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Recycling - Upcycle and Downcycled

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“Say what…???”

That’s what I get when fashion clients approach my creative studio and ask about incorporating some aspect of recycling into their bags and accessories manufacturing process, and I ask in return, “Do you want upcycled materials or downcycled materials…?”

Fyi -If you want to be a well informed conscious consumer, or just want to sound smart to your peers, read up!

Let’s go back to the basics:

What is recycling? The easier definition is that it is a man-powered chemical process to convert waste into re-usable materials. Right now as we speak, we have the technology to recycle an array of waste materials ranging from fabrics of all kinds, PU, metals of all kinds, papers, and plastic bottles just to name a very few.

Photo courtesy of Lush Home

Photo courtesy of Lush Home

The recycling process consists of 2 parts, upcycling and downcycling.

Upcycling is the process where waste materials, such as plastic bottles, are transformed into another material with higher quality and better impact on the environment. In other words upcycling is a creative re-use of discarded materials for something else, such as building a sturdy home out of old scrap metal melted together with other junk to create a new hybrid construction material.

Photo courtesy of Upcycled Zine

Photo courtesy of Upcycled Zine

Downcycling, on the other hand, is a similar conversion of old material into new but in this case, the new hybrid material is usually of lesser quality. The hybrid polymer created out of two old materials may not bond as well, creating surface weakness that may result in structural breakage.

You may have guessed it by now, the defining difference between the two processes is $$$! Anytime you want to use any upcycled materials the unit price will always be more than the downcycled materials. Now you know why the two handbags made out of recycled materials that you bought months ago at $59.99 and $129.99, respectively, only one is still holding up after months of wear and tear. Chances are the $129.99 handbag is made of upcycled material.

Let’s take Everlane’s Renew Collection as a case study. Its mission is to use recycled plastic bottles as renewable materials in their products and packaging so that by 2021 there will be NO new plastic being used in Everlane.

Judging by the information I can find on their website and knowing the standard of quality of their line of products, I can say with confidence that Everlane most likely will work with plastic bottles that have gone through upcycling so that the new material has strongly bonded polymers that will offer higher quality products and healthier impact on the environment.

Photo Courtesy of Everlane

Photo Courtesy of Everlane

Now go out there and be the well informed smarty pants consumer that you are and hold fashion accountable! Everlane and its Renew Collection is only the beginning, but with each step we consumers take by supporting Everlane’s and other fashion companies’ recycling initiatives, it’ll be another firm step in establishing a mindful and responsible fashion-consumer relationship.



Conscious Fashion = Conscious Consumerism

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When I first started my career in fashion as a young designer who had never been to fashion school and had no idea what “seasonal trend” even meant, fashion was a very curious world full of impossible deadlines and numbers to meet.

There were unspeakable rules set in stone, guaranteed margins that forced factories to eat unfair losses, and poaching of talents and properties on all levels that are hidden from regular consumers. It was also a place where designers hardly slept nor had the time to really design into anything as everything was driven by the fast fashion calendar with 8-12 deliveries every single year. What originality we had was quickly sacrificed by sell-ability, margin, and what is trending. And so it was when I first started, and so it seemed fated to remain.

Courtesy of Sandra Negron Cost of Fast Fashion

Courtesy of Sandra Negron Cost of Fast Fashion

Then something happened in the last 10 years where more and more independent brands and fashion startups such as Everlane, Toms, Reformation, and JW Pei, just to name a few, started to open up their product life cycle processes, becoming transparent and honest not just about how they run their businesses, but also who they run it with. All of a sudden consumers can read and find answers on these brands' websites that openly share with the world about not just what they sell, but who they are partnered with, how much do they make per product, and what type of material they used in each product.

Courtesy of Everlane

The hush hush secrecy and exclusiveness that have pervaded the fashion industry for so long is finally being replaced by a refreshing sense of honesty, inclusiveness, and accessibility of who they are and what their core values are about. And Don't forget the SIZES!! Finally sizes that will actually fit all body types! They also care about the environment and are dedicated to using such alternative materials as recycled plastic bottles and vegan leather. But rather than concocting eco friendly products as merely another seasonal fad to win exposure, they’re staking their entire businesses on it. All I can say is WOW.

Courtesy of Tom’s

Courtesy of JW Pei

It is encouraging and invigorating for me to see the efforts of these independent brands disrupting the industry silent norm and carving out their own way to success and integrity. They have inspired me to be more selective of the type of customers I take on, as profit shouldn't be the only considering factor. Kudos to all these brands who are blazing a new path into fashion!

Courtesy of The Reformation

Conscious fashion = Conscious Consumerism

Conscious fashion = Conscious Consumerism

Conscious fashion = Conscious Consumerism, one step at a time, we’ll get there.