Wednesday, June 11, 2008


We've all heard of recycling but we hear less (unfortunately) about 'upcycling'. Whats the difference? Well, 'upcycling' --coined by McDonough and Braungart in their seminal (2002) book 'Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things' --means transforming used things into other usable things of great (or greater) value. Intrinsic to the concept of upcycling is the notion that there is embedded value in things that allows them to be remade into further usable things again and again so that eventual waste is minimized massively AND this is all done without further damage to the planet and/or energy usage.

And herein lies the rub: recycling is, according to the book, an example of 'downcycling' because the re-made items are often not related at all to the original thing so that in the re-creation excessive energy/resources are used AND in recycling, recreated items lose value with each 'life' a and are thus likely to end up eventually as waste. So upcycling is a more mindful and authentic way than recycling to reuse what we consume (but don't be spooked and give up all recycling attempts you may be currently involved with. Just think it through and if you need ideas there are great ones here and here.

The whole issue of re-use is B-I-G in fashion - as it well should be...without serious thought about how to deal with the byproducts from the fashion industry, our consumptive behaviour being what it is, we'd charge the earth costs it simply cannot meet (these charges are being levied as I type....not in some distant future).

But what aspects of fashion are amenable to upcycling? How does upcycling sit with the desire to be 'fashionable', ie, wear well-made, attractive clothing as defined by 'mainstream' fashion society? With all the current interest in eco/ethical/green fashion what is authentic re-use and what is lip-service? What prospects does upcycling have for fashion at different points in the process - textile creation vs finished product? These are all very good questions and are all likely to get very good answers from the group assembled on July 18 at the Chelsea College of Art & Design.

The College's Textile Environment Design (TED) program is holding a 1-day symposium on (basically everything you want/need to know about) upcycling and textiles. Following on from last year's Ever & Again: Experimental Recycled Textiles exhibition, they've gathered the best practitioners from this space, including upcycled fashion's grande dame and founder of From Somewhere label Orsola De Castro; Kerry Seager of Junky Styling fame, Emmeline4Re's Emmeline Child and several others, and put together a fantastic program of talks, audience interface, theory and practice.

It is through efforts like this that sustainability in fashion can become an everyday reality and TED gives us the chance to meet those who daily live and work to bring us closer to this reality. Great opportunity not to be missed.

Other details you need to know --
Ticket price (£35 or £15 for students) includes organic picnic lunch and early evening drinks reception.
The symposium will be held at the Millibank campus.

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