Upcycle, upstage, upmarket: the year's new fashion mantra

The key factor is creative vision when it comes to reusing materials for high-street fashion
Upcycle, upstage, upmarket: the year's new fashion mantra

In the busy New York city neighbourhood of SoHo sits the flagship store of Reformation — 
a luxury brand that fashions garments out of re-purposed material. With patrons like Taylor Swift, Gigi Hadid, Rihanna and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, it’s safe to say that Reformation has succeeded in making upcycling ‘the new black’. No longer just a feature of indie brands, other designers across the globe have also picked up the green mantle. Consider Dutch fashion house Viktor & Rolf’s whimsical 2017 Spring Collection, which featured deconstructed, damaged vintage outfits transformed into couture gowns. Closer home, slow fashion has also evolved to the haute level thanks to designers like Abraham & Thakore, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Aneet Arora. But if designer apparel has made such huge strides towards sustainability, can accessories be far behind? Our cover story this week explores Indian labels that are looking beyond just garments to give us stunning jewellery and statement bags crafted from industrial waste and discarded materials. 

Wandering Whites

The Mumbai-based design label Wandering Whites has been slowly catching up to its name, with its designer traversing the world for her raw materials. The lady behind it, Gaury Pathare, earned a spot among the country’s top nascent upcycling designers following her showcase at the Lakmé Fashion week Summer/Resort ’17. Her first collection of sorts — which includes an asymmetrical mesh of crimp wires nestling lava stones resembling a rose, copper-plated AC pipes replicating transverse sound waves and a brass statement neckpiece made from an engine cylinder gasket — is an organic extension of her design sensibilities to find order amid chaos. This collection includes eight looks that feature body harnesses, and statement rings besides the neckpieces. “Each element of my jewellery tells a story about its origins and its maker and hence I use these designs in such a way, so as not to change their original form,” says Gaury. “That way, the final design can never be scripted from the beginning and is all by chance,” she adds, with a laugh, hinting at the title of her collection, Serendipity. Formerly an editorial fashion photographer, the 38-year-old says that designing jewellery began with her hobby of collecting stones during her travels. “I had collected so many of them (mostly semi-precious) that I felt that their story needed to be told and that is when I decided to start making jewellery.” Rs 2,000 onwards. Details: facebook.com/wanderingwhites/

The Stitching Project

Ever since husband and wife duo, Fiona Wright and Praveen Nayak displayed their line from The Stitching Project at the Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort ’17, the eco-friendly fashion-conscious brigade has been hunting for their apparel and bags. “After the show in Mumbai, our shaggy bags have been a great hit and it has been hard to keep up with the growing demand,” says Pushkar-based Wright. Although the label specialises in garments, they make quilts, bags and wallets. Wright and Nayak started making quilts as they wanted to utilise the offcuts from garment factories. “Khadi is a beautiful fabric and we did not want to waste even a little bit of it. All offcuts are carefully sorted and we use what we can before the pieces are too small to go to the cotton waste recycler,” says Wright. While the quilts also use silk saris, the bags have been crafted from khadi offcuts for the patchwork indigo bag range. The shaggy bags are also woven out of bright silks saris and handloom base. Bags from  Rs 1,600. Details: 9982032755

Meg Design and Alter 

The pain of throwing out an old pair of beautifully faded jeans is probably something all of us had to go through at least once. At Kochi-based Ranjini M Ravi’s upcycled fashion endeavour, it is all about treasuring that old pair in a new avatar. “Each outfit comes with its own share of memories. While using upcycled products is a way towards mindful living, my designs are also about treasuring the nostalgia attached to it. Customisation and personalised service are the key elements here,” says the stylist-turned-designer who goes by the philosophy of refashion, redesign and refit. As for options, the fabrics can be remade into an endless variety of products ranging from mobile pouches to carry-alls, embellished with buttons and the like. “I am also working on a new line of jewellery made of discarded clothes,” says Ranjini. Rs 650 onwards. Details: facebook.com/Meg-Design-and-Alter-244126082617311


