Entering the eighth competition cycle of the Redress Design Award, organisers
Redress – a Hong Kong environmental NGO committed to reducing textile waste – are as determined as ever to intensify their impact on the fashion industry. In a year which is widely marked as a critical tipping point for consumers, designers and brands to incorporate sustainability across the fashion value chain, the 2018 cycle of the world’s largest sustainable design competition has expanded to a truly global search for emerging talent. Amidst ongoing industry pressures to produce more clothes at less cost, the Redress Design Award continues to shine a light on the push for sustainability, and the growing power of the circular economy, whilst championing emerging talent to fuel this new future for fashion.
An official launch event at Eaton House in Hong Kong marked the opening of the Redress Design Award 2018 (formerly the EcoChic Design Award), further strengthening Hong Kong’s position as a leading sustainable fashion hub in Asia. With the continued support of Create Hong Kong, who have sponsored the competition since its inception in 2011, the award offers the top ten finalists the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong in September 2018 to present their innovative waste-reducing collections and vie for First Prize, to design a collection for up-cycled brand, The R Collective, proving to the world that sustainable fashion is not just a trend but instead a business reality.
FEEDING AN INDUSTRY GAP
A recent industry report predicts sales across nearly all fashion categories will almost triple between 2016 and 2018. Meanwhile the number of garments produced annually now exceeds 100 billion pieces. With this rapid rise in production and consumption comes a staggering increase in waste, as consumers buy more and more whilst simultaneously disposing of their clothing twice as fast as they did 15 years ago. In Hong Kong alone, approximately 125,195 tonnes of textiles were sent to landfills in 2016.
Redress Founder, Christina Dean commented, “The fashion world’s ethical barometers are now switched on and we’re seeing an overarching yearning for positive change. Hope is now sewn into the core of fashion. We are now at a critical tipping point to act, especially for emerging designers who are ready to prove to the world that circular fashion can be a beautiful, retail reality.”
Hong Kong designer, Victor Chu, who is one of over 130 fashion game-changers in the growing Redress Design Award Alumni Network, co-designed The R Collective’s inaugural up-cycled collection, which launched in Lane Crawford and Barneys New York. He commented, “I remember being quite shocked as a student when I learned through the Redress Design Award that around 80% of a product’s environmental impact is locked in at the design stage. My experience in the competition and then later joining the design team at The R Collective has shown me how my design decisions can be part of a positive solution from the outset. What’s more, I really believe that there is retail appetite for sustainable fashion in Hong Kong, Asia and the rest of the world!”
The Redress Design Award 2018 is now open to emerging designers and students with less than three years’ industry experience. Applications are now being accepted until the closing date on 13 March 2018. Applicants are tasked to design a sustainable collection that re-claims unwanted textiles in unexpected ways and they must source 100 percent textile waste for their competition collections. In addition to this, designers must incorporate one or more of the three core sustainable design techniques of zero-waste, up-cycling and reconstruction in their designs. Various career-changing and educational prizes are up for grabs, including first prize with The R Collective to create an upcycled collection for retail, a mentorship with sustainable visionary, Orsola de Castro and multiple other professional prizes. The ten finalists will later compete to win in Hong Kong in early September 2018 at a live grand final fashion show at the city’s fashion week.
Watch Frontline Fashion, a documentary that traces the journey of finalists from the 2016 cycle in Mumbai on 17th February.
Small — and big — changes you can make today.
The 2015 documentary The True Cost has largely accomplished what it set out to do: wake up Western consumers to the horrifying impact of the fashion industry on exploited workers and the environment. And more consumers watch it every day.
But there’s one criticism of the movie that rings true: After all the visual carnage, viewers are left with no next steps. If we agree that mass-produced fashion is awful, that garment workers shouldn’t die making our clothes, that rivers should not be poisoned just for a cheap T-shirt, and that 1.715 billion tons of CO2 released a year (or about 5.3 percent of the 32.1 billion tons of global carbon emissions) is way too much, what can we do to change it?
Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent in the fashion industry to Michael Pollan’s sharp, easy-to-remember instructions: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That’s because the fashion supply chain is so confoundingly opaque and complex, that even if you buy a purse that was handcrafted by a Peruvian artisan, the leather tannery might still have poisoned the local river, and the cows that provided the leather might have been abused. It’s exceedingly difficult as a shopper to say with any certainty that you are making the “right” choice when you buy something from a green collection or one that is purported to be fairly made.
