Life is a Circus

Upcycling is Turning Old Clothing and Textiles Into High Fashion

Designers around the world are creating highly idiosyncratic fashion that is good for the planet.

Montreal contextual artist Murphy Cooper is part of a movement that is transforming fashion around the world, and even giving an entire city in Italy a new vocation. It’s called upcycling, and it involves taking old clothes and textiles from thrift shops and reject bins, and giving them an idiosyncratic new purpose. In a world where disposable fashion is taking a high environmental toll, this new movement isn’t just fashion forward – it’s also good for the planet.

Designer Nicole McLaughlin typifies this new approach to fashion. As an intern at Reebok, she became concerned about the amount of waste generated by the fashion industry, which is constantly creating new clothing meant to have a short fashion life. Captivated by second-hand material and the world of “no waste” designers, she embarked on art projects in her spare time, creating new clothing and fashion from discarded materials. Her work drew so much attention that she created a company, and now advises corporate clients such as Arc’teryx.

McLaughlin is not alone. Design studios such as Zero Waste Daniel (Daniel Silverstein) in Brooklyn and Nicole McLaughlin (Damar Rivillo) in Berlin are part of a growing international movement.

Old textiles are also being upcycled for more than just clothing. Artists such as Toronto-born Tau Lewis, now living in Brooklyn, are creating “fabric sculptures” from trashed textiles.

Indeed, the movement has become so widespread that an entire town in Italy has based its economy on upcycled fashion. The town of Prato has dedicated itself to the industry, with hundreds of companies creating 15% of all the recycled clothing in the world.

A sure sign that upcycled fashion is here to stay.

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