Ahead of her graduation from the London College of Fashion, Delhi-based designer Kriti Tula was working at a huge export house when she realised that a significant amount of apparel was rejected based on minor defects, while several export godowns were housing post-production waste, and end-of-line fabrics. “It was then that I felt that I could make chic clothes while promoting a sustainable lifestyle,” she says. Attempting to combine various fabric design aesthetics and slow fashion, Kriti, along with Paras Arora and Vaibhav Kapoor, started their brand Doodlage in 2012. Fast forward a few years, and in 2015, the brand began showcasing their apparel line called Purge as a part of the GenNext Category, at the Lakmé Fashion Week. Now in 2017, they find themselves reinventing their designs by introducing a new line to the label. The brand’s first accessory collection includes duffel bags, wallets, card-holders, jacket covers, and totes made by patching and quilting small fabrics left out post-cutting from the ongoing women’s collection. “It was something we always wanted to add and now with increased production we felt that there is enough scrap available in the unit to upcycle them into accessories,” shares Kriti, who is also the creative head of the brand. Minimal and usually monotone, this line of bags features shades like beige, brown, maroon and blue with textured fabrics. Talking about trends to keep a look out for, the 28-year-old says, “Upcycling denim to make statement pieces is becoming increasingly popular.” While the label is busy expanding their product line to home décor and men’s wear, Kriti hints that Doodlage may showcase their line in the upcoming Autumn/Winter season. Rs800 onwards. Details: facebook.com/doodlage

Paarisha by Chinanshu

“Wearing Paarisha is wearing your very own piece of art,” says the brand’s About Us page and we couldn’t agree more. The brainchild of jewellery designer Chinanshu Sharma, Paarisha is much sought after for its handcrafted necklaces, bangles, bracelets and earrings by its small but faithful list of clients. Chinanshu doesn’t shy away from using colour liberally and gives her designs a luxe touch with silk yarn. However, the star of the show is often sea glass (glass pieces found on the beach, smoothened by the waves), old brass coins and discarded fabrics (she recently released a collection made from old denims sourced from members of a neighbouring church). “I’m always thinking about how to reduce my carbon footprint,” says Chinanshu, who currently employs five women. “My aim is to provide livelihood to 100 women,” she shares. Apart from putting waste to good use, the designer ensures the jewellery she makes is given a new life if they happen to get damaged. “I have a good relationship with my clients. In case a necklace or bangle breaks, I ask them to bring it to our studio, where I turn them into a new accessory. That way, they will not get thrown out,” she tells us. She is currently working on a collection that features Kullu pattis, a sheep wool weave from Himachal Pradesh known for its use of maroon, navy blue and brown yarn. Rs 850 upwards. Details: paarisha.com

Shubhi Sachan

“I’m not a fashion designer, but a researcher,” begins Shubhi Sachan when asked about her label Jambudweep’s role in carving a new path for the country’s upcycled fashion movement. A 
graduate in textile futures (now known as material futures)  from London’s Central Saint Martin’s, Shubhi’s attempt to redefine the concept of fashioning industrial waste via her show at Lakme’s Summer/Resort ’17 featured bones sourced from slaughterhouses in Lucknow. Coming from a strong research background, Shubhi elaborates that she looks at both engineering-based projects and aesthetic ones with the same mindset. “I always go by research and analytics. According to me, it is the food 
industry that contributes largely to the waste accumulation despite us having government-approved slaughterhouses. Because bones — one of the by-products of the industry — take the longest to decay,” explains the 30-year-old. Shubhi’s presentation of non-acid-treated bones at her LFW show is an eye-opener to everything that falls under the category of industrial waste. Rs 2,000 onwards. Details: shubhisachan.com

Smriti Dixit

For visual artist Smriti Dixit, the medium (textile) dictates the outcome of her art and so making upcycled accessories was a natural choice. An extension of her exhibition Redoing/Undoing that 
featured textile jewellery made from old painting rags, her debut collection at LFW included a range of anklets, bracelets, and neckpieces. She has also showcased her art at Andrea Robbi Museum in St Moritz.

I Was a Sari

With its design studio involving women artisans from Dharavi, this label isn’t just about upcycling clothes, but lives of the artisans. While its aesthetics are directed by a collective of Milan-based designers which includes Stephano and Natalie Frost, I Was a Sari creates high-end accessories (including bracelets and necklaces) with a global appeal by combining the best of talents from Italy and India.

Bibi Rusell

Bangladeshi designer and ethical fashion icon Bibi Rusell is synonymous with recycled and upcycled fashion. Rooted in the practice of preserving indigenous crafts, the former model has been making apparel from silk and cotton waste and bangles from recycled silk yarn and in the recent past, slippers from tetra packs.

By Rebecca Vargese, Rashmi Rajagopal Lobo, Arya P Dinesh and Paulami Sen

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