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Turning E-Textiles Waste into fashion

annotated collage of model lying down in black tube dress and accessories made from wires
  • Written byLondon College of Fashion
  • Published date 14 December 2022
annotated collage of model lying down in black tube dress and accessories made from wires
Tube dress design | Sidhant Sudhan | MA Womenswear 2022

Inspired by the research work of Programme Director Jessica Saunders, MA Fashion Design Technology (Womenswear) student Sidhant (Sid) Sudhan’s project ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ transforms electronic waste into an upcycled garment design.

We spoke with Jessica and Sid to find out more about the collaboration.

Interview with Jessica Saunders

Jessica Saunders
I am inspired by making a difference to waste in fashion and tech, and how we can shift to a less wasteful system whilst encouraging innovation.

— Jessica Saunders

Please introduce yourself and say a bit about what you do

Hello, I am Jessica Saunders, Programme Director of Fashion at LCF and interim Associate Dean. I lead and support colleagues in devising and delivering cutting edge courses with a strong focus on change making in fashion, particularly on aspects of the Climate and the Environment.

Can you tell us about your PhD research on legislation for e-textiles waste?  

My research is investigating how we can prevent e-textiles becoming a new waste stream that will end up in land fill.  To do this I am looking at how we can implement legislation that focuses on designing products with a clear end of life plan.

How has your research influenced your academic practice? 

My research has influenced how I plan workshops and discussions on sustainability, and how I have helped students embed ‘designing for end of life’ into fashion.

Why is it important to engage in research alongside your working practice? 

Engaging in research alongside teaching is very important as it means you keep up to date and bring new aspects and viewpoints into fashion teaching.

How do you encourage collaboration on MA Womenswear? 

I have set up design for disassembly / end of life challenges for MA and undergraduate across the school and college to support my research, and to help students start to embed design for disposal into their thinking.

What have you taken away or learned from this collaborative experience? 

I am humbled and excited by the ideas, views, solutions and inventions students have come up with over the last 18 months.  These outcomes give future students ideas and feed back into the next phase of my research.

Sid is an example of how you can take new knowledge and transform it through a designer's lens and personal vision into a fashion outcome that speaks to a specific problem, in this case e-waste.

Interview with Sidhant Sudhan

black and white photo of Sidhant Sudhan

Please introduce yourself and say a bit about what you do

I am Sidhant Sudhan, everyone at LCF knows me as ‘Sid’. I did my Undergrad in Economics but I suppose I always knew that I wanted to be in the world of fashion. My 14-year-old self watching FTV (a Fashion TV channel popular back in the 90s) late at night unbeknownst to my parents would validate that.

I worked in India, my country, as a stylist, sales representative and jewellery maker but I found my passion in designing garments. I realised as a designer I was more interested in breathing life to things considered dead or unimportant. The idea of reviving something made me feel alive. I therefore work with weird materials like beer cans, watches, nuts and bolts, etc, so that it can find a new form and function in the world of art and design. I feel people are often changing their textiles and adopting organic ones but who is cleaning up the waste left behind? I chose to tend to the problem, thereby finding my mission statement – “if fashion can emit, it can also absorb”.

Can you tell us about your project?

garment design on a mannequin - reads
Preliminary prototype using draping | Sidhant Sudhan | MA Womenswear 2022

My project revolved around the question “can the practice of Black Magic inform a Design Collection?”

In an altered state of consciousness, we can bring the mundane out to the surface. The mundane in this narrative is characterised by what we can see or what we are told is real.

In esoteric sciences, the world is characterised by a realm that can essentially restructure the dimension we exist in. I speak of a dimension as if it were only in 2D. When we can create objects in different dimensions, the concept of time and space is simply relative. It is true that we can visualise something that is naked to the conscious eye and therefore we make it real for ourselves. But what if we choose to believe in a parallel reality?

A hallucinatory state can be correlated with schizophrenia, the very disease that Yayoi Kusama has controlled through the medium of spatial art which is now revered within the art and design communities, respectively.

I wish to bring to the forefront that imagination during physical exhaustion can be used in the world of fashion to reinvent archetypes in a meticulous way. Therefore, raising the very question: is it possible to disrupt and dishevel the process of design and construction in fashion?

— Sidhant Sudhan

For example, I would photograph in the dark and pick up sculpting when I had never even touched clay before. The results are astounding because when you enter the darkness your mind creates monsters, much like the childlike wonder with which I was approaching these disciplines for the first time.

To introduce this system, I have decided to use a form of Black Magic called ‘Chaos Magic’ invented by the British artist Austin Osman Spare. The forgotten artist invented the Zos Kia Philosophy to create art in a peculiar manner way ahead of its time. For example, he would paint in the dark to prevent his consciousness from being manipulated by what was present before him.

