Reduce, reuse, recycle… up-cycle!

8th December 2011 by

Guest blogger and friend of Otesha Alice Nicol gets us up to speed on the world of up-cycling, and argues that designers and businesses must put reduction of resource use at the heart of their work

In a world where we are continually putting strain on our resources, I have come to question what my role and impact is as a designer. For me, this means taking a holistic view and acknowledging the social and environmental impacts my choice of fabric has on the world. Which fibre did it start off as? Does it have longevity? Where will it end up?

One place to start is by working with what we already have, as using a material that already exists is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than buying new. Our stage of mass consumerism and fast fashion provides a mountain of perfectly usable cast-offs, for example… I am hinting at ‘Up-cycling.’

So what is up-cycling? In a nutshell, up-cycling means using materials with a low value to create a new product with a higher value. Essentially giving something old a new lease of life.

My up-cycling venture began whilst in my final year of printed textiles at the Glasgow School of Art. I wanted to print onto knitwear, yet knitting my own pieces (even from lovely chunky hemp/wool blends) was too timely and buying too costly. What could be used that, in both senses, didn’t cost the earth? My resolution to this conundrum was to venture into a charity shop, where suddenly I found many sizable pieces of knitwear for bargain prices. At the same time buying from charity shops means re-using a product, reducing shipping to external markets and supporting many a just cause through the likes of the Red Cross, Barnardo’s, Oxfam and Shelter, so much more than just bargain knitwear…

A few samples of printing onto re-claimed knit

But the material is only one part of textile design. My design work has been inspired by the bicycle ever since I wandered into the Glasgow Transport Museum and set eyes on the most beautiful penny-farthing I’d ever seen. Whilst I was influenced by the aesthetic design of bicycles (in all shapes and sizes), they also go hand in hand with reducing negative impacts on the environment. Bicycles have negligible carbon emissions, use few materials and resources and make us all that much fitter and healthier! (Though perhaps not all of us will ride a penny-farthing to work!)

Digitally printed silk handkerchiefs

But back to the knitwear… after using jumpers as material for my designs I began to think of other creative ways to use them. This started an enterprise of making hot water bottle covers from the sleeves and cushion covers from the main body. I also became curious about other designers in the world of up-cycling. This led me to discover Goodone, a company which I have been working for this year.

Goodone was established by Nin Castle in 2006 and has appeared at London Fashion Week for the past 6 seasons. Nin has recognized the need to address the environmental impact of the fashion industry and developed a method that is informed by the use of recycled fabrics, but not restrained by it.

The majority of materials are sourced from a textile-recycling unit in East London. Many of the garments are 100% recycled materials, others are mixed with faulty or end of the line fabrics. All garments are made to order in the studio in North London, with a bespoke option, so that only the fabric needed is used.

Despite already using end of the line materials Goodone has even gone a step further, or several leaps, when thinking about its own post production waste. Jerseys/T-shirts are used as cleaning rags, a children’s toy project is on the go and all those jumper sleeves… you guessed it, hot water bottle covers!

Hot water bottle covers made from Aran jumpers

These are inspiring examples of how the role of a designer can help make a more positive impact on our planet: up-cycling; made-to-measure; managing post production waste. Clare Farrell’s article, ‘Peak Fibre?’, on the goodone blog, highlights the necessity of such business models.

Should you wish to discuss your own ideas of up-cycling (or just come for a chat and see what we do!) there are a few events on about town that you can visit:

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