Fashion & Beauty
Upcycled Fashion: From Closet Clutter to Couture
Maybe it’s an old rock concert t-shirt, or perhaps a beloved pair of jeans one wash cycle away from the garbage bin. Whatever the garment, we all have clothing that we never ever wear anymore but just can’t seem to throw away. Luckily, artisan clothing designers see these items not as relics, but as raw materials. Through a process known as “upcycling”, these visionaries turn old and discarded materials into brand new, one-of-a-kind creations.
Angela Johnson is one such designer that sees beauty where others may not. The Arizona-based fashionista uses thrifted and scavenged t-shirts to create couture gowns via a distinctive technique that arose out of a lesson she once gave to her fashion students. “When I found that I had created something that was eco-friendly, unique, comfortable, washable, versatile and fun, the entrepreneur in me immediately decided to act on the idea,” she explains. Each of Johnson’s dresses incorporates 25 or more t-shirts, which she manipulates into expertly and elaborately constructed pieces. Customers can shop from Johnson’s designs, or they can hand over their own t-shirt collections and in turn receive a gown that is at once breathtaking and ripe with personality.
The benefits of upcycled clothing abound; it keeps waste out of landfills, and due to the nature of the process, every piece is unique. Perhaps most enticing, every item has a history, and the wearer can add his or her own addendum to the garment’s story.
“The idea of having an outfit that nobody else had was (and still is) totally inspiring to me,” remembers Preloved founder Julia Grieve. “Using vintage clothing as your materials makes this possible.” Preloved set up shop in Montreal, Canada in 1995. Initially, the company employed simple upcycling techniques like turning jeans into shorts and adding patches for uniqueness. Today, the brand thrives, as evident by recent collaborations with major Canadian retailers including Roots Canada and Indigo.
Motorcycle culture meets slow living at The Sway, which operates out of New York City. Rather than using existing clothing as its foundation, The Sway upcycles as a way to eradicate waste inherent within the fashion industry. Designers here source excess leathers from other manufacturers to create garments and accessories that are cool, socially conscious and completely unique.
In the same vein, San Francisco-based design house Piece x Piece acquires discarded fabric swatches and scraps from luxury fashion companies and transforms them into gorgeous garments. “Every year, thousands of sample fabric swatches are discarded each season and up until now it has been difficult to imagine a useful purpose for them,” explains Elizabeth Brunner, who founded Piece x Piece in 2008. “This is our way of creating a thoughtful disruption to the traditional path one usually takes in the apparel industry from fabric mill to landfill.”