From old to stylish: Upcycling – a new trend for green fashion

Berlin designer Philippe Werhahn creates new clothing from old textiles, making him one of the pioneers of upcycling in Germany. The term upcycling refers to processes in which new goods, and therefore new value, are created from waste material, for example bags made out of old tarpaulins or car tyres. In this interview, Philippe Werhahn talks about his creative philosophy and about green fashion as a trend of the future.

If you look closely at Philippe Werhahn's fashion creations, you can see what kind of textiles they were in their former life. On his label TingDing, the young designer from Berlin makes stylish dresses and skirts from old trousers and shirts. Green fashion denotes fashion that is sustainable and that follows ethical principles. It is a growth sector, and upcycling – which involves recycling waste materials into valuable new products – is its latest trend. The Goethe-Institut invited Philippe Werhahn to the Green Fashion Week in Pune, India, at the beginning of the year. Working together with the local School of Fashion Technology, he showcased his creations at a highly-regarded fashion show. In this interview he talks about his work.

‘Wasting waste is a waste of resources’

What makes upcycling in fashion so appealing to designers and customers?

Philippe Werhahn: Upcycling involves using waste as material to create new products. Creating new products requires significantly less energy than recycling, and the quality of the waste is increased, not decreased. Consequently, the concept of my label TingDing is: ‘Wasting waste is a waste of resources’. TingDing creates women's fashion that is timeless and sustainable. Upcycling takes used textiles from their old context and rearranges them to create something new and unique. Memories associated with old items of clothing are woven into new garments. This enables our customers to keep these memories alive as they wear and display them in new form. TingDing encourages its customers to ask questions. To me, economics and ethics are inseparably linked. Only those who put moral and ethical values above the constant quest to maximise profits will achieve lasting success.

Is international cooperation important for green fashion, and for your work in particular?

Philippe Werhahn: Yes, it is extremely important! A total of 700,000 tonnes of used clothes are discarded each year in Germany alone, the equivalent of around 10 kilograms per person. TingDing enables its customers to bring their cast-offs back into circulation, supporting commercial recycling instead of simply throwing things away with no further thought. A lot of money is made from re-importing old textiles to places such as Africa, destroying local markets. Raising awareness of this issue will take a long time and can only be achieved through international cooperation. Industrialised countries in particular are almost completely unaware of the need for fair and sustainable working conditions, sustainable agricultural practices and environmentally-friendly work processes.

TingDing is a symbol of sustainability and this is reflected in the clothing it produces. The partnerships I am involved with focus on young international designers. I want to introduce them to upcycling as a fashion sector, and also encourage them to use it as a cost-effective ‘tool’ for experimenting with form and material during their studies.

‘Green fashion will establish itself in the long term’

Do you believe that green fashion will make the leap from niche market to mainstream trend?

Philippe Werhahn: Upcycling is ‘in fashion’ right now. This is very much due to the creative process, the currently prevailing zeitgeist, and the associated criticism of mass consumerism and the throwaway society, particularly in Germany.

I think that green fashion will establish itself in the long term. It offers a very good opportunity for small labels, especially those that produce their own goods, to distinguish themselves from competitors.  It is unlikely that green fashion will go mainstream, as the conditions and certificates defining what is really 'green' and environmentally sustainable are very inconsistent. It would be a dream come true for me if everyone wore sustainable clothing, but, unfortunately, price is the most important factor for many people when buying clothes. International conditions should be standardised in order to stop textile production that is harmful to health and move towards sustainability. That would be a fantastic achievement.

Mainstream? No! However, a number of large companies have already responded to the green wave and will change their approach. Green fashion will keep increasing in influence for a long time yet.

December 2012

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