What's Up with Upcycling?

In the United States, 12 million tons of textile waste goes to landfills annually, with average family producing nearly 70 pounds of this waste per year.  More than 300 million pairs of shoes are discarded each year, according to the US Department of Interior (http://www.saccounty.net/news/latest-news/Pages/Put-Your-Old-Good-Shoes-in-a-New-Line-of-Work.aspx).  While this seems unbelievable, 2.3 million pairs of shoes are purchased each day.  Synthetic clothing can take years to break down in a landfill.  For example, nylon takes between 30 to 40 years to biodegrade and a pair of rubber soled shoes takes from 50 to 80 years. 

What can be done to keep textiles out of landfills?

Upcycling is becoming more and more popular in fashion.  It goes beyond recycling an item that has fulfilled its purpose and making it into something new.  Upcycling is about elevating the item and making it even better and more special that it was in its original state.  In the art world, the most famous example was “Fontaine” from Marcel Duchamp, where he took a urinal and redid it to emerge as a fountain as he said he had “created a new thought for that object."   In fashion, one of the leaders of upcycling has been Martin Margiela who is famous for his exclusive reinvented pieces that are part of his couture fashion brand. 
In fashion, designers are learning about sustainability.   In fact, it is required in many college curricula.  Also, there are more grants and awards being offered to eco-friendly designers.  The EcoChic Design Award is the world’s largest sustainable fashion design competition in which emerging designers recreate garments form textile waste (each designer select 4 pieces waste piles to use in the competition).  The award winner will be announced in January 2016.

reMade USA (http://remadeusa.shannonsouth.com/)is a company custom makes old leather jackets into handbags.  They take the worn jacket that you have had for years or an old sentimental jacket that’s just sitting in the closet, and make it into something special.  One woman had her son’s leather jacket that was a staple in his closet, made into a leather handbag.  “I came close to discarding the jacket and now I am glad I did not…my son died in April 2010, five weeks shy of his 30th birthday,” said one customer named Kathy.   Another customer said that she had her aunt’s leather jacket, her aunt died when she was 7.  “I am overjoyed to have the bag and the daily reminder I will have of her,” said another customer. 

Reco Jeans (http://www.recojeans.com/) upcycles fabric scraps to make jeans, using 60% less cotton than typical jean manufacturers.  The company was started by two brothers who used to play in textile factories where their parents worked. They would find scraps of fabric and make them into beautiful creations. That's where they got the idea to take scraps and make them into something new and wonderful.  The company prides itself on its eco-friendly fashion initiatives, "It takes over 1800 gallons of water to grow just enough cotton for 1 pair of jeans.  It takes 0 gallons to upcycle."

Looptworks (http://www.looptworks.com/) upcycles products into premium goods.  “We don't just turn waste into something. We turn it into something beautiful and useful for your everyday life,” according to the company.  One of their most popular collections, the Carry on Collection, is leather handbags from Alaska Airlines old leather airline seats.   “Since it’s upcycled, the Carry On Collection eliminates the need to make new leather, which saves an estimated 1,500 gallons of water per product,” says Looptworks.  Each piece has a lifetime warranty. 

In the words of Margiela, “Go through your wardrobe, make do and mend.”

 The story behind the bag

"I can't begin to tell you how much the bags you made from my brother's coat mean to me. Mark and I were 18 months apart in age and he has been "gone" since he was 25 years old. That was 32 years ago and I have had his coat ever since. It never fit and/or appealed to any of my children so it has just been moved from attic to closet and back again for all these years. The hobo and clutch are beautiful works of art. My daughter, who never met her uncle, will be touched beyond belief to have something of his - repurposed in a way that suits a 23 year old woman. Thank you so much for your artistry and caring."
- Ellen S.

Reco Jeans produces eco-conscious jeans from the denim to zippers and does not use leather on jeans.

Looptworks "Carry On Collection" are repurposed seats from Alaska Airlines 

Bonnie Chen modeling clothing of finalists in the global Ecochic Design Award competition http://www.ecochicdesignaward.com/

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917


Martin Margiela, 2009, Denim Jacket made from various recycled jeans.  

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