Upcycling boom in fashion: designers take action to reduce textile waste - Korea Times
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Upcycling boom in fashion: designers take action to reduce textile waste

A T-shirt of Holy Number 7 made of recyclable fabric / Courtesy of Holy Number 7
A T-shirt of Holy Number 7 made of recyclable fabric / Courtesy of Holy Number 7

By Park Ji-won

The pandemic has become a turning point for fashion labels as local designers have begun to search their souls to figure out if there is any way they are responsible for the spread of COVID-19.

Some have concluded that they are not immune from responsibility because every year billions of tons of textile waste ends up in landfills.

Concerned about the fashion-driven environmental degradation, some designers are belatedly taking action to stop textile waste.

Hansome, a fashion affiliate of Hyundai Department Store, launched its Carbon Zero Project in February to cut carbon emissions by upcycling its fabric waste into interior design products instead of just throwing it away.

"The company had been burning up to 80,000 items of clothing, weighing 60 tons, annually to control stocks. But we decided to launch the project to take responsibility as a fashion company and expect to reduce our carbon emissions by 144 tons every year."

Eyeglass of Holy Number 7 made of overstock and 'dead-stock' fabrics / Courtesy of Holy Number 7
Eyeglass of Holy Number 7 made of overstock and 'dead-stock' fabrics / Courtesy of Holy Number 7

Becoming a norm in fashion industry.

In the latest 2021 Fall/Winter Seoul Fashion Week held online in March with 43 participating brands and designers, including Holy Number 7, Hanacha Studio, ul:kin, KWAK HYUN JOO COLLECTION, PARTSPARTS and RINJEON, participants declared they would pursue sustainable fashion, introducing the concept of sustainability or eco-friendliness for this season. The number of such brands is the largest seen at Seoul Fashion Week, according to organizing officials.

Holy Number 7, a five-year-old genderless brand based on Biblical phrases touching on current social issues, is an active player in "sustainable fashion" by recycling overstock and "dead-stock" fabrics in its new collection. It aims to raise awareness of environmental issues, vowing not to produce textile wastes in its lineup. About 60 percent of the brand's fashion items and garments are based on the concept.

"The pandemic enlightened me to focus on environmental issues and take action. I think some of our past activities are responsible for worsening the environment which leads up to the virus situation. It's time to take action together for the environment," Choi Kyoung-ho, CEO and designer of Holy Number 7, told The Korea Times, Tuesday.

He said revenue is not the only reason behind his business' decision to upcycle fabrics, noting other global issues such as fair trade and the human rights of workers have driven his business to adopt a new normal.

"In European countries, sustainable fashion has already become the norm. Many European buyers are interested in buying products based on sustainability. But here in Korea only a few fashion brands have embraced the issue, although the number of environmentally aware labels is increasing," Choi said.

He said upcycling is a challenge for Korean fashion because the local textile industry doesn't have the same patterns. "We are changing our materials and systems gradually to make more of these products. Sustainability in fashion is unavoidable," he said.

TXT's Yeonjun wearing ul:kin's F/W LSD Collection NYFW / Courtesy of ul:kin
TXT's Yeonjun wearing ul:kin's F/W LSD Collection NYFW / Courtesy of ul:kin

Designers say sustainability has triggered a shift in textile manufacturing.

Ul:kin's bag made from a painting / Courtesy of ul:kin
Ul:kin's bag made from a painting / Courtesy of ul:kin
"In the past, fashion designers used to prioritize visually attractive material and their products reflected this trait. But that is something old-fashioned. These days, I think fashion designers are facing calls to include social messages into their designs, and improve the manufacturing system to be more sustainable," Lee Seong-dong, creative director of ul:kin, said. His brand, launched in 2014, has been receiving media attention for upcycling paintings by making them into bags and aiming to make fashion products based on sustainability by combining art, upcycling, deconstruction and reconstruction, and hybrid concepts.

He stressed that fashion brands are being asked to make aesthetically pleasing yet ethical products at the same time.

"People won't ride Teslas while wearing furs. Our brand didn't do much promotion but sales are on the rise both overseas and domestically presumably because more people are resonating with our brand's philosophy on sustainability. I consider this as a change in consumer demand over recent years. However, there is no point to simply make a product based on ethical philosophy. More consumers buy a product which is cool and also has something to do with sustainability. So we are trying to include eco-friendly fabrics such as recycled polyester, and to develop our own fabric that is friendly to the environment, while including more cultural items for product uniqueness. Fashion items and clothes are part of our social movement."


Park Ji-won jwpark@koreatimes.co.kr


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