Of the 100 billion garments (92 million tonnes) produced each year, 62% end up in landfill. It is, therefore, increasingly difficult for makers to justify the use of virgin cloth, and many are looking to creative recycling as a way of sustaining their practice. Recycling is nothing new. In the issue, we explore the market for second-hand clothes at Harvard University in the 1850s, the endeavours on both sides of the Atlantic during the depression of the 1930s, and the shortages imposed by rationing during World War II, when necessity truly was the mother of invention.
Bringing us up to date, Crispina ffrench explained that the design process involved in reusing fabrics is challenging by its limitations. There are fewer options, so more creative choices are required at each step of production, which requires makers to use their judgment. This can enhance the connection between maker and product and result in a sense of pride, which in turn enhances the quality of life.
Upcycling holds stories, history, and meaning but is a costly way to work. Most upcycled materials are inconsistent; even when purchased in volume, all aspects of costing, therefore, are inconsistent and require a complex equation. Designing with upcycled clothing, manufacturers’ waste, or deadstock as raw material sets a challenge of its own. When designing with post-consumer clothing, it is cost-effective and fun to use original details in fresh ways. Rather than creating a button placket, repurpose one from an old garment. Pockets can be carefully harvested and incorporated. Part of the delight found in upcycling comes from ascertaining which elements of a discarded garment still have integrity and can be given new life and which parts are worn out, and what can be created with worn-out elements.
We predict that this trend will run and run and see it not only in contemporary works such as Jenni Stuart-Anderson’s ‘Global Warming’ rug commissioned to promote Greta Thunberg’s ‘The Climate Book’, but also in the collections of fashion designers from Greg Lauren and Alexander McQueen to Elizabeth Wilson, who has been creating stylish contemporary garments from antique kimono fabrics sourced in Japan for 45 years. These designers make good use of an aesthetic based on using craft skills to combine small elements of repurposed materials to create rich new multi-textured and multi-coloured surfaces. Find out more about recycling at Crispina ffrench’s virtual summit ‘Rags to Riches’ on 14–17 May 2023. See you there.