A trend or a permanent approach towards sustainable fashion?
Upcycling seems to be the future of fashion. Indeed, this technique is one of the best opportunities to make fashion a more sustainable industry. But is it just a trend? One of the buzzwords brands use to lure attention? Or is it here to stay?
Upcycling – what does it mean?
Upcycling means taking discarded materials, re-designing and reassembling them to create a product of higher value. While recycling transforms materials into something new, which implies more resources, and has a higher impact. Upcycling starts from current materials, having a lower impact. Therefore, this practice represents a pattern of circularity, the heart of sustainable fashion.
A personal note: family tradition
For us, daughters of a seamstress who was so passionate about making clothes that she even finished buttonholes by hand, it’s not a novelty. Since we were children, we’ve had familiarity with collecting buttons, zippers, and fabrics. Pieces from existing garments that mom would reshape to make something else: beautiful clothes for special occasions or garments and accessories for daily life. Our school bags and pencil case made of deadstock denim were fantastic.
Upcycling background notes
A memorable example of upcycling comes from the movie industry. Rossella O’Hara’s dress, made from curtains in “Gone with the wind”, belongs to our collective imagery.
Many blogs attribute the “upcycling discovery” to this or that designer for a promotional purpose. But we cannot avoid mentioning Mr Martin Margiela. Since the beginning, his aesthetic mastered the deconstruction and reinvention of found garments, culminating in 2006 when Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal was born.
On the same line, we mention Marc Le Bihan. A big part of his work is searching for vintage garments, deconstructing and reconstructing them. He upcycled military uniforms from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, reshaping them into modern pieces. With Swedish pants, he created a coat; with military pull, a gilet; and with smoking pants, a long skirt. Also, he created pieces with postal bags made of heavy linen for a catwalk.
Among young designers, Marine Serre’s creativity stands out. Indeed she is doing a great job with upcycling.
By exploring fashion history, we can see that upcycling is nothing new. But what brought it to the centre of attention was the pandemic, which spread a do-it-yourself trend among young people. Most importantly, it favoured the diffusion of particular attention towards sustainable fashion.
Nowadays, many famous brands ride the wave to stay popular. Though advisable to become sustainable, a fashion industry that almost entirely revolves around upcycled garments is hard to imagine.