Still, once you know all the horrible, awful, no-good things the fashion industry does to the planet (pouring carbon into the atmosphere, dumping increasingly large mounds of waste into landfills) and to (mostly female, mostly brown) workers, it feels wrong to throw up your hands and say, “Welp, everything sucks, and I’m going to do some retail therapy at Forever 21.”
As complicated as it can be, there are still things that you can do to lessen your impact on the planet and, of course, not feel like a total hypocritical dirtbag. Here they are.
According to this analysis, a full 22 percent of a garment’s climate impact comes from the process of a consumer driving to the store to try something on, driving to another store to try that thing on, then bringing their final selection home in their car. If you live in a city where you can walk or take public transportation to a store, then do that!
And don’t feel guilty about ordering items online. First, because a UPS, FedEx, or USPS truck is like public transportation for your clothing: efficient at moving a lot of stuff with minimal fuel. Second, your clothing probably comes through a distribution center, skipping the process of going to the store at all and going straight to you. And according to multiple studies, online shopping has a much lower environmental impact than brick-and-mortar shopping. It may feel wrong to get an item of clothing in a plastic bag in a box, but rest assured that if it goes to a store instead, it’s also showing up in a plastic bag — the bag’s just gone by the time you see it on the rack.
Another benefit of shopping online is the opportunity to be more thoughtful and discerning with what you buy. In a physical store, it might not be possible (or even occur to you) to research every brand you encounter then and there on your phone. But when you’re home and on the internet, you probably have more time, along with more access to resources, to do some deeper digging.
There are some excellent resources documenting the bad, good, and gray areas of shopping. The Good on You app lets you search for a brand’s environmental impact, labor policies, and even animal-friendly considerations, plus makes recommendations in different categories (dresses, hosiery, outerwear) of sustainable and ethical brands. Project JUST does about the same thing — carefully researches the impact and policies of various brands, plus puts out roundups of the most ethical and sustainable brands in categories like athletic wear and denim — but on a website.
There’s also the DoneGood browser extension, which pops up in the corner of your browser when you’re shopping and tells you whether or not the brand site you’re on is sustainable and/or ethical, and links you to alternatives if it’s not. If you’re visiting a conventional webstore, it also highlights which sustainable brands you should check out while you’re there.
Also, look through the About section or — even better — the sustainability or social responsibility section of a brand’s site to see if they say anything about how items are made. (If they don’t, it’s a bad sign. Skip ahead to step #7 and reach out to your favorite brands.) Google the brand’s name and look for recent news. And finally, check and see if it’s in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a trade group that requires its members to quantify their supply chains’ impact on the environment and is funding some really cool initiatives along the way. (It’s not the same as a third-party certification like the ones mentioned below, but does indicate that a company is serious about making changes.)
Of course, all of this supposed efficiency will be negated if you’re the kind of person who buys a dozen things from a dozen different stores and returns 11 of them. All of this advice really only works if you’re the type of person to use the internet to buy smarter, rather than impulsively.
Look for certifications.
There are a few gold-standard certifications that indicate that an objective deep dive into a product’s supply chain has been conducted. OEKO-TEX is an independent test and certification system for textiles, and it offers multiple levels of certification, the most basic of which indicates that the product is free of hazardous chemicals. The next level up concerns whether the textiles are made in socially and environmentally responsible conditions. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is a certification for textiles that contain “a minimum of 70% organic fibers.”
Forest Stewardship Council certification indicates that any trees involved (yup, some fabrics are made from trees — more on that later) were sustainably harvested. Fair Trade certification indicates that the factory workers are paid at least the minimum wage, and that the working conditions are safe.
Avoid these fabrics.
I’ll keep it short: Polyester is made from oil (it’s basically a plastic thread) and all synthetic fibers (excepting a few alternatives mentioned in this piece) shed microfibers into waterways. (You’ve probably ingested these fibers in your last seafood meal.) Acrylic is even more toxic to produce than polyester. Viscose rayon (this includes bamboo rayon) turns plants into a textile through a toxic, polluting process and is contributing to the disappearance of rainforests.
