The beauty of upcycling is that each designer has a unique take on it. There is a lot of potential for wasted products, and many different possible directions for each one of them. Giving a second life to textiles can result in one-of-a-kind items as well as reproducible products. So, it is up to the designer to find the potential and beauty that lies in old textiles, and to decide on what they should become.
Waste occurs at every stage of the design process, both pre-consumer and post-consumer. From production leftovers, swatches and samples, production off-cuts, end-of-roll textiles and deadstock, to end-of-use discarded garments, there is an abundance of waste to be found – and it’s cheap. Through creativity, the use of these waste materials can be prolonged. Upcycling is to transform materials to equal or higher value products.
Up to the challenge?
For designers, upcycling presents an opportunity to practice creativity skills, but also to reduce impact on the environment, simply by reusing their own or others’ waste.
Again, there are many different ways to upcycle. Updating and modernising old garments is one take on it. This refers to readymade garments that didn’t sell or are no longer in use. Often, these discarded garments are in fine condition, and simply need some aesthetic adjustments to become interesting and appealing again.
Another method is that of deconstructing and recombining waste products, so that the parts are reused but in different ways. This can be done by using old garments, but also leftover swatches, production off-cuts and end-of-roll textiles.
Here are some inspiring examples of designers who use different approaches to upcycling.
Magnafied is a brand that uses the technique of updating unsold deadstock. They add a unique touch to the products through customisation and hand printing, with the use of German quality eco-colours. The brand expresses creativity and art through its designs, and compares their products to what a canvas is to an artist. Their upcycling is done by hand, and made to order in limited numbers. They don’t do mass production, waste or sales.
At Magnafield, part of their products is new and produced in the USA using high quality cotton, and the other part is upcycled from clothing discovered around the world as deadstock. The brand collects iconic military styles for upcycling. These are real historical items, some dating back to the 1950s and still in their original packaging. Magnafied take these historical pieces and make them all the more unique by adding their own creative touch to them through prints and handicraft.
FADE OUT Label
FADE OUT Label offer exclusive unisex designs made from vintage clothing. They use the technique of deconstructing clothing, to recombine the different parts in new original ways. They state on their website that “FADE OUT embodies a dump-to-hanger ethos and celebrates responsible recycling of materials and innovative designs”.
Zero Waste Daniel
Another archetype for upcycling is Zero Waste Daniel. The brand solely uses scrap materials from factories to create new zero waste products. This way, each piece is completely different, and made in relation to the scraps that were collected. As well as preventing their own waste through zero waste design, the brand sources other people’s thrown away textiles. Zero Waste Daniel have prevented much waste from hitting landfills in the greater New York area. The designer, Daniel Silverstein, uses the ReRoll sewing technique, which results in the making of unique and affordable fashion pieces, made from various remnants of fabrics in all different shapes and sizes. “By reimagining sewing we have also reinvented fabric”.
Millions of tonnes of textiles are wasted every year, before the clothes have even reached the consumers yet. Approximately 15% of textiles intended for garments end up on the cutting room floor. The value of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste is undermined. Upcycling is important because it is a technique which enables designers to prolong textiles’ lifecycles and slow down unnecessary textile production, which is dependent on natural resources.