Upcycling is more than a trend, it’s a real lifestyle!
The word is familiar to most, and not without reason! Upcycling, “surcyclage” in French, is much more than a buzzword or a trend. Rather, it is closer to a veritable philosophy.
Driven by different stakes, designers and big bands are increasingly opting to take this fork in the road. At the foundation of this seismic shift is a realization: In 15 years, the world’s clothing production has doubled. An alarming over-consumption for our planet, whose health is steadily weakening. But, what exactly is upcycling?
A base concept
Upcycling is simply the recycling of materials, often used, to give them a second life. The trend has become a truly fashionable act and, by tapping their creativity, as well as an overall awareness, many designers and brands now include this new approach in their collections.
Among the brands and designers who meaningfully support upcycling is Marine Serre, winner of the 2017 LVMH prize, whose pieces in her last runway show (Fall/Winter 20/21) were made mainly from old carpets. Beyond the catwalks, brands like Les Vilains Parisiens, La Draft, Affekt, 727 Sailbags, or Freitag place recycling at the heart of their creations; an evolution in response to our most pressing questions.
The majority of garments produced today finish their lives in a landfill. Their decomposition naturally produces one of the most toxic greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide. And if today less than 1% of our clothing is recycled*, it is time for a wake up call. By re-thinking fashion in a more responsible way, brands are thereby sending a strong signal to their clientele: buy less, but better. Indeed, between upcycling fabrics or simply buying them up to avoid them being burnt in a landfill, a virtuous circle between designers and consumers is naturally taking shape. That is why the fast fashion brands are also getting into the game: it is a way to fight against the “throwaway fashion” that they symbolize while attracting a more specialized clientele.
A demanding clientele
Of course, upcycling is an act that everyone can practice at home, But on the scale of the fashion industry, it’s a bit more challenging. Transforming a textile fiber into a new garment also means highlighting that fiber and showing that recycling is not synonymous with degradation. With many upcycled pieces, the quality of the new piece is often higher than that of the original garment, and regularly attracts a demanding clientele with an increasingly specialized eye. Indeed, even though it has long been considered a niche concept, upcycling in fact allows brands and designers to show the breadth of their talent. By developing such specialized pieces, they are in their way participating in the sustainable development movement, and playing an essential role as trendsetters.
Whoever would have thought, in 1989, that Martin Margiela’s first runway show was announcing a radical new direction for the fashion industry, albeit one that would come take 30 years to gel? By creating tops made of plastic bags from a big supermarket chain, the designer was already showing that the upcycling trend would one day look at him as a guru. It has taken until now to see that this role was not just fleeting, but critical for our planet!
According to Ellen MacArthur in A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future
Photography : La Draft / Greg Lauren / Les Vilains parisiens / Marine Serre / Noyoco