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Global Recycling Day: Why Upcycling is the Biggest Trend Right Now

January 2018, Vogue Arabia. Photo: William Lords

As the fashion world continues to work towards sustainability, trying to help save the planet from the impending climate crisis, upcycling is the biggest trend of the season. It’s even resonating with haute couture, where the reuse and recycling of clothing and fabric is hardly expected. Dutch designer Ronald van der Kemp was one of the first to use repurposed fabrics and materials, with all his collections incorporating upcycling. He’s found a way to reuse old items to beautify and exalt, prompting other designers to rethink their creative process as well.

Multicolored Terry torchon in Marine Serre SS22 dresses and boots

Looking back, for FW21, the message was fabric reuse, vintage denim, and sustainable materials. For his Artisanal collection, Maison Margiela creative director John Galliano presented a patchwork gown made from vintage and antique Delft blue fabrics. In Schiaparelli’s signature surreal style, artistic director Daniel Roseberry transformed a pair of old jeans into a jacket embroidered with golden cone and shell-like forms, lips, ceramic eyes, and intricate patterns; the epitome of upcycling meeting the grandiose world of haute couture. Regenerating fabrics will become even more the norm for conscious designers. Case in point: Marine Serre SS22 featured 90% regenerated fabrics – terry torchon typically used for household chores and jewelry crafted from cutlery, glass, and stones, and leather and denim wear.

Arab designers are also taking adventures in upcycling seriously. There’s Iraqi London-based label Atelier Mundane, known for its wild prints and dynamic colors, who uses upcycled fabrics and vegan leather. Then there’s Paris-based BassCoutur, founded by Tunisian designer Riad Trabelsi, and which is made entirely out of deadstock clothing and fabrics as well as recycled and upcycled fabrics. The ready-to-wear label of Lebanese fashion designer Roni Helou, who is now based in Beirut and Doha, is defined by sustainability and activism. Helou often uses deadstock and locally sourced materials such as gauze, poplin, cotton knit, and denim to create his overcoats. “I prefer the words ‘conscious’ and ‘activist’ to define my brand rather than sustainable as it has been overused,” says Helou. “We only use deadstock, discarded, and vintage fabrics that are 10 years or older.” Helou often buys used fabrics from Creative Space Beirut, the public fashion school he attended in Lebanon, that have been donated by top designers like Donna Karan and Diane Von Furstenberg. “It’s not just fabrics, we are talking about zippers and buttons, too… everything that will be included in the creation of my garments.”

Patchwork embroidery with Elsa Schiaparelli’s original 1930s swatches from lesage + pearls + rhinestones + lurex thread + 3d printed golden ears, mouths, and noses

Dubai-based Palestinian designer Reema Al Banna is doing something similar with her brand Reemami. “I always make and print my own fabrics,” says Al-Banna. “Sometimes I order a bit more than I need and then the leftover fabrics I use for headpieces, hats, and caps. I try to recycle it into accessories.” For her next season, she plans to use a patchwork of her old fabrics and designs to create pants, shirts, and dresses. “I will also incorporate embroidery by Palestinian refugees,” she adds. “Whenever I cut my fabrics, I use a zero-waste strategy, so we don’t have too much left over.”

Read Next: Is Renting Your Clothes Really More Sustainable?

Originally published in the November 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

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