I'm probably not alone in the fact that when I think of "upcycled fashion" I think of the school activity of transforming an old T-shirt into a bag. Which was actually a ton of fun, but that's not the point. The point is that upcycling, which means to reuse discarded objects and materials in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original, has come a long way since school-day memories. It is now being cited as one of the biggest sustainable opportunities for fashion to help end the waste problem it created.
The concept has been around forever, really. Think of all of the cool vintage shops in London transforming men's T-shirts into crop tops. Or that time you ripped your jeans at the knee and just decided to cut them into shorts instead of throwing them away. The difference is now, in 2020, the mainstream industry has decided to really pay attention to upcycling to the point where it's become quite cool. New York–based brand Bode just won the first-ever Karl Lagerfeld prize, awarded by Woolmark. Patrick McDowell, champion upcycler, was at the centre of London Fashion Week. Designer Christoph Rumpf turns flea market finds into couture pieces inspired by John Galliano's iconic collections. And at fashion's coolest universities, Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion, students are focusing their collections on sustainability and tackling the waste problem in their designs.
The best part of this process becoming popular is that we can find the beauty in it. It's the epitome of one person's trash is another person's treasure. Considering how many new pieces of clothing are made, bought and discarded every single day, there's already so much material for designers to work with. Discarded fabric and clothes are still so valuable, they definitely shouldn't be sent to the bin or burned as some companies have done in the past.
A blanket can be a coat, two old dresses can become one new one and bits of shoes can create a new hybrid style, like Fashion East designer Ancuta Sarta's heeled sneakers. Each piece is entirely unique. The other great thing about upcycling becoming "cooler" is that hopefully more affordable brands on the high street will take notice and change their production in this positive way too. So let me introduce you to the fun new ways designers are upcycling clothes and discover the upcycled fashion brands that I love and are leading the way in the movement.
Bode was originally a menswear brand, with Emily Bode being the first female designer to show at NYFW menswear. Now, her one-of-a-kind pieces have garnered a cult following and now the brand makes womenswear pieces too. Her collections are made entirely from antique textiles and feature "workwear silhouettes united with female-centric traditions of quilting, mending, and appliqué shape the collections." Each piece feels equally fresh as it does unique. Magic.
Hôtel is a Danish-French brand founded by Alexandra Hartmann that transforms discarded sheets, curtains and bedspreads from Parisian hotels into clothes and accessories. Being able to wear a certain old-school Parisian glamour is the peak of chic. Is there anything more glamorous?
Roop has become Instagram famous seemingly overnight, all thanks to the hard work of the founder, Natasha Fernandes Anjo. Each Roop bag is handmade into a blend of "Furoshiki bags meets scrunchie" and shows what magic can come from giving deadstock and vintage fabric a second chance.
E.L.V. is the "zero-waste upcycled denim" brand founded by Anna Foster that we've been seeing all over Instagram thanks to fans like Camille Charrière and Candice Fragis. The brand sources unwanted jeans from vintage warehouses across the U.K. and transforms them into fun fresh pairs designed and produced in East London.
As the brand name suggests, each piece fro 1/Off is a unique one-of-a-kind piece. The brand is "rooted in the upcycle movement, transforming high-end classics into contemporary designs that connect the past with the future, the fun with the formal, the gutter with the catwalk." Designed in Paris, you can see traces of former designer pieces in the shapes and silhouettes of each garment.
Who What Wear favourite Maria Bernad evolved her love of vintage into a brand of her own. Reinterpreting styles from the 17th and 18th century, her dreamy aesthetic translates into pieces upcycled from vintage scarves and silks.
Repurposing deadstock pieces from Zara through to designer brands, Duran Lantink creates entirely unique designer pieces with a life and story of their own and is available at the cool boutique, Browns. His work beautifully challenges the intense trend cycle across the high street and luxury brands, showing that garments have a long life to live past their trend expiration date.