Conventional cotton relies on pesticides and herbicides which are improperly, excessively, and dangerously applied in underdeveloped countries, and might have led to the worldwide decline of insect populations. The typical leather tanning process is so toxic that 90 percent of the people who live in the leather-tanning neighborhoods in Bangladesh die before they reach 50.
Look for these fabrics.
It’s pretty hard to avoid polyester altogether, especially if you enjoy athleisure clothing, swimsuits, or anything with stretch. So look for polyester that’s made of recycled water bottles, fishing nets, carpet, and other post-consumer products. These products financially support the recycling industry and help to keep plastic waste from the landfill and ocean.
Tencel is a viscose rayon alternative by the Austrian company Lenzing made from sustainably-sourced eucalyptus trees in a closed-loop process that ensures no toxins are released into waterways. Silk, hemp, linen, and wool are all natural, low-impact textiles. (Just watch out if you’re vegan — the typical silk thread process kills the silkworms, and wool-producing sheep aren’t always treated the best, especially in Australia.)
Vegetable tanned leather doesn’t use heavy metals in the process (but as an FYI, that means it’ll take longer to soften up and break in). More leather alternatives are coming, but right now the best new alternative available for purchase is Piñatex, which is made from pineapple leaf waste.
Seek out brands that pay their artisans fairly.
Understanding the environmental impact of your garment’s entire supply chain is nearly impossible — all the variables (production, dying, finishing, shipping), debates (are GMOs bad or not?), and scientific reports can lead to a mental burnout on the whole idea of conscious consumption. But picturing the positive social impact of a fairly-made garment is much more inspiring — and easy.
Many fair trade brands, like Lemlem, Voz, Siizu, Brother Vellies, Par en Par, Ace & Jig, Uniform, Manos Zapotecas, and more, have photos and information on their websites of the women and men who hand-make the garments or the factories they use. Other brands, like Reformation and Saint James, give factory tours. Still others, like Naja and Nisolo, give you a report on working conditions, pay, and benefits, plus how getting paid to use their community’s traditional skills positively impacts a worker’s community.
We could argue all day about relative merits of recycled polyester versus organic cotton, or how much you’re benefiting the environment by paying more for organic cotton, but it’s hard to argue with a mother getting paid a fair wage in safe working conditions. It feels a lot more rewarding, too, which can help keep you motivated.
There is a glut of secondhand fashion in the West. Secondhand shops can only resell about 20 to 45 percent (75 percent on a really good day) of unwanted threads — the rest is downcycled into insulation, carpeting, or rags, or (if it’s still wearable) shipped to developing countries to be resold for a few dollars.
This overabundance of orphaned clothing makes secondhand the perfect solution for fashion addicts who feel guilty about their waste and wallet. It prevents production of toxic or exploitative new clothing, and it keeps textiles out of the landfill or from being shipped overseas. Secondhand stores are almost all charitable, locally, or family-owned, so you direct your dollars away from multinational corporations and to small business. And best of all, it’s a way to get fresh threads (sometimes with the tags still on!) for fast-fashion prices.
If you have something really specific in mind and find the chaos of the thrift store intimidating, you could shop online at affordable sites like ThredUp and Tradesy, or Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal for upscale and designer items.
Show your favorite brands you care.
Not ready to pass up on that so cute ruffled viscose top from J.Crew? Curious where it’s made? Email or tweet at the brand! “Consumers think their voices don’t matter, but they do,” says Jessica Radparvar, the founder of the social impact communications consultancy Reconsidered. “Tweets, emails, questions asked in retail stores — if frequent enough, these communications get laddered up. I know many Corporate Social Responsibility teams that then use these anecdotes as ‘proof points’ to show that consumers are demanding transparency,” she says. “That can in turn help them get buy-in, approvals, and funding for projects they want to push forward.”
Again, that only works if the brand has a team like that instated. If they don’t answer, and you can’t find any information anywhere about attempts to go sustainable or ethical, you might want to cross them off your shopping list.
Capsule your wardrobe.
The best thing you can do is just buy less stuff. And you can buy less stuff if you buy things that are timeless and high-quality enough to last a long time.
