9 Emerging Designers Leading The Recycled Fashion Game
Sustainable fashion options keep getting better and we have emerging designers to thank. These young designers are becoming our go-to experts on everything from mindful local sourcing to eco-friendly manufacturing. They are taking charge in creating a more sustainable future. Their small batch production philosophy and conscious use of recycled and deadstock materials have formed an inspiring community and market to find the most creative things happening in recycled fashion to date.
We caught up with a few of our favorite designers that are making a difference with their own two hands. From designing a line made strictly with recycled denim to a jacket made with autobody rags and moving blankets, these designers are leading the change.
Known for her quirky prints and ultra-wearable styles, Carleen designer Kelsy Parkhouse pretty much does it all. But this spring she honed in on sustainability by designing jackets made with autobody rags and moving blankets that are all truly one of a kind.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HAVE THE IDEA TO USE RECYCLED TEXTILES FOR THE MOVING BLANKET JACKETS? I was walking Brimfield last summer, not looking for anything in particular, when I spotted this big stack of old moving blankets. The vendor had brought them to sell to people who bought furniture at the market and needed a way to transport it safely but I sorted through the pile and bought a big batch of lovely old ones – still not 100% with a use in mind, they've just always been something I like. Most of the new ones are made of that strange polyester material that barely even counts as fabric, but these ones were nice and cotton-y.
THESE JACKETS ARE TWICE-RECYCLED. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT? The moving blankets are constructed with a filler or batting that is made from recycled textiles (it wouldn't make sense to use new materials for an industrial function like this, and when we cut into the blanket to make the jacket we can see the multicolored fibers of the filling), most of them already had a first life as moving blankets, and then we've repurposed them as coats.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FIND WITH DESIGNING A PIECE USING RECYCLED MATERIALS? The main challenge, not just with this item but with all the items I make using repurposed materials, is consistency. There's always going to be some variation (that you don't get using a new roll of fabric) and I just have to find ways to help the end customer be excited about that.
Handmade in Vancouver, British Columbia, Erin Templeton's bags can easily become a life-long friend. With minimal hardware and clean lines, her bags and leather goods go with anything and everything. Below Erin lays out what it's like to design with sustainability at the forefront of her line.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HAVE THE IDEA TO USE RECYCLED LEATHER IN YOUR COLLECTION? I have been using recycled leather from the very first time I made things with leather, even in school I made a pair of shoes out of lederhosen! I have always been a vintage picker, so leather pants and skirts were readily available. My shop in Vancouver has a selection of vintage still, it's fun to make one of a kind things. They sort of act like markers and you recognize who they were or when you made it. I have seen bags years later and remembered the garment it was, it's weird!
CAN YOU GO INTO MORE DETAIL ABOUT YOUR NEWEST RECYCLED BAG, THE SS17 GROCERY BAG? We did that bag in linen first and I guess I'm always looking for ways to use recycled leather so, I just snuck a couple into the shop and people loved them! I try and make most of our styles in recycled at some point. It's good to have in my shop to test drive.... but for wholesale, it's hard for retailers to order, unless it's black or brown. It's hard to source exact colors but I do my best, I'm always looking! That style takes one pair of pants to make. I buy my vintage and leather wholesale and that source is my secret!
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FIND WITH DESIGNING PIECES USING RECYCLED MATERIALS? Usually it's just organizing the pieces that will translate best into the right styles... TGIFs get a side pocket from the pants if I can swing it, then the others I sometimes frankenstein them together so they are strong and merchandise well together. Bags can take a beating, and people get quite attached to them so I really do my best to ensure they will have them as long as possible. Quality recycled leather from the beginning is key. I have been using recycled leather since 2000, so I am in it for the long haul! I squeeze recycled leather in anywhere I can! We have very little waste here, all of my scraps even go onto the street into a free bin for my neighborhood to get crafty with, people really go nuts on that bin, haha.
Trinity Fodor is the designer and creative director behind this ultimate DIY project. Taking denim to a whole new level, she uses recycled materials from New York and California, and makes all of her pieces by hand in Harlem. Below, we dig a little deeper into her process.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HAVE THE IDEA TO USE RECYCLED MATERIALS TO CREATE YOUR LINE? When I was teaching myself to sew I needed inexpensive fabric to practice so I would frequent second-hand stores, cut up whatever I bought and then try to remake pieces or alter the current state of a piece. I moved on to denim, after I became more comfortable. I cut off the legs of a few pairs of jeans to make shorts a few summers ago, so I used those to make denim halter tops and bralettes. And my denim evolution went from there.
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS LIKE – FROM FINDING YOUR SOURCES TO THE END PRODUCT? I don’t have much structure when it comes to the process. Sometimes I find a cool colored piece and know exactly what I want to turn it into and then other times, it sits on a shelf for months until I wake up one morning with an idea.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE WITH DESIGNING PIECES USING RECYCLED MATERIALS? It can be difficult sometimes because I have no control over what fabric I’m going to find to rework. Patience is really important and understanding that everything is a process.
Established in 2014 by designer Misa Miyagawa, Botanica Workshop turns out a few small runs of bras, undies, camisoles, and so on each year, all made in Los Angeles of organic and sustainable materials. This season, they broke into swimwear using recycled materials. Below, Misa reveals the ins and outs of their sustainable movement.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HAVE THE IDEA TO USE RECYCLED/RECLAIMED MATERIALS IN YOUR COLLECTION? Sustainability is the core value of all Botanica Workshop collections. When I started the line it was very uncommon to find underwear or loungewear made of recycled or reclaimed fabrics, regardless of price point or aesthetic. There is so much pre-existing material that can be transformed in this way, and it has been a really educational journey discovering all the ways to use different things. We started the line using many reclaimed trims and continue to use them every season!
