Uniforms and other types of workwear have a certain lifetime value, and once discarded, it might seem that there’s no way to give them a second life. However, that isn’t the case - upcycling of workwear can not only yield awesome results, but can also become a means to raise awareness about pollution generated by all kinds of clothing pieces.
Workwear constitutes a relatively small fraction of clothing manufacturing in the world. Take the data concerning the Great Britain as a point of reference - the value of workwear sales in the UK oscillates around 115-120 million GBP over the last five years; that is half of what the market hd back in 2005. The market’s heavily fragmented, with various brands specializing in narrow industries, but with strong contenders in Chinese suppliers who provide cheaper solutions.
Workwear’s primary feature depends on the use case it addresses - i.e. a firefighter’s uniform needs to be resilient against extremely high temperatures. In comparison with many other materials - such as cardboard, paper or glass - textiles are less susceptible to damage and hazards related to the line of work they’re designed for. However, note that branded t-shirts, aprons, high-visibility vests, and so forth - these are all kinds of workwear too.
None of the workwear pieces remain useful forever, and in many cases it’s safer to invest in new products rather than patching damaged ones. The plastic-based textiles, made with artificial ingredients that boost the effectiveness of uniforms, are hard to recycle and impossible to naturally biodegrade.
That ties with the global debate regarding pollution caused by fast fashion trends. Fashion’s been deemed as the world’s looming danger, as its rapid growth skyrocketed over the last two decades. Now, the fashion industry makes up for the whopping 10% of all carbon emissions on a global scale, and it’s also the 2nd largest consumer of water supply in the world. Among other sins of the fashion industry are depletion of non-renewable sources, emission of greenhouse gases and the use of massive amounts of energy.
Let these facts sink in.
And now move on to the hardest part - for years textiles were part of the “throwaway culture”, meaning that cheap labor allowed cheap prices, thus causing the whole industry to suddenly appeal to most price-sensitive customers. But with 85% of textiles becoming waste in landfills, there’s hardly a reason to be optimistic. While cardboard, paper, glass, and even plastics, can all be both recycled, textiles are far less flexible in that area.
Fortunately, years of bashing paid off, and the fashion industry is reaching for new solutions. Let’s look at some examples of brands and projects that took matters into their hands.
Renewi, a Benelux-based waste management company, joined forces with Deko Eko on one of such industry-changing projects. Workwear pieces were used to design an entire collection of products. Reflective vests, commonly used on construction sites, served as material for comfy belly bags, sachets and sacks.
By adding a bit more textiles into the process, Deko Eko arrived at more creative solutions too, turning workwear into handy lunchboxes and bags with reflective straps.
Interestingly, the collection included gadgets for cycling fans too. Old construction site jackets and other pieces of workwear have been transformed into saddle covers, frame carriers, double bicycle panniers, triangular frame packs and sewn bags for bottles. Such collections can be easily adapted to any brand - the easiness of adapting these solutions is what makes each upcycling project so unique too.
Independent designers started to introduce upcycling concepts into their brand missions, and large companies followed through - i.e H&M released a line of clothing made from discarded workwear. As commented by the company’s representatives,
“In this collection, the brand highlights unexplored sources for creating new garments through the upcycling of workwear. Pieces which have become worthless for their primary purpose are still full of value. Furthermore, the process saves on virgin materials, climate emissions, water and chemical use. The ambition is to expand the vision around how to recycle clothes while asking one’s self: what other unvalued sources are out there.”
H&M also worked with Deko Eko in the area of upcycling promotion. Experts from Deko Eko conducted workshops for H&M employees back in 2016.
The goal of the workshops was to pinpoint the necessity to upcycle textiles, and as a result of the creative event, H&M team created jewellery pieces and small items of everyday use. At the same time, Deko Eko’s partner - a designer brand Tutka - conducted similar workshops where textiles were turned into lamps and office items made from recycled paper-based wicker.
Workwear can be upcycled too, and through means of giving it a second life, you can achieve several goals. Let’s take a look at some of the examples of how workwear was turned into new products, with new value and use.
Deko Eko collaborated with Miles Promocean on a project for their client - a big German retail chain. The goal was to utilize the workwear of the retailer in an upcycling manner. Deko Eko’s designers reimagined the clothes as bags, and sewed a collection of stunningly stylish accessories. The project was also an example of responsible manufacturing, a key area of interest for this retailer.
The accessories were sewed by a social enterprise that aimed at providing work for the professionally excluded. Such initiative encapsulates the many benefits that can be brought around by upcycling when it is introduced in the mindset of socially responsible business.
Take a look at the results of the collaboration below.
Here’s another one.
A Swedish Designer Nhu Dong teamed up with a local brewery to create a fashion collection made from upcycled workwear. The artist created unique unisex products, all inspired by the brewery’s standard uniforms.
As you can see, there are many ways in which workwear can be upcycled. Workwear can be successfully coined into products with entirely new value. To learn more about the world of upcycling, get in touch with our team.