The inspiration for this Herman Trend Alert was a combination of insights from my students aboard Semester at Sea® who visited various organizations, including Global Mamas in Ghana and a recent mention of an upcycled couch from Balenciaga which is being shown at the event called Design Miami 2019.
Waste into Landfills at Record Levels
According to National Geographic, a whopping 91 percent of our plastic winds up in landfills. Every year, the United States alone generates about 230 million tons of "trash"---about 4.6 pounds per person per day or 1,656 per year. Most of that waste ends up incinerated or buried in landfills. In 2016, 5.5 tons of waste were generated per European Union resident and 45.7 percent of that waste was landfilled. According to the United Nations, the nations of the world dump 2.12 million tons of waste every year, while worldwide 30 trillion tons of clothing are sent to landfills each year*. One solution to reducing that waste is Upcycling.
What is Upcycling?
"Upcycling" is the process by which old or discarded materials are transformed into something usable. The term "Recycling" refers to taking consumer materials like plastic, paper, metal, and glass, breaking them down and using the resulting material to make into a new consumer product (often of lesser quality). Think about recycled paper or plastic.
What is Pushing the Upcycling Movement?
While Recycling requires a lot of energy to break down the plastic or glass into small pieces and more energy to make another product, Upcycling takes the discarded materials thought to be of no value and by changing them somewhat, creates a new product with value. (It also makes me feel good when I can repurpose something thought to have no worth into something I can use and enjoy; I recently had that experience when I turned small plastic jars into bejeweled containers for home or travel.)
The Balenciaga sofa mentioned in the introduction "reimagines a sofa as an example of environmentally conscious design." This concept gives unsold garments or scraps of fabric a new life by stuffing them into clear plastic covers to form an oblong sofa---inspired by typical, overstuffed recliners. The transparent cushions are filled with damaged or otherwise unsellable garments and off-cuts from obsolete stocks of Balenciaga clothing. The unique sofa is intended to encourage sustainable practices within the design field and to offset the company's environmental impact. It also demonstrates Balenciaga's dedication to implementing programs that upcycle waste and contribute to a circular economy, while reflecting luxury fashion.
In 2018, Upcycling was the "in" new movement that hit the Indian fashion scene and this year, many big-name designers have become very popular through upcycling (See Herman Trend Alert titled "Upcycling in Fashion," published earlier this year). Upcycling in the clothing arena means using old or discarded or vintage pieces of clothing and transforming them into something which is better than its original by design and value additions.
Upcycling Makes People Feel Good
Consumers want to feel like they are supporting, not destroying, the planet by using sustainable practices. Supporting upcycling is simply another expression of people's desires to take care of the environment. By repurposing and/or reusing furniture, clothing, and other products, people understand that they are making a difference. Expect to see more opportunities for consumers to help take care of Mother Earth. Social entrepreneurs involved in upcycling will find excellent markets, particularly among young people who feel the strongest desire to protect the environment. Everybody wins!
* According to the Fast Fashion Video, created by Semester at Sea® students to raise awareness to the need for more conscious consuming.
For more information on the Balenciaga couch, visit here. For more information about Colorado State University's Semester at Sea®'s next available voyage, navigatehere.
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