How you launder it, how you dispose of it, even where it’s shipped from — all these factors are a sliver of the total impact of a typical garment. But most of the impact comes from the very fact that it was produced. The longer you use a garment, and the more times you wear it, the lower the impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go out and buy exclusively locally-made, organic fashion that costs well in the hundreds of dollars. Whatever it is, if you think you will wear it 30 times or more, that’s definitely a sustainable choice.
One popular notion in the conscious fashion world is the idea of a capsule wardrobe: an extremely edited collection of versatile pieces that can be endlessly mixed and matched, so that you get maximum use out of minimal possessions. If you want some guidance in this area, try the app Cladwell, which helps you discern your style, whittle down your wardrobe, donate or sell what you don’t love anymore, and come up with interesting new combinations.
The goal is to stop getting tossed about on the expensive seas of new trends, and confidently stand in your own personal style, with a closet full of (and only of) pieces that make you feel like your best self. If you love your closet and can easily put together a great outfit, you’ll never say, “I have nothing to wear!” and run out to buy something last minute to make you feel beautiful again, nor will you be tempted by whatever fun cheap thing is in the window at Forever 21, because you already have everything you need, thank you!
If you’re keen to try out a new trend, have a special event coming up, or you’re just bored with your closet but on a budget, renting lets you feel fabulous while using fewer resources. You can try Style Lend, which lets you rent luxury fashion from real women’s closets; Le Tote, which sends you a box of everyday items to try; or the OG of renting, Rent the Runway.
Donate to NGOs and watchdogs.
Don’t stop at conscious consumption! Direct your dollars to organizations that are trying to create systemic change. You can help send a Bangladeshi garment worker to college, fund Canopy’s efforts to save the rainforest from destruction by rayon-viscose pulping mills, donate to Greenpeace or Natural Resources Defense Council, which respectively combat toxic garment factory effluent and increase the energy efficiency of factories, or become a supporter of Project JUST and their deep research on the sustainability and ethicality of large brands.
The main thing to know is that you can take or leave any of these tips and build a sustainable wardrobe that feels right for your lifestyle, your budget, and your personal style. There’s no one way to be a conscious consumer, just like there’s no one way to dress yourself. And as the sustainable fashion movement grows and evolves, dressing yourself with thought will hopefully only get easier with time.
*This story first appeared on Racked
Can fashion go hand-in-hand with being environmentally conscious and affordable to the masses? With heavy price tags, swiftly changing trends and lack of recycling options, the clothing industry ranks low on the eco-friendly scale. Moreover, fashion is associated with being accessible only to the elite. These are notions that budding fashion designer Devyani Kharbanda hopes to change for the better.
Raunaq by Devyani is the young designer’s brainchild—a line of ensembles made from kataran, the waste fabric left behind after making a garment.
Devyani, a final year student of fashion designing at Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi, began working on the initiative as part of her college curriculum. Her aim was two-fold. One was to bring down the cost of special occasion wear, and the other was to take an eco-friendly approach to design.
“Wedding dresses these days are exorbitantly priced,” she says. “Having elaborate surface work adds up to the cost of the garment along with the kind of fabrics used. Hence I chose kataran to make my garment look more interesting, unique and beautiful. My main aim was to make best use of the waste material available without spending a lot on the beautification of the garment.”
She began by sourcing the waste fabric. No place abounds in leftover fabrics more than tailoring shops and that’s where Devyani began sourcing. “I went to nearby tailors in and around my colony,” she says. “That was a task, as tailors don’t entertain students easily. Though at some places it was easy, but at times convincing the tailors to take out time and give me all the kataran they had was difficult.”
As she collected the scrap fabrics, she also simultaneously worked on the design element. Her strength as a designer lies in surface ornamentation and her designs showcase the possibilities of using waste fabrics to create eye-catching ornamentation and detailing on the garment.
Devyani conceptualised Raunaq as a collection of five brightly-hued ensembles, celebrating the union of two souls.
She started the design process with a hypothetical celebrity for whom she could make garments to wear at wedding functions. Devyani chose director Kiran Rao as a subject. “Keeping in mind what kind of garments she generally wears, the garments don’t have a lot of bling. According to me it would suit her kind of styling,” she says.
She adds, “The concept of using kataran for beautification is not very common, so a celebrity client would’ve been perfect to probably start a trend of such beautification techniques and spread amongst people as we all generally look up to celebrities and their clothing.”