THIS IS YOUR FIRST SWIMWEAR COLLECTION. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO USE RECYCLED POLYAMIDE? When I began researching sustainable fabrics back in 2013, I read a press release about the new, innovative process of making recycled polyamide (aka nylon) fibers for apparel. Recycled nylon has already been an industry standard material in the interiors world for years. Until recently it was not readily available in the US (it's made in the EU) but I accidentally rediscovered it while looking for stretch linings. Some larger brands say that it's too expensive or difficult to use recycled materials, but I find that's absolutely not the case. The quality is incredible, definitely at a designer level, and the pricing is reasonable enough that a small line like ours could take a chance on creating a new category just to be able to incorporate it into our line!
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FIND WITH DESIGNING A PIECE USING RECYCLED MATERIALS? Finding the right recycled materials for our customers sometimes takes years of research and testing, but we're very happy with the outcome. The downside to using reclaimed materials is that there may not be enough stock for large runs, so if the item becomes too popular, it can be difficult to fulfill the demand.
All of Coclico shoes are made ethically and sustainably in their small, family-run factory in Mallorca, Spain and are designed in New York. We chatted with Brand Director, Diana Haber, to get all the details.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HAVE THE IDEA TO USE RECYCLED MATERIALS IN YOUR FOOTWEAR? We read Cradle to Cradle by William Mcdonough and Michael Braungart. It changed our whole perspective on sustainability and what could be done about it from a design standpoint. Our recycled components are mostly hidden in the structure of the shoe. We use recycled foam in our insoles and recycled cork for our covered platforms. We also use as many products from renewable sources as we possibly can, like wood and solid cork.
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS LIKE FOR FINDING RECYCLED MATERIALS? We look for innovative eco materials at the trade fairs, online resources and in the news. Our goal is to find as much product that can be sourced locally to our production facility in Spain as possible. One challenge is finding a great new product is finding it somewhat locally, when that can't be done we will debate the product's virtues in compared to the environmentally damaging effects of long-haul shipping. We try to make the best choices for the larger picture.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FIND WITH DESIGNING A PIECE WITH RECYCLED MATERIALS? There are some limitations with recycled materials because the strength of the material is different than with virgin materials. But it’s more about learning how to use it. Once you know its characteristics, then you find a way to make it work!
Tara St. James is the designer behind Study NY, a womenswear brand that focuses on conceptual design and sustainability. Below she reveals her recent sustainable projects and recycled pieces.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HAVE THE IDEA TO USE UPCYCLED MEN'S SHIRTS? The Sam Shirt and Dress are a collaboration with a Brooklyn designer named Samantha Serafino who I mentored while she was studying design at Kent State. She developed the idea to upcycle men's shirting because there was a lot of inventory in the thrift shops in Ohio (where she lived at the time). We started with one style (the shirt) and after working together the collaboration evolved to include a dress and new versions of the styles made from denim shirts.
HOW DID THE MAKE IT BLACK COLLABORATION COME TOGETHER? Make It Black is one of the companies housed at the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator where I work as a sustainability mentor. I loved the concept of her brand and the service it offers to designers and we came up with the collaboration together. I don't naturally gravitate towards black as a designer (or consumer) but I do get many requests for it from customers, so Make It Black allows me to offer black garments that were once another color, giving them a new life.
WE ALSO LOVE THE WEAVING HAND COLLABORATION. TELL US MORE. When I first met Weaving Hand through artist friends I knew they could help turn our scraps into something new. I had been looking for hand weavers to try weaving our scraps into new textiles and was really excited to meet an organization here in Brooklyn. Originally it was going to be a short term project but it turned out so well we extended it to an ongoing collaboration.
IS USING LEFTOVER PRODUCTION SCRAPS SOMETHING YOU WANT TO TRY AND DO EACH SEASON? Now that we have found a similar upcycling solution for our sweatshirt scraps through Reroll (a new project by Zero Waste Daniel) we're interested in finding solutions for all our production scraps. If only there were more time in the day!
IT'S ALL ABOUT DEADSTOCK
You’ve probably started to hear the word deadstock thrown around lately and that’s because more and more designers are incorporating it into their production model. It’s kind of like that secret pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Deadstock is fabric that is leftover from mills and garment factories or viewed as flawed so larger companies won’t bother using it and gets thrown away (often ending up sitting in landfills). This is where the amazing designers step in. They see the potential in all the small quantities of deadstock and put it to use making exclusive, beautiful products. Deadstock as a material can enhance creativity, as well as sustainability. So keep your eye out for this term. You might not see the words ethical, eco or green in descriptions but it is surely all of the above. There are too many rad labels using this material to name them all, but here three designers we’re loving right now that use deadstock on the daily to create standout pieces in a sustainable way.
This growing cult-favorite footwear line consciously integrates a mix of deadstock leather from premium Italian factories into their shoes. They keeps things sustainable, exclusive and interesting.
This New York-based label uses primarily recycled and deadstock material to create their one-of-a-kind pieces. Seriously, with exceptions to their knits, basically everything is made of deadstock. They are champions at taking scraps and turning them into beyond cool pieces. Plus, Zoe Latta's expertise knowledge of textile engineering goes a long when designing pieces with unique textiles through deadstock fabric.
Berg + Belts
All of Berg + Betts watch bands are ethically crafted from deadstock leather that would otherwise go to waste. By collecting these scraps of leather from factories around the world they are able to transform fabric once viewed as worthless into timeless, sustainable pieces.