The manufacturers on how to scale upcycling production
An examination of the fashion industry's relationship with upcycling, and the potential of scaling up such production. The second and final part turns to upcycling manufacturers.
By AYLIN FRANZON
November 30, 2023
The current state of fashion is one of excess. Since the turn of the millennia, fast fashion has doubled its production, while concurrently followed by a 36% (as provided by the Ellen McArthur foundation) decrease in a garment’s period of use before it gets thrown away. Every second, a loaded truck worth of clothes is thrown in a landfill or incinerated, while only 1% of all used garments finds new life as remade clothing. It is evident that the fashion industry has its fair share of work cut out.
Meanwhile, the circular sector is on a steady rise. The global revenue of circular-based transactions are forecast to increase 200% by the year 2026 (Statista), inviting a positive onset for upcycling practices.
Scandinavian MIND sought out two upcycling manufacturers, to gather their perspectives on the prospects and challenges that would outline a scaled-up utilisation within the fashion industry,
Connected through an interest in the fashion industry and with a shared vision, Linnéa Magnusdotter founded XV Production in 2019, together with Lovisa Nolander and Evelina Ingvarsson. They are dedicated to assist businesses in enhancing the sustainability and circularity of their production. Operating a microfactory in Borås, Sweden, the company works with the objective to extend the lifecycle of existing materials.
— We are also dedicated to navigating the intersection of innovation and sustainability within the dynamic landscape of the fashion world, says Magnusdotter, who acts as Creative Director and Project Manager within the team.
Their efforts have led to projects with a variety of Swedish fashion brands, such as Toteme and Deadwood. XV Production works closely with the Swedish startup Rekotex to access a variety of deadstock fabrics but the main sourcing comes from collaboration with brands who are holding unused or defective inventory. A process that has stayed intact from the start, with Magnusdotter noticing a change coming from within the industry.
— We’ve observed a shift in how major fashion brands perceive surplus inventory, with more of them recognising its value. Our goal is to demonstrate that large-scale production of upcycled items is entirely feasible.
Designer Susanne Beskow and biologist Caroline von Post have dedicated their careers to upcycling, and developing circular business models, through their individual brand endeavours van Deurs and Stormie Poodle. Two years ago they sought to combine their areas of expertise and extensive knowledge to build a bridge between textile waste and textile recycling. That bridge became the joint venture, Beskow von Post.
— Our mission is to transform the textile industry with methods that prolong the life of discarded textiles. We work to create value for clients by helping them design circular business models, brand communication and upcycle their so-called ’textile waste’, the duo says. They continue:
— To source our raw materials, we collaborate with multiple laundries and workwear manufacturers and use our clients’ own materials when possible. We deconstruct the textile material and upcycle it into new designs for our customers — either it’s made from their own discarded material or from someone else’s surplus.
— There’s been a flood of inquiries from the fashion industry regarding their surplus textile waste. As a result, we are expanding our scope to include the deconstruction and upcycling of unsold fashion items.
What is the scale of your upcycling production today?
— Approximately 75% of our production involves upcycling, Magnusdotter says. Our objective is to maximise the circulation of textiles and garments to the greatest extent possible.
— It’s steadily growing, Beskow and von Post say. We have tons of discarded workwear to upcycle for our clients and the traction to go with it. We’re also releasing our new textile material, Revtex, this winter.
A clear challenge for XV Production and its implementation of upcycling is the time it takes, especially when it comes to the cutting of materials.
— What sets upcycling apart from traditional production methods is the handling of cuttings. When cutting, conventional practices stack materials to optimise time, our approach involves a more tailored process. At times, we need to work on one garment at a time, relying on measurement lists and templates. This approach is more in line with a traditional tailoring mindset. Our goal is to seamlessly merge tailoring craftsmanship with modern production techniques.
”By emphasizing local production and reducing transportation, we can conserve substantial resources, and these savings can be quantified and leveraged in brand communication”
Beskow von Post attributes challenges to the fact that both companies and consumers have become accustomed to the affordability of textile goods, leading to a preconceived notion that products made from textile waste would be nearly cost-free.
— They’re not accustomed to covering the actual expenses involved, which is a significant issue within the linear economy. This approach fails to account for the environmental and socio-economic impacts of textile production on nature and livelihoods. Upcycling must be conducted more efficiently to effectively compete with virgin textile production. That is our primary focus.
— We’re in the process of developing digital product passports for our materials. These will assist our clients in calculating and sharing the positive impacts of material reuse. By emphasising local production and reducing transportation, we can conserve substantial resources, and these savings can be quantified and leveraged in brand communication.
Is there a limit to your production using upcycling materials at this current time?
Linnéa Magnusdotter notes that some of the most prevalent limitations to an expansion of upcycled production are due to the substandard quality of many newly produced materials. Having a wide array of chemicals added to the virgin textiles impeding circular ambitions.
— A sustainable textile industry is dependent on production of materials that have the capacity for an extended life cycle through upcycling. Prioritising this is pivotal to enable a sustainable and circular textile ecosystem.
Even though they recognise the considerable amount of textiles that holds potential to be upcycled, Beskow von Post stresses the lacking systematisation for collecting and sorting as a detrimental hindrance to further upcycling on a bigger scale.
— We have gone through thousands of garments with a lot of life left. That is where we see ourselves as the bridge between the waste and the recycling. Let us prolong the life of the fabric at least once before the textile is recycled.
How much of the fashion industry do you think could be made up of upcycling practices?
— Upcycling has the potential to create a gateway for innovation and positive environmental impact to the fashion industry as a whole, says Magnusdotter. Both businesses and consumers are in need of a fundamental change concerning their relationship with textiles. There needs to be a strategic approach which ensures resources are allocated where they are most needed and commitment to sustainability through the longevity and adaptability of high-quality materials.
— More clothing could be designed with multi-use and effective reuse in mind to enable repurposing, the Beskow von Post duo explains. Circular design is a prerequisite for more efficient upcycling. Today, we are handling the damage caused by overproduction, but we’re striving towards educating our customers that the end is the beginning.
How has the consumers’ view on upcycling changed?
— Consumers are showing an increased awareness regarding the environmental impact of their choices and the fundamental value of sustainable practices, Magnusdotter shares. The willingness to invest in both upcycled and domestic production is a reflection of this. It presents momentum for businesses to strategically position themselves within the intersection of upcycling, sustainability, and localised production.
— There’s been a huge change during our years of dedicated work, says Beskow von Post. When we began as upcyclers fifteen years ago the word ’upcycling’ was unknown, and the thought of using discarded textiles, like hotel towels, to make bathrobes was met with aversion by consumers. Now, everybody wants one. This change extends to investors, designers and garment manufacturers. They’re far more aware now of the need to take better care of this place we call home.
What’s your view on the future of upcycling?
— The current pace of production and consumption is unsustainable, states Magnusdotter. Approximately 80% of the environmental impact associated with a garment occurs during the production phase. A strategy to mitigate the impact of textile consumption is to extend the lifespan of already manufactured textile products. Implementation of strategised efforts would play a pivotal role for the future of upcycling, but there is hope for a shift towards a more responsible approach to fashion.
Beskow von Post underlines the limits of continuing to use virgin materials.
— We cannot grow any more fibers because we need the land for edible crops, and we cannot cut down any older trees because we need their services, and we certainly cannot recycle our way out of this mess. By making our method more efficient and for a big scale, we want to lead the way, create value to our clients and inspire design for circularity and a better future.