Upcycling: The Biggest Trend Of 2021? Or A Fashion And Environmental Revolution?


Ottilie Owen

Upcycling, or creative reuse, has become the biggest trend of 2021. One which has unsurprisingly made the headlines of Vogue.

When considering that the highest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions from the fashion industry come from the production of textiles. It has become crucial that the fashion industry reuse its existing materials. “We have enough textiles that we’ve produced to last us, and yet we’re still producing masses of clothes from virgin materials,” Sara Arnold, co-founder of the campaign group Fashion Act Now, told British Vogue during a recent zoom call. 

“The first time we used deadstock and talked about it was in 2017” and described it to be “like using a bad word: ‘You don’t say that word in the luxury vocabulary”

It is pivotal that big retailers change their mindset, as the fundamental issue of over production in the fashion industry needs to be addressed (urgently). High end brands have begun to embrace upcycling and begun to explore how they can reuse existing materials. One key brand being Balenciaga, whose recent collection included the shaggy coat made from shoelace fur. Not to mention, Marni and their patchworked outerwear which uses existing garments for materials: a nod to seventies patchwork fashion yet also a push towards a sustainable future.

Furthermore, there has been a huge shift in the outlook of big retailers as Gabriela Hearst, whose SS21 collection contained 60 per cent upcycled pieces. They explained to Vogue via a zoom call that; “The first time we used deadstock and talked about it was in 2017” and described it to be “like using a bad word: ‘You don’t say that word in the luxury vocabulary”.

Upcycling is the way the next generation designers are making their mark in the industry. Designers Bethany Williams, Emily Adams Bode and Priya Ahluwalia have made their mark by repurposing materials that already existed. Thus, laying the foundations down for upcycling to become the ‘new normal’ for fashion.

 

The recent impact of COVID-19 and the consequential restrictions has had a direct impact on fashion. Designers turned to what they already had, exemplified by JW Andersons recent collection, ‘Made in Britain’, comprising of six pieces made purely out of leftover fabrics from previous seasons. “’Made in Britain’ came out from this idea during lockdown of creating fashion from what we already had and working locally”, creative direction Jonathan Anderson explained to Vogue.

Formerly, unsold goods would have been thrown away by luxury brands to preserve their value. Leading fabulous fabrics to be shredded, slashed and slaughtered an unethical and wasteful process.

Upcycling has indisputable environmental advantages, but with this comes new challenges. In fact, Marine Serre had to completely rethink her production timeline for her spring/summer 2021 collection as she realised that it was taking much longer to fulfil her orders for her upcycled pieces. Designers have to commit to their fabrics well in advance, a challenge in itself as designers can sometimes be dubious as to whether their products will sell in today’s market.

Formerly, unsold goods would have been thrown away by luxury brands to preserve their value. Leading fabulous fabrics to be shredded, slashed and slaughtered an unethical and wasteful process. Luckily, France has paved the way for other countries by banning this practice: a knock-on effect of customers becoming increasingly aware and conscious of industries deplorable waste. The embracement of upcycling during the pandemic has led to €140 billion to €160 billion (£125 billion to £142 billion) worth of excess inventory from the 2020 spring/summer collection, which is more than double the average.

This is not the only clear financial, as well as ethical, advantage to upcycling. “The fact that not every piece is identical is exciting for our customer, making it an investment piece, almost collectable,” comments Natalie Kingham, buying director at Matchesfashion.com. Danish designer Cecilie Bahnsen, who started Encore collections from surplus materials this year, told Vogue that by creating clothes this way it “makes the product more exclusive and limited and adds value”. Thus, demonstrating how upcycling incorporates a new dynamic to exclusivity.

Duran Lantink, a Dutch designer from Amsterdam, who reassembles deadstock garments from brands including Gucci, Parada, and Off-White into new and high-end pieces states that he has seen a rise in enquires from a number of major brands and retailers wanting to collaborate with him since the pandemic began. A move in the right direction for sustainability in the high-end sector of the industry.

It’s important that we consumers demand upcycling – and consequently unique clothing – so that it is a key part of 2021’s move towards a more sustainable future.

Ottilie Owen

Featured image courtesy of  Heather via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here.

In-article images courtesy of  @bethany_williams_london  and @duranlantikyo via instagram. No changes made to these images. 

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