Upcycling and Mending – New Buzzword, Old Roots

Upcycling and Mending – New Buzzword, Old Roots

Reading Time: 7 minutes

“Buy less, choose well.”

Vivienne Westwood

We buy too much, we design too much and we waste too much.

If you go back in time (this scene is popular especially in Indian households) our mothers and grandmothers always insisted that we pass on our old clothes to our cousins or members in the family. It was a routine affair to get old sarees stitched together to make a beautiful blanket that kept one warm during the winters. It was normal that when a dress or a shirt got torn, either someone from home or masterji would quickly stitch it or mend it with a patch to make it look new and give it an extra life. There was hardly any instance, where the old worn-out clothes were dumped in the bin like in western economies– remember how your once favourite t-shirt became floor scrubber?

The concept of upcycling isn’t new to India, it’s been ingrained in us all as individuals. Then why has the fashion industry suddenly fallen in love with the concepts of ‘mending’ and ‘upcycling’ over the past few years? Is it a new fad that designers want to encash on? Or Is fashion actually changing for good? Does it hold the power to deal with global catastrophes such as waste management and environmental pollution?

Elaborating on the upcycling tradition, Kalam Jhala, Project Manager – RaasLeela Textiles shared “Upcycling and Mending have become buzzwords now, even though both of these processes were followed in Indian households since a long time. Every Craft and many of our household practices have always been based on sustainability and optimum use of resources. It is just that in the last few years the term has been highlighted a lot for awareness, and rightly so, but what people don’t seem to notice is that our culture as a whole has always included sustainability as a core practice. Working with craft, we came to know how sustainability was always in built within the craft itself. How artisans used to make products keeping in mind the optimum use of resources and future mending taught me a lot about sustainability. It was probably then that we realized that not wasting existing resources was more important than upcycling. And that’s what we practice at RaasLeela. We design a product keeping in mind its mending and how we can make it conscious and long-lasting.”

We live in a time where the fashion trends keep changing every week. So, what do you do?

You look at your wardrobe – figure out if anything matches the trend, great. If nothing does, you pay a visit to your favourite brand store or surf online, pick those trends that catch your attention and swiftly discard them when you are done and dusted after two three repeats.

These discarded clothes in India still are handed over to maids or NGOs and only in worst case scenario they go in landfills. The astounding data of the quantity of clothes that end up in landfills is not something we are unaware of. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) predicts that Indian landfills are overflowing with so much urban waste including clothes that by 2050, India is going to require a landfill that’s the size of New Delhi.

Unable to ignore these astronomical figure, designers and labels are now consciously working towards a more sustainable approach to create garments through an environment friendly concept called ‘Upcycling’. With an ethical philosophy that challenges over-consumption and post-production wastage, the concept was taken note of at the fashion weeks. Designers and brands recreated and reimagined ensembles and accessories handmade from fabric rags, leather pieces, broken shells, discarded buttons, broken beads etc create a wearable design, while being committed to protecting the planet.

Giving us an insight into RaasLeela’s latest collection – ‘NavaJuni- NewOld’, Kalam further added saying “Designing a practical product using the resources to its full potential and targeting the right market is what can be considered a successful upcycled product. In our new collection “NavaJuni- NewOld” this is what we have done, where existing pieces with limitations were explored to a new look with simplest solutions like adding triangle-shaped remnants to increase the flare of the silhouette or folding of the extra fabric at the hem of the dress to provide weightage, and for the dress to have a better fall.”

It’s a tale foretold that fashion’s future is often created by reinventing the past and scouting for inspiration in the present. Now that upcycling has gotten attention in the mainstream fashion business, everything from occasion wear and sleep wear to furnishings and jewellery is made out of discarded materials today.

If you are a conscious customer and a believer in ‘It’s not trends that matter, its what you wear”, here are our favourite homegrown Indian labels that are well-versed with creating a piece of art from scrap.

The label is known to craft contemporary yet non-conforming fashion that lasts seasons. The design sensibility is low key with a strong respect for material, form and craft and reflects the way we live in urban India, creating fashion and textiles rooted in our Indian identity yet with a contemporary and international take. In a consumer world of mass-produced fast fashion, Abraham and Thakore reiterates the belief that real luxury lies in specially crafted product in limited numbers of high quality.

From artistic knitwear to breezy summer dresses and upholstery, Aneeth Arora’s label Pero creates hand-crafted pieces that are unique to the brand’s aesthetic – pastel, fresh and embroidered designs that we don’t seem to get enough of. She calls herself a ‘textile and dress maker’ and what fascinates and inspires her most is the clothing and dressing styles of the local people, which makes the garments so effortlessly stylish and trendy, therefore making them real trend-setters of our time.

Born from a simple concept of creating unique and environment friendly products, Doodlage is a clothing label where sustainability intersects with innovation. Founded by Kriti Tula, the label uses eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton, corn fabric, banana fabric etc. to create their products. The label upcycles factory waste such as recycled post-consumer waste and post cutting scraps into short limited-edition collections that are simple in aesthetics yet unconventional in design.

Connecting deeply to the time when garments were created without sewing machines, Hetal Shrivastav follows sustainability as a lifestyle by repairing, conserving and consuming less and following eco-friendly practices. It is a solution-driven label where every design, material, and the processes are chosen thoughtfully, that serves as a purpose rather than making “Just Beautiful” products.

Noupelle is based on the values of design and upcycling, the name is a synthesis of the words ‘nouvelle’ which means new and ‘pelle’ which means skin/leather, pelle is used as both a material and a metaphor. The contemporary jewellery label upcycles leather off-cuts to give them a second purpose and each product a new skin.

Studio Beej, a sustainable accessories brand from Mumbai, is plugging a gap in the homegrown sartorial accessories space by creating bags from cruelty-free materials including cork and Piñatex, fitted with upcycled and recycled trimmings and fastenings. At Beej, the team works with cutting-edge materials and combines them with Indian workmanship.

Upcycling and mending aren’t just buzzwords to be looked up as trend, they are rooted traditions that need to be followed, for good!

Aishwarya Menon

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