Repair, Redesign, Reuse and Recycle: The surge of up-cycling within the luxury market to help combat waste in the fashion industry.
The textile industry consumes around 10 percent of the global carbon emissions, and is the second largest polluting industry globally. According to the Waste & Resources Action programme, over 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year, valued at a devastating £140 million worth of clothing incinerated. This current “take, make, dispose” linear model depends on mass volume of raw materials and energy, and is a production model that is on the brink of its limits. Therefore, it is now critical to move away from the linear model as it has been predicted that by 2030 the earth will need two earths worth of resources, due to overconsumption.
Does Luxury Fashion Have An Overproduction Problem?
This question has rung around the luxury market in recent years – especially since a luxury fashion house famously burnt £28m of excessive inventory, in a distressing practice reminding everyone that the luxury market does hugely overproduce. This waste issue was clearly evident last year when over £130 billion worth of surplus inventory from the SS20 collections went to waste (according to McKinsey & Company).
"Many luxury brands over produce in order to cater to sale buyers, we should consider the items we sell, buy, and own as having a value that stands, regardless of it being a couple of months old. As consumers often we are paying for the impending sale price if we buy something at RRP. Ultimately we should be buying items at full price and expecting for items to sell out at the end of the season or be carried over. Luxury brands need to help the consumer do this, make good quality product and help us care for the longevity of the items we own" - Delly Deacon.
The current situation is distressing and there is a need for this eco-degradation to be controlled through stopping the entry of new raw materials and focusing on the three codes of reduce, reuse and recycle. This pre & post production textile waste is constantly being investigated within the universal concern to expand and implement commercially feasible, yet circular strategies within the fashion industry. The environmental reorientation of production and consumption systems, as well as social innovation, lead to many independent designers adopting up cycling in their production process.
Upcycling is not necessarily new: this nonconformist approach to materials was the spine of Martin Margiela’s metier (he reconstructed gloves into shirts, broken plates into vests, and belts into tunics), and many independent designers are providing a poignant nod to the Antwerp innovator. Independent designers, such as Eleanor Butler-Jones, Delly Deacon, Johanna Parv and Second Best have specialised in repurposing materials, stretching the lifespan of a garment. Hence, setting the groundworks for up-cycling to convert the “new normal” for the industry.
"Upcycling or repurposing is one of the most straightforward ways to limit your waste consumption. No new material is being added to the mix and nothing is being made from scratch. It is the most easily accessible method of being sustainably creative, if you are young and creative, getting materials from a charity shop or dead stock is significantly cheaper and easier than sourcing newly made responsibly sourced fabric or learning laborious sustainable techniques. It's the perfect entry level, 'give it a go' method" - Delly Deacon.
This new normal for upcoming designers has meant that they are using existing material, which is one way of running a small business efficiently, in the midst of the pandemic. With a number of emerging designers pushing the agenda, it was only a matter of time before the major fashion houses started to follow suit.
Last season, saw designer Miuccia Prada with her brand Miu Miu connecting with the current times with ‘Upcycled by Miu Miu’, giving a new lease of life to pre-loved denim in collaboration with iconic denim brand Levi’s. The creative director of Baleciaga, Demna Gvasalia, has also redefined the major label’s production process, providing that 93% of materials used in their last collection was upcycled. Seeing major luxury labels embracing the initiative marks a significant shift within the luxury market.
At Aspect Online, the retail platform aims to further slow down fashion offering a responsible way to shopping luxury. The luxury space that was founded during the pandemic to help luxury brands survive – provides a response to the overproduction issue in the luxury market, by working with up-cycling designers to address the backlog of garments in a sustainable way.
"With my materials I aim to work with either dead stock or materials that have been produced within the UK. With each bag I make I fully shape it on the machine meaning there is no excess of waste material. Although by doing this takes much longer to produce each bag it means I’m not producing any waste and actually saving on materials" - Eleanor Butler-Jones.
Aspect provides one destination for consumers to be able to engage with issues, and provides brands a space to reinstate value to past garments that would otherwise be sent to landfill. It allows all drivers of the value chain to access the circular economy themselves. Aspect’s dedicated retail mission is to divert textile waste away from landfill – by pushing for creative solutions (i.e., up-cycling) to promote the circular mindset of waste as a resource.
WORDS BY SHAMMI POPAT