Bespoke + upcycling = the future of fashion?
PLUS: a reality show I'd really love to see.
You know the saying, “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern?”
I thought of it the other day while reading an article about Angelina Jolie announcing the launch of “Atelier Jolie,” a new fashion design label that will be making clothes ONLY out of vintage fabrics and deadstock, while connecting buyers more directly with tailors, pattern makers, and artisan makers.
Just a few days before, my husband and I had watched an episode of “Next in Fashion,” in which talented fashion designers were challenged to make haute couture out of upcycled thrift-store garments. As we watched the episode and saw how hosts Tan France and Gigi Hadid raved about the outfits created out of materials salvaged from old jeans, bed comforters, ugly coats, and other discards, I felt a jolt of excitement.
THIS is how you make circular fashion cool, I thought. By getting influencers and power players in the fashion world to start hyping up designers who only use old clothes and discarded fabric in their clothing.
Blessed are the tastemakers – for they have the power to make sustainable fashion sexy.
A day or so after that, I saw that Cate Blanchett had worn a dress made only from deadstock – the leftover scraps and discarded materials in fashion houses – at this year’s Cannes Film Festival to highlight the waste endemic in the fashion industry. And I thought, Yay, Cate! Way to leverage all that publicity and attention.
THEN, just a few days later, I saw the announcement of Jolie’s new fashion house, with a commitment to zero waste baked into its entire raison d’être.
And I thought: is it possible? Could a shift actually be happening??
Because the sooner we transition to a zero-waste fashion world, the better it will be for literally EVERYONE.
The future of fashion is circular! (Hopefully)
The way we’re doing fashion now is killing the planet.
Yes, that sounds dramatic – but seriously:
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global emissions and 20% of global waste water.
- 92 million tonnes of clothing ends up in the world’s landfills every year.
- The process of turning raw materials into textiles involves 8000 synthetic chemicals, many of which are toxic and end up in waterways and other natural ecosystems.
- 20% of all global water pollution comes from dyeing textiles.
- The number of new clothing items being created every year went from 50 billion in 2000 to 100 billion today.
- One-third of all clothes created are never even purchased but go directly into a landfill.
- People don’t wear at least 50% of the clothes they own.
- 85% of all clothing items in the US are dumped in a landfill or incinerated.
- An estimated 35% of all microplastics come from the fashion industry.
Clearly, our current mode of “doing fashion” isn’t sustainable.
We need a better way to clothe ourselves if we want to reach zero carbon by 2050 and stop causing untold damage to our climate and planet.
That’s why I get excited whenever i see evidence suggesting that people within the industry – as well as their powerful clients and customers – are advocating for a more circular and sustainable approach.
Just in the past few weeks, I’ve seen…
- Vogue Business sharing the “Fashion Exec’s Guide to Circularity”
- The Guardian spotlighting 7 designers who champion regenerative fashion
- H&M (!!) announcing it will be moving into the business of textile sorting
- A BBC article on the world's first "carbon negative" fashion brand.
- Shein (!!!!) announcing a partnership with global circular economy technology company in pursuit of its stated goal to help the textile industry achieve full circularity by 2050
… and more.
Sure, all these moves could very well be greenwashing meant to make the companies and industry look good while they continue doing dirty business as usual.
Even the individual stories like Jolie’s new fashion house, Blanchet’s commitment to wearing sustainable fashion on the runway, and “Next in Fashion” dedicating an episode to working with thrifted materials are mere drops in the fashion industry ocean.
But still. They’re something.
Even small actions can have a big impact if we shine a bright enough spotlight on them and keep saying, “YES!! Awesome! More of this, please!”
If enough people started demanding that fashion companies take full responsibility for the clothes they put out into the world (not to mention the pollutants they release into the environment) and either upcycle or recycle those garments in ways that don’t damage ecosystems, the fashion industry just may be inspired to achieve full circularity a whole lot faster than by freakin’ 2050.
That’s why, when I see even baby steps being made toward circularity in the fashion industry, it gives me a lot of hope.
Imagine a world where bespoke upcycled clothing was the “chicest” fashion out there.
The reality show I now most dream of watching is one in which talented fashion designers compete ONLY in creating outfits from thrifted clothing and deadstock.
Imagine such a show being given the same roll-out and fanfare as American idol, with auditions happening in cities across the country so local audiences could be introduced to talented designers in their town and great local vintage shops where people can buy great fashion – AND/OR quality fabric to repurpose in their own designs.
Imagine the finalists and all of the buzz around their designs conveying the message that clothes made from thrifted garments and scrap materials are REALLY COOL – because not only are they beautiful, they are HELPING the planet instead of harming it.
Now imagine people at the community level hiring the local designers featured in the show to create bespoke outfits for them at a price that works for the buyers while paying the creators fair wages for their work.
Imagine MORE people getting inspired to make high-quality fashion out of upcycled materials – and be able to make a decent living selling those clothes to people who are willing to pay the price for bespoke fashion tailored to their bodies and desires.
And imagine people everywhere realizing that clothes that make minimal impact on the planet are the sexiest fashion of all.
Sure, that may sound like a pipe dream… But it’s a reality show that I would really love to watch!
And somehow, I think Angelina Jolie would agree.
P.S. The day after writing this article I saw a woman on Mastodon posting about a dress that she was making entirely from upcycled garments and OH MY GOD look at the amazing fashion she creates only out of repurposed materials.
THEN just last night, at my son's graduating class end-of-year project presentations, two of the girls presented a series of outfits they had designed and created (including a prom gown and a dress made from ties) entirely out of upcycled clothes from local thrift shops. And their outfits looked AMAZING.
So maybe it IS happening! 🤞🙏