The vibrant ensembles that make up the Raunak collection also showcases a variety of surface techniques. Devyani used couching, fabric flowers and yoyo flowers in the garments, and also made a lot of tassels using waste fabric.
Devyani admits that while the project seemed easy to start with, she faced many challenges during the process, which have helped her grow as a designer. “The biggest challenge was to bring my thought into reality as most of my garments were hand-done. Procuring the fabric, deciding colour combinations, doing the surface work and giving a finished designer look to the garments, while meeting timelines was another challenge. I even made matching accessories with the garments.” She credits her family and mentor Ambika Magotra for supporting her through the process.”
Devyani’s first designs were showcased, along with other student projects, at the latest edition of Amazon India Fashion Week.
The affordability of the designs made Devyani’s ensembles stand out in the crowd of designer ensembles. She says, “I made sure that I do something to beautify the surface of my garments without spending a lot. Making it eye catching but not having to spend too much on purchasing it was appreciated by everyone.”
The young designer is elated with the response the show has generated. “Post the show, reviews and media have been very encouraging which has boosted my confidence. I received a lot of positive feedback from everyone for my designs and unique idea,” she says.
Once she completes her degree, she hopes to work in an export house and learn about its operations. “I will hopefully one day build my own export house, where I plan to make garments using waste materials, inculcate eco friendly practices and explore further innovative ideas to incorporate in my design process.”
Till then, Devyani is eager to craft garments from kataran on request from interested clients. Invested in combining great design with sustainable practices, she says, “I would love to work on reusing waste fabric and offering something beautiful yet eco friendly. This way,, even though little, I am surely able to do my bit.”
To contact Devyani, click here.
*This story first appeared on The Better India
Pollution created by making and dyeing clothes has pitted the fashion industry and environmentalists against each other. Now, the advent of “fast fashion” — trendy clothing affordable enough to be disposable — has strained that relationship even more. But what if we could recycle clothes like we recycle paper, or even upcycle them? Scientists report today new progress toward that goal.
The team will present the work at the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 14,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.
“People don’t want to spend much money on textiles anymore, but poor-quality garments don’t last,” Simone Haslinger explains. “A small amount might be recycled as cleaning rags, but the rest ends up in landfills, where it degrades and releases carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Also, there isn’t much arable land anymore for cotton fields, as we also have to produce food for a growing population.”
All these reasons amount to a big incentive to recycle clothing, and some efforts are already underway, such as take-back programs. But even industry representatives admit in news reports that only a small percentage gets recycled. Other initiatives shred used clothing and incorporate the fibers into carpets or other products. But Haslinger, a doctoral candidate at Aalto University in Finland, notes that this approach isn’t ideal since the carpets will ultimately end up in landfills, too.
A better strategy, says Herbert Sixta, Ph.D., who heads the biorefineries research group at Aalto University, is to upcycle worn-out garments: “We want to not only recycle garments, but we want to really produce the best possible textiles, so that recycled fibers are even better than native fibers.” But achieving this goal isn’t simple. Cotton and other fibers are often blended with polyester in fabrics such as “cotton-polyester blends,” which complicates processing.
Previous research showed that many ionic liquids can dissolve cellulose. But the resulting material couldn’t then be re-used to make new fibers. Then about five years ago, Sixta’s team found an ionic liquid — 1,5-diazabicyclo[4.3.0]non-5-ene acetate — that could dissolve cellulose from wood pulp, producing a material that could be spun into fibers. Later testing showed that these fibers are stronger than commercially available viscose and feel similar to lyocell. Lyocell is also known by the brand name Tencel, which is a fiber favored by eco-conscious designers because it’s made of wood pulp.
Building on this process, the researchers wanted to see if they could apply the same ionic liquid to cotton-polyester blends. In this case, the different properties of polyester and cellulose worked in their favor, Haslinger says. They were able to dissolve the cotton into a cellulose solution without affecting the polyester.
“I could filter the polyester out after the cotton had dissolved,” Haslinger says. “Then it was possible without any more processing steps to spin fibers out of the cellulose solution, which could then be used to make clothes.”
