Creative Reuse: Textile Waste and Contemporary Design

Oh, to be able to fly to New York for the weekend for this TSA event! Wonder when they’ll start putting these things out as live-stream webinars?

For the meantime, I’ll have to satisfy myself with digging up the links to the designers and exhibits they mention:

Green Eileen  The eco-advocate arm of vertically-integrated retailer Eileen Fischer accepts donations of its own gently-used clothing, which it then resells or uses in up cycling workshops, or for creating up cycled yarns and who knows what else (which is why I’d pay to go on the TSA field trip and their recycling centre myself!).

This is a pretty daring business model and I’m deeply impressed they’re pulling it off. I worked for a vertically-integrated retailer that was attempting to do something like this about seven years ago, but didn’t quite pull it off before they had to close for other reasons.

Scraps: Fashion, Textiles & Creative Reuse  This exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum takes a look at three designers with completely different business models who are using pre- and post-consumer recycled textiles (pre- means that the textiles are from manufacturing offcuts and waste; post- means that they’ve already had one lifetime as someone’s shirt, tea towel, etc). I like that the curators included  the preservation of local craft traditions” as a key factor in reducing the footprint of the textile and fashion industries.

Working with second-hand and scrap materials has a lot in common with working with natural materials: when I harvest a bunch of ivy or sticks, or my family’s old clothes too worn out to be donated, I don’t get to sit down and start making; there’s an entire, overlooked process of sorting and preparing by hand that needs to take place before the making can begin. This is the difference between buying a bag salad at the grocery store versus harvesting greens from your own garden, which, event after months of anticipation and care, still arrive in your kitchen kind of gritty and unsorted. It’s pretty amazing to see these designers who are finding niches where the gritty sorting and re-making can be economically viable. We must also keep in mind, though, that until we pay something more like the true environmental costs for the cheap clothes we wear, these examples of contemporary design involving recycling and up cycling will remain niches only.

In Vancouver, we can find a few local designers who are up cycling and recycling — check out Adhesif Clothing on Main, and Jola V Designs and Erin Templeton for leather goods. There are always new eco-labels cropping up… and sadly, also fading away.

UPDATE: Craft Council of BC is hosting an exhibition of the work of Dawn Michelle Russell called ‘Thirteen to Zero’, exploring zero-waste clothing designs from handwoven/dyed fabrics
Exhibition opens March 23, and runs until May 4 at the Craft House Gallery on Granville Island

Anyway, I love this quote I saw on a poster at Value Village, the global thrift-shop empire: “The most sustainable clothing is the stuff that’s already made.” I also love this little art installation/ video they made to show textile waste in North America:

Buy quality, by classic, accessorize with art, and mend!