Upcycling – Antonia Edwards

What comes to mind when you hear the term upcycled fashion? Cycling gear for uphill travel? Wedding dresses made of newspaper or perhaps a patchwork number resembling Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat? The fact is, there are some beautiful upcycled clothes out there that people need to know about, and here’s why… The term upcycling was famously defined in the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things by Michael Braungart and William McDonough as preventing the waste of potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones, reducing the energy consumption of new raw materials. Although upcycled fashion is not a new concept, it was propelled into the limelight when Livia Firth wore an upcycled wedding dress to the 2010 Golden Globes, as part of The Green Carpet Challenge. Her dresses have continued to increase awareness of this growing green phenomenon.

Alongside this, Estethica was in its 11th season at London Fashion Week (September 2011). This was co-founded by From Somewhere designer Orsola de Castro to showcase the work of other fantastic ethical fashion designers. All designers must adhere to at least one of three design principles in the production process: fair trade and ethical practice; the inclusion of organic fibres; the use of upcycled and recycled materials and fabrics. In addition to the rise in popularity for handcrafted items and vintage clothes, combined with many of us having a greener conscience, a number of designers are ‘cottoning on’ to the aesthetic potential of creating a desirable, wearable product out of something that would otherwise be thrown away. Making something beautiful out of unwanted materials and objects poses a welcome challenge to designers because they can use their creativity to find a solution to a problem – be it utilising vintage fabrics, leftover off cuts from fashion warehouses or any pre and post consumer clothing. One could argue that the notion of ‘upcycled fashion’ is a contradiction in terms. The upcycled dress is a bespoke item, designed to be treasured for life. It doesn’t adhere to fast-moving and transient trends, only to be discarded after one season. At the same time however, there is no reason why the shape, length and design of a garment cannot be ‘refashioned’ specifically to resemble something on the catwalk and made immediately current – a unique hybrid of the old and the new.

The craft boom has resulted in a wealth of fantastic upcycled clothes on sites like Etsy and Folksy. Handmade bespoke items may currently have higher production costs than the mass produced items found on your local high street, but beautiful upcycled jewellery, clothing and accessories at affordable prices most certainly do exist. What’s more, upcycling is something you can learn to do yourself. Collectives such as Remade in Leeds (www.remadeinleeds.org), Fabrications (www.fabrications1.co.uk) and Stitched Up (www.stitchedupuk.blogspot.com) run workshops on DIY upcycling, encouraging people to do something with a favourite dress or jacket rather than throw it away.

In order to bring upcycled clothes to a wider audience and deter consumers from fast fashion, more attention needs to be drawn to those designers who make beautiful, high-quality, wearable pieces. For those unfamiliar with the pioneers of beautiful upcycled design, below are just a few of the designers who are getting it right.


By Antonia Edwards – Upcyclist – www.upcyclist.co.uk

See also: Christopher Raeburn,  GoodoneMichelle Lowe HolderLost Property of London,  Julia CrewMayer: Peace Collection,  Junky Styling,   See more examples of beautiful upcycled art, fashion and design on www.upcyclist.co.uk.

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