Page 79 - Sharp September 2021
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Each year, 47 per cent of all fibre used by the fashion industry goes to waste. That includes substantial quantities of unused fabric and unsold clothing known as deadstock, the result of manufactur- ers’ routine overestimation of consumer demand. Meanwhile, the fashion industry accounts for four per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (equal to the annual total of France, Germany, and Britain combined), using enormous quantities of water, petroleum, energy, and chemicals just fabricating textiles, often while relying on workers whose labour conditions are unsafe and unethical.
The environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry are galling, as is its inefficiency. More than $500 billion USD of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a U.K.-based charity promoting the circular economy (an economic model designed to keep materials in use as long as possible). Deadstock, and even our worn clothing items, are not worthless, but they are being thrown away. And while flimsy fast fashion is a big part of fashion’s waste problem, every level of the industry is complicit. In 2017, Burberry revealed it destroyed $36.6 million USD of unsold merchandise as part of a strategy to preserve its reputation of exclusivity; in 2018, Richemont, parent company to Van Cleef & Arpels, admitted to destroying $563 million worth of products in the previous two years (the practice has since been banned in France). Burberry emerged from the scandal as a beneficiary, pledging to stop tossing trenches in favour of donating deadstock to charities and fashion schools. In fact, the company did well to offer transparency about something many other brands continue to do — what’s shocking to the public is often routine to the C-suite.
Fashion’s waste problem isn’t going to be solved by one magic bullet, yet an increasing number of designers and consumers are par- ticipating in a system that transforms deadstock into newly desirable items: upcycling. The concept of upcycling textiles isn’t new; rather, it’s part of a long domestic tradition of thrift, responsible for things like quilts and carpet bags. But new-wave upcycling — also known as “circular fashion,” due to the cyclical nature of reuse — carries no connotations of dowdiness or deprivation, nor does it require personal proficiency with a needle. Rather, sustainability-minded millennials and Gen Zers are making upcycled fashion feel cool, and pushing it ever closer to the mainstream.
The concept of reusing deadstock had been creeping into the cultural conversation for a few years prior to the pandemic, but months of designers being stuck with more unsold inventory than ever has turbocharged it. Now, it seems like everywhere you look, creatives are spinning fashion industry “garbage” into gold. Take 34-year-old Dutch designer Duran Lantink, a fashion provocateur (he made the vagina pants Janelle Monáe wore in her Pynk music video) who Frankensteins deadstock items from brands like Balmain, Balenciaga, and Prada into futuristic, punky collections. Or Display Copy, a glossy fashion magazine that launched in 2020, and, as per Brynn Heminway’s first editor’s letter, “doesn’t feature a single new fashion item,” but is nonetheless filled with shoppable reworked pieces and clothes from thrift and vintage stores.
Earlier this year, Vancouver outerwear brand Arc’Teryx appointed concept artist Nicole McLaughlin, known for retooling cast-off items like hotel slippers and velcro wallets into one-of-a-kind wearables, as its first-ever design ambassador. “It’s always exciting to learn about new developments, like different mushroom leathers and these cool technologically advanced materials,” McLaughlin says of working with what some would call junk. “But what about all the pallets of clothing that are going into landfills? What are we going to be doing with that?”
Upcycling doesn’t only reflect today’s eco-values, but our love of exclusivity too. Especially now, when e-commerce and globalization have made the exact same designer goods available to everyone, everywhere, “people want rare, one-of-a-kind pieces that feel a little bit more special to them,” says Vancouver designer Jamie Dawes, who creates made-to-order garments upcycled from thrifted fabrics for her fashion line, Fyoocher. “They’ll hopefully keep them for way longer,” she says. After decades of mall-brand monoculture and hy- pebeast homogeneity, knowing nobody else is going to be walking down the street in your Fyoocher pants or Rave Review jacket does feel pretty refreshing — luxurious, even.
Designers often pay a premium to source and ship deadstock, and much upcycled clothing is made by hand or in the small but growing number of global factories outfitted to de- and reconstruct garments. Corresponding traits like uniqueness, a story, time and labour requirements, and a high price range align designer upcy- cled goods with what British School of Fashion professor Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas calls “the core of true luxury.” “If we think about,

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