Susty Fashion: Repurposing for the Planet - Fashion Upcycling by Sasha Cohen, November 05 2014, 0 Comments

Did you ever think that when you wear your grandma’s beautifully tailored jacket or purchase from a trendy vintage shop, a Salvation Army or a military surplus store, that you are helping to solve an environmental problem? You’re even helping your town or city save money!

The average American generates about 84 pounds of textile waste a year. (!!) That is the equivalent of 193 T-shirts. Only 15% of these textiles are recycled or reclaimed, though the Environmental Protection Agency (
EPA) estimates that 97% of post-consumer textile waste is recyclable. The average T-shirt requires 700 gallons of water to manufacture and our annual textile waste takes up 12% of all landfill space. The average charge for dumping waste in a landfill is $44 per ton. If we could keep 11 million tons of textile waste out of landfills, it would save US tax-payers more than $375 million in fees alone.

Many ecoPreneur designers have seized the idea of providing “born-again vintage” and keeping materials out of our waste cycle. DrakeNatural is a company focused on upcycling (reusing or repurposing material). Recently, they featured like-minded designers at their Noche Verde event. Fashion Week Brooklyn also dedicated an entire night to such conscientious designers.

At the event, Noche Verde presented sophisticated, compelling and silly creations: there was a red, full-length ball gown by Elena Garcia (perhaps inspired by Oscar de la Renta?), with one shoulder sleeve and a flurry of ruffles over the shoulder and across the bust, reminiscent of a poppy bloom. That hung next to a fun, 60s-inspired, unstructured raincoat by Supported by Rain, made from umbrella cloth. The show included Craftworks Cambodia, which makes graceful jewelry from bullet shells and land mine casings. One piece has the calming image of a child sitting in a crescent moon, using a fishing pole to catch stars. Knowing that the material of war has been transformed into such a beautiful item is thought-provoking and quite the conversation-starter.

To keep the heart light, there were fanciful creations – colorful, statement jewelry pieces made by Bio-Trimmings, who use science technology to transform vegetable and fruit trimmings into material that looks like roughly cut glass. Check out the Bottled Up jewelry line on EcoPlum where upcycled glass from Noxzema and Vicks containers (!), wine and beer bottles, and depression glass tableware provide a similar jeweled look. The fashion event also featured adult sweaters; trimmed down to fit your pooch (My Fabulous Puppy) and men's dress shirts and flannel shirts (outgrown or out of fashion) repurposed into the Cutest! kids’ clothing by Kallio (soon opening a workshop in trendy Williamsburg, Brookyn!). Joining the fanciful and practical, Repurposing NOLA showed off large shoulder bags (large enough for weekend getaways!) and medium-sized purses made from salvaged coffee saks, upholstery remnants, and salvaged belts and hardware. Of similar nature, Urthbags on EcoPlum use upcycled juice boxes, magazines, newspapers and sea shells to create handbags and clutches, which range from trendy and eye-catching to elegant and sophisticated.

Fashion Week Brooklyn continued themes of repurposing plastic – lots of clear plastic! – and zippers, sewn in rows and wavy lines, sometimes standing away from fabric in wonderfully creative loops and squiggles. The pup models from My Fabulous Puppy were the first to walk the runway, opening the EcoFriendly Night. The High School of Fashion Industry showed pieces from repurposed upholstery fabric with draping, gathering and applique details that presented a very feminine and romantic look. The designs of Iliana Quander were imaginative and whimsical, with creative uses of buttons and safety pins to gather, tuck and fasten pieces around the body. She uses beautiful colors and contrasting edging – I was struck wondering what the material was in a prior life. Perhaps, bedsheets? Repurposed/Reused has sewn together pieces of contrasting upcycled material with frequent use of desert fatigue camouflage and the surprise appearance of sumptuous velvets.

Some believe the phenomenon of upcycling in the fashion industry is a paradigm shift. As consumers, we are becoming more aware and educating ourselves about how we contribute to the waste stream. We are weaning ourselves from being a throw-away society. Arguably, we’re going back to what we know, using material which is durable and stands the test of time.

According to the EPA, 1.3 million tons of textiles in clothing are recovered annually. These recovered textiles become wiping and polishing cloths. Cotton can be made into rags or become part of new, high-quality paper. Knitted or woven woolens and similar materials are "pulled" into fibers for reuse as car insulation or seat stuffing. Other types of fabric can be reprocessed for upholstery, insulation and even building materials. Buttons and zippers are stripped off for reuse. Very little is left over at the end of the recycling process. The remaining natural materials, such as various grades of cotton, can be composted.