What you and I might call a load of old rubbish is proving to be rich pickings for a growing breed of designers who use waste products to make catwalk-worthy clothes.
Celebrities are paying thousands of pounds for the items — in which they can make the most politically correct statement ever without even opening their mouths.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, let her clothes do her virtuous talking this week when she stepped off a plane in Canada wearing a pair of £135 Rothy’s flat black pumps, made from re-purposed water bottles.
She was also carrying a £1,400 Prada duffle bag which had been fashioned from ocean and textile waste. Known as ‘trashion’, it is the hottest new trend in the fashion world, with high-quality, sought-after garments being crafted from items destined for landfill.
From belts made out of old fire hoses to sportswear crafted from coffee grounds, SARAH RAINEY rounds up the pioneering brands turning waste into trashion . . .
£695 RECYCLED PLASTIC BAG
Recycled plastic bag by Anya Hindmarch
One of the first designers to join the war on plastic was Anya Hindmarch. Back in 2007, she released a £5 canvas tote for charity, bearing the words ‘I’m not a plastic bag’.
A fashion frenzy ensued, with shoppers paying up to £300 on eBay to nab one. Now, 13 years on, Hindmarch has designed a new collection of totes made from recycled plastic bottles.
The slogan? ‘I AM a plastic bag.’ Costing an eye-watering £695, the bag (below) is available to pre-order but has sold out on the label’s website.
OLD YARN INTO BESPOKE KNITS
Londoner Valentina Karellas grew up in a house where nothing was wasted. ‘My dressmaker mother kept all her scraps in a big bag — which I still have today,’ she says.
It’s no surprise, then, that her eponymous knitwear brand uses surplus yarn from large factories to make one-of-a-kind jumpers, dresses, scarves, hats and other accessories — lovingly knitted by Valentina herself. ‘It’s all different colours, thicknesses, lengths and types,’ she says of the yarn. ‘I never know what I’m going to get, but that’s part of the fun.’
It takes up to three weeks to produce her designs — which range from £40 mittens to a £440 merino wool jacket — each tailored to the buyer’s size and preferences. She wastes nothing, turning her own off-cuts into necklaces, collars and wristbands.
Yarn from large factories is used to make clothes sold by Londoner Valentina Karellas
DRESSES MADE OUT OF ROYAL NETTLES
While they may sound a tad prickly, clothes made from nettles are popular with those who want to wear their green credentials on their sleeves.
The nettles, from Prince Charles’s Highgrove estate, are designed and made into clothes by sustainable punk brand Vin + Omi.
The unlikely collaboration came about after the duo (who go by their first names only and have dressed celebrities from Kate Moss to Michelle Obama) met the Prince to discuss their shared love of horticulture and the environment.
Dressed in boiler suits, gloves and goggles, they plucked 10,000 nettles over three days and took a van-load back to their Wiltshire studio to be dried, peeled and bleached.
They use pectin (a glue used in jam-making) to bond the fibres together, before it is sewn into cloth which looks, and feels, like wool.
‘The hours that went into producing this material made it feel as precious to us as gold dust,’ says Vin.
Last year, they got a celebrity showing from model Jo Wood (above), who wore an elaborate creation on the catwalk at London Fashion Week.
Woman wearing a dress made out of nettles harvested from Prince Charles’s Highgrove estate
PLASTIC SHOES FIT FOR A DUCHESS…
The San Francisco-based company Rothy’s, which has won Meghan’s seal of approval, keeps a record of the number of plastic bottles it has recycled since its launch in 2016. As of yesterday, that figure stood at 48,896,491 — and counting.
During the manufacturing process, the bottles are hot-washed and sterilised before being melted down into pellets, which are stretched into fibres and knitted together to make the shoe fabric. These are then handstitched on to two different sustainable soles, one made with carbon-free rubber and the other from luxe vegan leather. The pumps cost £135 and even their packaging pushes all the green buttons, dispatched in cardboard boxes tied with ribbons made from recycled fibres.
