Scraps = Fashion Design

Poly “fabric” and tote by Milan’s Luisa Cevese, featuring artfully arranged clumps of recycled silk thread.

On Earth Day weekend, there’s no better place to contemplate beauty, fashion, and style than walking through the Cooper-Hewitt’s show “Scraps: Fashion, Textiles, and Creative Reuse,” on display through April 23.

The curators decided to shine a spotlight on several designers who have been inspired to probe ways in which cast-offs from garment and fabric manufacturing can be turned into fashionable, beautiful items so that the ever-churning cycle of production can become more of a closed loop and rely less upon consumption of raw material.

Luisa Cevese, a Milan-based designer who worked in research for Italy’s high-end silk industry, wondered if there was a way to recycle the waste from the production process – large quantities of silk selvedge (ends) and assorted silk threads thrown off from the looms. The Smithsonian shows us a collection of her results – waterproof polyurethane bags featuring these colorful production scraps in stripes or whimsical arrangements. Take a look at the Flickr album.

Christina Kim’s choga and slip made from recycled hand spun, hand woven cotton saris.

Luisa was encouraged and inspired by the attitude toward recycling in India, where no one can afford to waste the precious fabric used in saris. When someone’s done with an old, worn-out sari, they are cleaned, repaired, and refashioned for buyers on the secondary market. Hems might be shortened, or other alterations made. Luisa gave the same treatment to these bits of exotic silk – embedding scraps into polyurethane for re-use in other items.

Christina Kim, based in Los Angeles, has long worked with local artisans in India and Mexico to repurpose scraps into full garments and scarves so that there is zero waste. Her approach represents a commitment to sustainable fashion that is not out of sync with other, more large-scale manufacturers. Check out some of the processes used on the exhibition site.

Watch this video of a recent conversation between Eileen Fischer and Patagonia’s Nellie Cohen at the Cooper Hewitt about how their clothing companies are reusing textiles and innovating a “closed production cycle”.

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