The Upcycling

The Upcycling

Upcycling, an economic parameter that is inseparable from the future of fashion

The economy had experienced this type of “boom” with the arrival of organic food. The ready-to-wear brands already established must reinvent themselves.

Green Washing or real progress? Upcycling and the issues it covers would seem to be the only conceivable future for fashion.

by Carla Thorel

I had this strange automatism in a crowded department of Zara on a Saturday afternoon -every generation finds in its century its share of bravery- to take out my phone to scan the label of a so-called “responsible” sweater.

No, Yuka has not yet exported to the textile industry… Nevertheless, it seems that the current era and (the notable arrival of the environmental labeling of textiles) is creating a whole new clientele.

A clientele with new expectations: those of knowing where, how, and by whom its clothing is made. Ethics has therefore invaded fashion, and the latter will have to deal with it.

Little by little the bird is making its nest

Upcycling… Although we gracefully spread hashtags, videos and articles all day long, it was, until a year ago, an unknown concept bordering on the absurd.

Society is such that you always have to wear the right item. The right brand. The right piece that will make you feel good, and support your social position. I might as well say that putting together an old pair of jeans with a pillowcase was not the idea. Then the confinement came along, making sourdough cooking stylish and sewing in the process.

So upcycling videos invaded our phones via our Instagram, Facebook and TikTok feeds. Much more than a trend, the pandora’s box of clothing consumption was open.

The ethical and responsible questions that we know followed: is it necessary to produce so many clothes? What happens to our discarded clothes? Are unsold items donated? Precisely, some frightening figures question the textile waste.

In Europe alone, an average of 5 million tons of clothes are put on the market every year, and 4 million tons of new or used clothes are then thrown away.

Textiles in all directions, partly containing non-biodegradable chemical products, are a real threat to the environment. It was from this observation that the vocation of Anaïs Dautais, founder of Les Récupérables, was born, while still a student.  “I have always been sensitive to the non-wastefulness of clothing thanks to my grandmother who used to take me to thrift shops rather than stores. But I discovered the art of textile reuse in Brazil where I was finishing my studies and where upcycling is very widespread for economic reasons.” Anais is formal, “Balenciaga sneakers at 800 euros made by Chinese children and that do not even last 6 months…That’s not fashion! There is a real movement being created, about sustainability.” 

Would upcycling be the perfect marketing tool to ensure to change the codes of a fashion that we no longer want to settle for?

An underlying trend

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, a titan of fashion since 1894, displayed in August 2021 a brand new face with almost its entire third floor dedicated to the “re-store”.

Basically: more than 500m2 where frip’chic stands such as Crush’On, Entremains or Relique have been established, and responsible upcycling stands such as Rusmin, Salut Beauté or Patine have been developed. This space, which focuses on the circular economy, is set to the sound of “re”. “Re-cycle,” “re-renew,” and “re-sell.”

To go further, the huge retailer in the 9th arrondissement now offers its customers to come and donate their old clothes to the various stands on its third floor… The operation “monde d’après” (after world) is launched, just a few weeks later it’s Printemps Haussmann‘s turn to go slow fashion (before being followed by Le Bon Marché), and this time on 1300m2.

There too, a buy-back system is set up. “In the heart of the seventh floor (humbly called seventh heaven) it is possible to bring back products bought at Printemps or not from elsewhere, and be credited with money at our place. A credit to buy you clothes or even a pancake” explains Stéphane Roth, general manager of marketing, architecture and communication at Printemps before adding: “more than 85% of French people have become aware of the effects of our consumption patterns on the planet”. 

For Jean-Marc Bellaiche, president of the group: “in ten years, this will represent a significant proportion of purchases. It is a fundamental trend to recycle and buy back old clothes. At some point, everyone feels that there is an overflow in their closets. Now we remember the opportunity to get value out of it. Like Vinted, the industry is finally understanding the importance of second hand, motivated by the prospect of a second wind in an economy choked by decline…

Between January and July 2020, the fashion market lost 21% of its value. The specter of the economic crisis has awakened the citizenry’s desire to support their neighborhood merchants to preserve jobs. In this momentum of value and sustainability, the mantra “less but better” has developed, encouraging brands to rethink their commercial missions.

This is what Camille, co-creator of the second hand concept Entremains (recently installed at Galeries Lafayette), observes: “There is a multiplication of brands that are not at all focused on the second hand market and that are launching themselves internally. Notably Isabelle Marant or Sandro where you can bring back pieces with a voucher in their new collections. (…) “I’m not a guesser to say that ethical consumption will become the major model, but it seems that from now on (from a communication and economic point of view) all the existing or new brands should include ethics in their proposals to reach buyers. Figures say that by 2025, the second hand industry should overtake the ready-to-wear industry. This is surely the future of fashion in fact.”

Further up the textile sphere, luxury would also seem to be on the verge of reinventing itself.

According to Anaïs Dautais, “The niche will become the norm! I met a guy ten years ago who told me about a crazy concept: and he created Renaissance. I have faith in the integrity of luxury. There is already Nona Source! Guys from Kenzo list unused fabrics and resell them to young designers… A form of circular economy in the era of time. If you don’t follow the circuit you don’t exist anymore.” 

Without inventing a visionary, it is appropriate to attest that a real craze for the second hand and its multiple alternatives is changing forever the fashion that we know. Is it a fashion effect? Surely. Is it a movement that can be sustained by the social will of a more committed economy? Absolutely. By projecting ourselves in the future, punctuated by textile displays, greenwashed Zara ranges, and upcycled fashion shows…

We could well like to think that tomorrow’s fashion, for everyone, will literally end up existing thanks to yesterday’s fashion.