere, UK fashion brand Elvis & Kresse transforms rubber fire hoses into bags and belts and accessories.

Elvis & Kresse’s Reporter bag

Recycled plastic

With some 280m tonnes of plastic produced annually and less than 10% currently recycled, there is a big opportunity for fashion brands to derive value from plastic waste. Suppliers offering fibres made from recycled plastic include DGrade, Saluzzo Yarns and Bionic Yarn.

Fibres are largely spun from post-consumer plastic bottles, as well as plastic bags, and offer the same quality as virgin plastic while using less energy in the production process, and conserving natural resources. Importantly, giving plastic waste a new lease of life also helps to stem the flow of plastic into landfills and oceans.

Dutch fashion brand G-Star RAW has gone one step further by collaborating with Bionic Yarn to create a denim clothing line, Raw for the Oceans, made from ocean plastic debris. Elsewhere, EKOCYCLE, a sustainable lifestyle brand founded by and the Coca-Cola Company, is partnering with brands including Adidas to create products made partly from PET plastic.

Recycled polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fibre derived from oil. Selecting recycled polyester, which is typically made from plastic PET bottles (suppliers include REPREVE and Eco-fi) – helps brands to reduce their reliance on finite natural resources and prevent plastic pollution.

Recycled polyester also requires fewer chemicals, energy and water to produce. Patagonia and The North Face both incorporate polyester made from plastic bottles in garments such as fleeces. The North Face revealed in 2014 that its Denali fleece is made from 100% recycled content. Innovative models to close the loop on recycled polyester are springing up worldwide.

Dutch aWEARness has created a circular supply chain for Refinity, its recycled polyester, leasing work clothing to companies and taking it back at the end of the contract to be recycled.

Luxury fashion group Kering, innovation business Worn Again and H&M have partnered to develop a technology to separate and extract polyester and cotton from end-of-life textiles. Meanwhile, Japanese chemicals company Teijin has created a ‘closed loop’ polyester through its ECO CIRCLE™ system.

H&M Conscious Collection 2015


Lyocell is a type of rayon fibre made from the pulp of trees such as eucalyptus and bamboo. The trees are cultivated on farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, grow quickly and require little water and few chemicals to thrive.

Lycocell creates a lower impact on the environment and produces fewer carbon emissions than mainstream, conventionally produced fibres. Additionally, some 98% of the solvent used to dissolve the wood pulp is recovered and reused in a closed loop process. The result is a soft, lightweight fibre, more commonly known as TENCEL®, which is made from FSC-certified eucalyptus by Austrian supplier Lenzing.

Many brands source TENCEL®, including Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s, H&M and Burberry. It can be used in jersey, knits and woven fashion garments as an alternative for viscose, cotton and silk. MONOCEL (similar to cotton) is produced in a similar way, and is made from FSC-certified bamboo.

Katharine Earley is a journalist and copywriter, specialising in sustainable business.

**This article first appeared on Ethical Fashion Forum blog here.