To move their method closer to commercialization, Sixta’s team is testing whether the recovered polyester can also be spun back into usable fibers. In addition, the researchers are working to scale up the whole process and are investigating how to reuse dyes from discarded clothing.
But, Sixta notes, after a certain point, commercializing the process doesn’t just require chemical know-how. “We can handle the science, but we might not know what dye was used, for example, because it’s not labeled,” he says. “You can’t just feed all the material into the same process. Industry and policymakers have to work on the logistics. With all the rubbish piling up, it is in everyone’s best interest to find a solution.”
*This story first appeared on American Chemical Society
During their years working inside the apparel industry, Nicole Bassett and Jeff Denby watched masses of perfectly usable textiles stockpile in dumpsters. They were fully aware that this was a national trend. In 2014, more than 16.2 million tons of textile waste was generated, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of that, 2.6 million tons were recycled or composted, 3.1 million tons were combusted and 10.5 million tons ended up in landfills.
Recycling more of these materials would have the equivalent carbon footprint impact of removing one million cars from roads, which largely motivated Bassett and Denby to launch the Renewal Workshop.
The Cascade Locks, Ore.-based operation helps brands address textile waste. So far the organization, which launched last September, works with five brand partners who send apparel to Renewal’s 7,500-sq.-ft. space.
“We are trying to figure out solutions for warehouse and distribution centers to deal with returned or damaged products they can’t resell,” Bassett says. “We are refurbishing clothes to put back in the market. But we are also beginning to focus on recycling and upcycling fabrics for other uses once clothes reach the end of their life.”
Filling a Void
Material recovery facilities have difficulties processing textiles and brands have limited resources to dispose of what does not sell or gets returned to them. As a result, textiles, with a recycling rate of 16.2 percent are among the least recovered materials.
The startup is addressing the recovery issue by working within the scope of an organized supply chain.
“Recyclers do not have infrastructure to efficiently collect directly from brands or to process,” Bassett says. “So we created a space to collect and organize materials, based on its value, prioritizing higher value items. This would be renewed apparel that can be resold in its original form.” Renewal cleans, quality reviews, repairs and adds a Renewal Workshop label signifying the clothes are refurbished.
As the company’s volumes increase it will focus on materials that will need more work to be salvaged.
“If something’s too damaged to be sold in its original form but has valuable parts we will move it to an upcycling area where we can make something else out of it,” she says. “Finally, when it’s not salvageable we would put it into our recycling area, where it’s organized by material type, and we will send it to recyclers who will turn it into a new yarn.”
e-commerce Opens Up Business Opportunities
The company sells renewed apparel on an online marketplace.
“What’s exiting is ecommerce has allowed access to used clothes all over the country,” Bassett says. “So I don’t have to hope it shows up in my local thrift store. And customers are comfortable buying online, especially if they know there is a quality control process in place.”
Currently the site is filled with a few thousand items, and brand partners’ shipments come in quarterly. The clothes then go into a large washer. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used to conserve water. After detergent is added, the CO2 is converted to liquid, enabling the detergent to more easily penetrate fibers. After the cleaning process the liquid is converted back to gas so the clothes don’t have to be dried.
Ibex, an outdoor clothing company in White River Junction, Vt., is among Renewal Workshop’s partners. The manufacturer was already taking back its products from consumers who were done with them and sending what was reusable to charities. If a garment was ruined, the company tried to recycle the garments. But that proved too labor intensive. So material was piling up on the retailer.
“Renewal has provided opportunities to dispose of products properly but, more important, they provide a solution to refurbish, repair and resell products,” says Keith Anderson, vice president of marketing for Ibex. “We appreciate this because … we use fine grades of Marino wool, so there is a lot of value in the fabric and manufacturing.”
Ibex workers must still receive materials and separate what can be refurbished from what cannot.
“What’s different now is we stockpile returns for Renewal, palletize and ship in a consolidated way versus having to store and find outlets for each bucket ourselves. It’s a one-stop solution,” says Anderson.
“We see value in the products returned to us,” he says. “And especially in the days where there’s a focus on a circular economy, we see [Renewal’s model] to be an elegant solution to putting our clothes back into that circular economy.”