No wonder Vogue has called them ‘among the most politically correct shoes on our beleaguered planet’.
Besides the Duchess of Sussex, other fans include actresses Katie Holmes, Isla Fisher and Lupita Nyong’o.
Meghan Markle wore shoes made out of plastic bottles when she stepped off a plane in Canada
…AND AN OCEAN WASTE BAG
Italian designer Prada launched its ‘Re-Nylon’ bag collection last year, with the ultimate goal of using only recycled nylon by the end of next year.
It could not have asked for a better endorsement than for the £1,400 duffle bag to be pictured on the Duchess of Sussex’s arm (left). Made from plastic waste collected from oceans, fishing nets and textile waste, it is said the nylon can be recycled indefinitely. Prada has pledged to donate a percentage of all sales of Re-Nylon bags to an environmental cause.
This bag by Italian designer Prada is made entirely out of recycled nylon threads
FIRE HOSES GIVEN A NEW LEASE OF LIFE
Kresse Wesling used to spend days visiting rubbish dumps up and down the country. ‘I would sit and stare at the piles of waste, and I couldn’t help but think that some of it was beautiful,’ she says.
Former fire hoses were transformed into this bag by Kresse Wesling
‘Sure, there were nappies and bin bags, but there were also lorry-loads of clean, usable material.’
Keen to set up an eco-friendly brand, it was a chance meeting with the London Fire Brigade that set Kresse on the path to her new business. She settled on old fire hoses, which are routinely discarded after 25 years’ service.
With boyfriend James Henrit, who hit on the idea for belts after his own broke and he carved one from the hose, she founded Elvis & Kresse.
They sold fire hose belts online and at a shop in North London for £25, diversifying into bags. Today, their company — which has saved 200 tons from landfill — makes accessories from 15 materials, including parachute silk, shoe boxes and coffee sacks. Products include wallets, laptop cases and notepads, and they have teamed up with Burberry to transform 120 tons of leather off-cuts.
GOLD JEWELLERY FROM OLD MOBILES
Designer Eliza Walter founded Lylie’s in 2017, aged just 24, having taught herself about gemstones by watching videos on YouTube.
But unlike other jewellers, she sources her gold and silver from the most unusual places, including discarded electronics.
‘In this age of technology, enormous amounts of electronic waste are produced,’ explains Eliza, who trained at Hatton Garden and has been mentored by Links of London founder Annoushka Ducas.
‘A typical mobile holds 0.2g of gold, and, with an average life expectancy of just 22 months, extracting it and refining it results in a lower carbon footprint than primary-mined gold.’
With electronic waste growing — a UN report estimates there is 50 million tons a year, of which only 16 per cent is recycled — this socalled ‘e-mining’ is on the rise. But Lylie’s is the only UK brand to do it.
Each piece — from a £65 pendant to a £2,250 sapphire-studded ring — is made by wax carving, an intricate process which takes up to 200 hours.
Customers are also encouraged to send in old family jewellery to be recycled into new gems.
Designer Eliza Walter mines technological waste for gold and precious stones before turning them into stunning pieces of jewellery
TURNING TENTS TO FASHION
From old tents dumped at festivals to battered books destined for the bin, Bethany Williams’s studio is a magnet for other people’s waste. The 30-year-old Liverpudlian turns such items into coats, hoodies, anoraks and trousers for her streetwear-style brand.
Every piece of fabric she uses is ‘upcycled’, i.e improved and resold as something new — and many of the garments are made by people in charity projects, such as drug rehabilitation groups and disability workshops.
‘I’ve always been interested in helping communities and in textiles, so I just bring the two together,’ Bethany (left) explains. She keeps business in the family: her pattern cutter mum does her daughter’s knitting samples.
One coat in her recent collection was made from waste ribbon from a British toy factory; another trimmed with old blankets. But they don’t come cheap: a jumper costs £1,500 while coats range from £750 to £4,500.
In spending more, Bethany reasons, savvy shoppers will end up buying fewer items.
Bethany Williams is pictured above wearing a former tent at the 2019 Fashion Awards