Stylish and sustainable – a feasible combination? Of course, it is! Upcycling is the name of the trend that’s inspiring more and more designers to create clothes and accessories from fabrics and materials that would otherwise be thrown away.
It takes 8000 liters of water to produce a single pair of jeans, and the production of a T-shirt releases roughly the same amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as a 60-kilometer ride in a middle-class automobile. So why not reuse materials, but for new purposes? More and more fashion and product designers have now taken up this idea. Upcycling is the word that came up in the early 1990s, when labels, such as Patagonia, were making fleece jackets from shredded plastic waste, and the bag company Freitag began sewing new products from truck tarpaulins. Since then, upcycling has become increasingly popular and ideas, increasingly creative, with fishing nets being turned into fabrics and PET bottles into sneakers. More can even be made of materials originally used in aircraft: For the new Lufthansa Upcycling Collection, designers have taken Business Class comforters and leather headrest covers and used them to create backpacks, toiletry bags and other products now available from the Miles & More WorldShop.
Turning old into new is an approach that’s sustainable and also preserves resources. Buy, use, discard and buy another one new; it doesn’t have to be that way! After all, in our times of fast fashion, there are ample discarded clothes to be had. According to Greenpeace, 1.3 million tons of clothing a year is thrown away in Germany – in theory, that’s a gigantic treasure trove for designers taking a smart approach to the problem of waste. One such designer is Priya Ahluwalia, 26, from London, who confidently sends her “cast-off” fashions down the catwalk at London Fashion Week. Her artistic patchwork design shows that old clothes have long become an acceptable raw material for high fashion. Designers as masters of transformation: Could that be one way to prevent resources from being squandered? Yes, says Ahluwalia. In an interview with ID magazine, she explained that the answer was not to stop producing fashions, but: “instead, we need to turn discarded items into something new.”
Priya Ahluwalia’s fashions stand for clear lines, vivid colors, experimentation and 1990s’ nostalgia. With her creations, the London-born designer with the Indian-Nigerian roots doesn’t just get the look right; she’s also in tune with the zeitgeist because the pieces in her collection are made from donated second-hand fabrics, a fine example of how the symbiosis of high fashion and sustainability can be effortlessly achieved. Ahluwalia found her inspiration on a trip to India, when she was visiting Panipat near Delhi, the world capital of textile recycling.
Bethany Williams almost didn’t become a designer because she had always been bothered by the fashion industry’s waste of so many resources. But then she found a compromise: All of her designs are made of recycled materials and produced in social institutions. This year, the 29-year-old’s efforts earned her the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.
Not hard to guess American artist Gabriel Dishaw’s favorite film saga. For his Star Wars sculptures, he chooses materials that would otherwise have landed on the garbage heap: old typewriters, laptops, keyboards, computer chips – and unwanted purses. His works are not only spectacularly beautiful accessories, but also make a creative statement about the throwaway culture.
Items from airport cabins provided the material for the accessories in the Lufthansa Upcycling Collection. Parts of a Business Class comforter, a headrest cover, and a safety card went into the making of the toiletry bag.
A good pair of jeans will last a lifetime, they say. and label founders Hanna Charlotte Erhorn and Constanze Klotz show that they don’t necessarily have to be worn as trousers. Their company, Bridge & Tunnel, turns used denims into stylish home textiles, such as cushion covers, bedspreads and rugs. The talented seamstresses who make up the team have the label to thank for their entry into the labor market.
Each of the products in the Lufthansa Upcycling Collection is recognizable as what it was before – and it goes without saying that the famous crane, now the 100-year-old style icon of aviation, crops up regularly in the collection, for example on the card holders made from Business Class leather headrest covers that are produced in collaboration with the Dutch leathergoods manufacturer Secrid. Beneath the leather, a card protector shields up to six cards from RFID skimming.
He is the fisherman among upcycling designers: With his fashion label Ecoalf, Javier Goyeneche, who lives in Madrid, frees the oceans from waste. For this, the Spaniard has 250 boats patrolling the waves and picking up 1.3 tons of waste every day, from PET bottles to fishing nets to car tires. In a number of production stages, Goyeneche’s team turns the catch into high-quality fabrics which are then used to make stylish sneakers, trousers, shirts and jackets. By the way, the name of the label is a reference to the short form of Goyeneche’s son Alfredo’s name, for whom he wants to leave behind a better world.