*This story first appeared on Waste 360
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
Through the next two months, GreenStitched sits down with the finalists of EcoChic Design Award 2015/16. EcoChic Design Award is a sustainable fashion design competition organised by Redress, inspiring emerging fashion designers and students to create mainstream clothing with minimal textile waste.
The interviews with these young designers will be posted every Wednesday on GreenStitched.
Today we meet Patrycja, the winner of the EcoChic Design Award 2015/16.
What brought you into the world of fashion? That ‘aha’ moment which opened doors to sustainable fashion?
Patrycja: I asked myself: what I can do as a young fashion designer without big financial capital. And I realized that the answer is really simple: I can make a difference in a fashion industry. My artwork means something more for me than just a clothes. I’m glad that I can tell story through my collections. To me sustainable fashion means living in balance. We need to change our thinking around clothes and more designers need to show consumers that we are able to make beautiful clothes using old clothes and damaged textiles.
What was your inspiration for the EcoChic Design Award collection?
Patrycja: My interpretation of the phrase ‘Heaven is a place on Earth’ was the starting point for the The EcoChic Design Award. This corresponds to the everlasting pursuit of perfection in life, and is a condition when the feeling of emptiness and stagnation is able to be balanced, allowing us to be in harmony – to find your own place on earth. I aimed to make my clothes a shelter; a dreamy, heaven-like space that one could just settle into.
Texture, color and shape are the main codes of the collection and the forms are enhanced by the prints. My jumpers are knitted with rug-making techniques using secondhand wool. ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’ was also the inspiration for the colour theme with tints of black, white, blue, violet and cobalt dominating the collection.
I collaborated with a Polish illustrator, Mateusz Kolek, who designed the print based on my inspiration pack and colour palette. This print developed from lots of discussions about the theme and is a labyrinth of symbols which take you through my story. This re-printing technique has also enabled me to bring new life to discarded textiles.
3 things you learnt from of the challenge?
Patrycja: In time of the competition we went to a factory in Dongguan China to see what the typical process of production clothes looks like. Then I realized that every new, decorative line of my design drawing involve 5 more process, peoples, more water and electricity.
Of course that trip to the factory made me more aware. Every production process involved in each garment is in my hands during the time of design. It is my responsibility as a fashion designer.
What was the impact of this award on you?
Patrycja: It has been the most important experience and biggest adventure in my life so far. All the designers I met through The EcoChic Design Award are so talented and conscientious in sustainable fashion. Each of them have their own stories, own experiences, and own way perspective on things…it was pleasure to spend time and work with the group of finalists and the Redress team.
How do you think sustainable fashion can move from a niche to the mainstream?
Patrycja: Consumers are constantly wanting more and for a cheaper price. As designers, we should stop for a moment and consider why sustainable fashion is important for us today and what it means for each of us in our work. Today’s fashion industry is so fast paced and we’re constantly looking for new things made from new materials.
But it’s also important to remember that designers are able to make beautiful clothes using waste that are equally, if not more, original and creative. It’s not about wanting new things all the time.
What is the biggest misconception about sustainable fashion?
Patrycja: Using waste can sometimes be challenging, but no one said life would easy! Easy can be boring! We need to recognize that less is more: we need to slow down our consumption, change our thinking around clothes, return to our roots, not forget our past and start thinking about our future.
What is your advice for the next breed of fashion designers?
Patrycja: Just make a first step into sustainable fashion. You’ll love all those sustainable fashion technique. And the moment when you see your collection on a models on a catwalk and you realized that 3 months ago these were ugly leftovers and secondhand wool yarn and old school sweaters, hats, scarfs is unspeakable. So just start and go for it!
What is next in store for you?
Patrycja: I have just completed designing my capsule collection for Shanghai Tang, I’d now like to spend more time developing my own designs using the zero¬waste design technique, adding more everyday wear items to my existing collection. I really fell in love with this technique during The EcoChic Design Award. Farther into the future, I’d like to develop my own brand.
Watch Frontline Fashion, a documentary following these talented Asian and European emerging fashion designers determined to change the future of fashion. As they descend into Hong Kong for the design battle of their lives, all eyes are on the first prize; to design an up-cycled collection for China’s leading luxury brand, Shanghai Tang. This documentary is available on iTunes here.
The next cycle of the EcoChic Design Awards is open for application from 3 January to 3 April 2017. Interested students can find more details here.