Worn Again

Worn Again: Rethinking Recycled Textiles

Principal Investigator: Rebecca Earley
College: Chelsea College of Arts

This project aimed to investigate textiles recycling, looking to the textile design practitioner to propose significant change through the creation of high quality artefacts. It aimed to question current textile recycling design practices and to shift the aesthetic, and thus potentially the conception, of products made from reused textiles.

Currently, design practices in textiles recycling are limited to recutting / reshaping / restitching, often giving a somewhat patch-worked aesthetic to the remade product. At the other end of the scale, commercial and technical approaches tend to break the original textile down and remake it into a new fabric. This project embraced both of these approaches, but also sought to question the design decisions currently inherent in this activity. This project sought to find new design methods for recycling, and to give the resulting artefacts a new, 'higher value' aesthetic.

To achieve these aims a group of participating designers examined and considered contemporary ecodesign theories, exploring ideas about long life / short life textiles (or 'fast' and 'slow'), ethical production, new technologies, and systems /services design. This new information was then transformed into synergised design ideas - design briefs for the individual participating designers - that sought to challenge the current limitations and conventions of the field. By integrating this ecodesign theory into new concepts for recycling textiles, the project began to produce 'upcycled', rather than 'recycled', textiles.

If one can add value - economic, intellectual, emotional, material - to a product through the process of reuse, it can be called upcycled. In 'Zero Waste', (Greenpeace Environmental Trust, UK, 2002) Murray states that design for upcycling is about 'not merely conserving the resources that went into the production of particular materials, but adding to the value embodied in them by the application of knowledge in the course of their recirculation.' The notion of upcycling was popularised in 2002 through the publication of William McDonough and Michael Braungart's seminal book - 'Cradle-to-Cradle' - and was discussed using examples of materials such as rice husks and paper. But if we can also 'upcycle' rather than 'recycle' textiles, we have the potential to create an economic argument for a practice that could benefit the environment and our current landfill burden.

The particular knowledge that only a designer / researcher can bring to the process can be seen as instrumental in this practice, and was demonstrated throughout the project. New work was created and exhibited in the stage two exhibition, which intended to show an experimental, highly creative and innovative thought process and set of outcomes. 'Ever & Again: Rethinking Recycled Textiles' (2007) focussed on exhibiting new recycled textile artefacts that had been created using technologies such as digital printing, laser etching, electro-luminescence and silver electro-plating. The exhibits also proposed concepts for ethical production, resurfacing/laminating, and systems and service design.

During stage 3 of the project a theory for upcycling textiles began to be developed and disseminated, which centred on interconnected design thinking for upcycled textile design, through workshop scenarios. Both the 2008 symposium and the book (due 2011) have the title 'Upcycling Textiles: Adding Value Through Design' and can be seen as making a significant contribution to the definition, knowledge and understanding of this emerging field and practice.

Finally, as a direct consequence of the above, the project has recorded a change in the thinking of the project practitioners. This significant shift in the way they approach design potentially gives the textile designers and the TED group range and currency of thought for the future, both within and without the textiles discipline.