Ecouterre is the official media sponsor of the 2012 EcoChic Design Award

If you haven’t heard of upcycled clothing, you will soon. Just last month, the International Herald Tribune’s Suzy Menkes dubbed “upcycling” the buzzword among London’s sartorial circles. When a fashion heavy like Menkes speaks, the entire industry snaps to attention. For the uninitiated, upcycling is a way of recycling textile waste, such as fabric swatches, production off-cuts, and end-of-roll leftovers, to create a product of higher quality. (This is opposed to “recycling” or “downcycling,” where textiles are refashioned into a product of diminished quality.) The undisputed queen of upcycling, From Somewhere designer Orsola de Castro recently meted out advice to a group of emerging Hong Kong designers at an EcoChic Design Academy seminar, part of the EcoChic Design Award organized by Redress to address China’s mounting landfill problem.


De Castro, who’s also the co-curator of the Estethica showcase at London Fashion Week, is a self-proclaimed “rubbish collector extraordinaire” who has upcycled pre-consumer textile waste in both the niche and mass markets for over 15 years.

“Upcycling is a design solution to an environmental problem,” she explains. “It’s an artisanal approach to textile waste that requires creativity without any industrial intervention and it is an innovative, design-led and inherently environmentally friendly solution to textile waste.”

Some of her top tips for designers seeking to reduce their waste footprint:

  1. Always know what is on offer before you start designing
  2. Follow your own waste stream
  3. No scrap is too small!
  4. Ugly can be beautiful, too
  5. Finishing is the key to good design

Today’s fashion industry is increasingly overproducing garments and textiles, de Castro says. “What is being thrown away into landfill is often beautiful and usable for designers who can approach such materials in a creative way,” she adds.

+ EcoChic Design Award

+ Redress