(image; Reworked Denim by Sara Han)

I have just started a one year MSc by Research at Manchester Metropolitan University, which has given me an excellent opportunity to look into all the issues I face as a recycled clothing practioner, at an academic and theoretical level that I’ve not previously had an opportunity to.

At the moment I am working on writing a new proposal for my research, which is to be centred around bringing upcycled products to the mass market place, in order to change the way we shop and the way we view clothes in the western world.

Historically, recycling is a process that breaks down products into their constituent parts, at the end of their useful life. These components/parts are often of a lesser value, and require energy intensive processes in order to re-manufacture them into useful new products.

In contrast to this upcycling is a process that takes these old products and transforms then, through clever design and skilled craftsmanship, into useful, like new products, with a higher value. -Often the products directly reference their original form and make use of these features as witty, post modern design features, adding to the desirability of the finished article.

The benefits of this are the reduction in the use of virgin resources and also a reduction in the amount of energy needed in order to reprocess the end of life products through traditional recycling methods.

Around 2.15 million tones of clothing and textiles are purchased in the UK each year, about one eighth of which is re-used through charities and the rest is discarded, often ending up in landfill. Upcycling could offer an alternative to this, diverting end of life garments and textiles away from landfill and other waste streams by turning them into fashion products with a high retail value.

The barriers which surround bringing upcycled products to the mass market are those of consumer perception of ‘recycled’ goods, issues around translating what is essentially a skilled designer – maker craft into mass production, and reducing the cost to the consumer of what can often be a labour and time intensive process.

This study seeks to look into the solutions around the route to mass production of these niche products, and thereby increasing their appeal in the global fashion market, with the environmental benefits passed on to the global community.

Sara Han
July 2011