Using this theory and knowledge and practising it, I wish to integrate the world of esoteric art and philosophy, fuelled by my inability to relinquish control in my design process, to discover new materials and construction methods in the world of fashion.

The resulting outcome, a tube dress, was stretchable up to 2 metres and could be shrunk upon expansion using a blow-dryer – making it possible to fit anyone.

images of various models wearing a tube dress made of black wires
Tube dress design | Sidhant Sudhan | MA Womenswear 2022

What made you interested in Jessica’s research?

In January 2022, I was heavily inspired by my Programme Director, Jessica Saunders, who is a strong advocate of environmental crisis within the fashion industry. She exposed us to her environmental impact study for her PhD that compelled me to find a solution to the problem, or at least, be a part of the change in my own unique way.

Jessica’s research abstract aims to identify the long-term repercussions of e-waste on our society and environment. The problem at large is the disposal of these modern technological wastes and how it impacts the environment. With our dependency on modern technology, are we even considering the consequences of the waste generated when new adaptors and headphones are being invented rapidly? With the rise of fast fashion, we are also seeing a rise in fast technology.

How did the research inform your project?

collage of black wires and cables
Wires | Sidhant Sudhan | MA Womenswear 2022

As a student, my immediate attention went to the material at large. I chose RJ10 cables because of their limited usage in today’s world thanks to modern technological advancements. The first thought of e-waste is usually the first point of association. I remember playing with my telephone cord as a kid and I believe in bringing a childlike wonder to my work. Therefore, I grabbed onto the wires and started looking for direct ways of constructing garments through the connectors.

Although the strides made help us access technology in a more efficient manner, the waste generated by the older materials due to the lack of usage not only creates a cumbersome task of figuring out efficient disposal solutions, but also adds to the inventory created in excess.

As a result, I was instantly drawn to wires, cables and connectors. Being a designer of materials, I gravitate towards discovering idiosyncratic garment construction methods. Fabric for me holds less value than an odd material that could find a new purpose and life. I found that the RJ10 cables function as a knit and in a larger capacity could possibly act as a textile. Having been challenged earlier in my course to steer clear from knitwear, I started asking the question ‘why’ in my head. When life poses limitations, I naturally tend to it purposefully. By combining yarn with the wires, I was able to create a new kind of pearl knit that not only had the function of textile but integrated two different worlds together, much like the philosophy of Zos Kia dictated.

How did issues of sustainability impact your choices throughout this project?

I procured the cables and wires from an Indian local electrical company that has a lot of these wires lying around. Technological advancements are easily implemented in the first world countries, whereas the older digital materials find an easy dumping ground in the low income countries in Asia where they still have some use due to the older methods being cost effective. What one doesn’t take into account is the inability of these low income countries to find effective solutions of waste disposal when they are able to afford the new technology or have no choice in the matter, because advanced technological systems don’t always interact with the forgotten ones.

It was important for me to find design solutions for something that is considered garbage and is essentially harmful for our planet. When we talk about the planet as a whole there are no income barriers or disparities – we all have an equal responsibility towards it. Today, I may not have the means necessary to raise awareness on a global scale or the finances to start my own conglomerate that helps these issues, but I have my heart and mind in the right place. I wanted to save the planet and do it in my own unique beautiful way.

What have you taken away or learned from this collaborative experience?

four images of a mannequin wearing a tube dress made of black wires
Tube dress design | Sidhant Sudhan | MA Womenswear 2022

The most important take away from the collaboration is that if you listen to the people who are trying to make a change, no matter what you do or where you come from, there are a million creative solutions to a lot of problems that could be discovered. Initially, I was unsure about the lecture when it was scheduled. Despite this, it piqued such a high interest in me that I went at it. It became a passion project.  I had started with up-cycling but it became more important to continue being sustainable to validate my process. It is hypocritical to up-cycle half of your collection and try to be insincere for the other. It was important that I try to make the collection holistically sustainable by all means necessary. I now thank Jessica for inspiring me so much because it was only due to her raising the questions of sustainability during my fittings that I was more discerning of my choices.

Moreover, I tried using more organic materials like 100 percent wool and silk and cottons. I tried using as organic a fabric as possible. The one thing I realised during these processes is that the more sustainable you try to make your work the more expensive it becomes. Due to the wires being a specific colour, I had to pay a certain amount for every bundle I got. The organic fabrics and materials were extremely expensive as well. I wonder how a creative can be incentivised to go down the sustainable path.

What are your hopes and plans for after you graduate?

Firstly, I felt that I lacked a lot of depth and research about the materials I chose to work with. They have been given a meaning and a purpose through my project but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve found a holistic solution to eradicate the problem. Yes, it does raise awareness but it has also taught me the importance of having enough data on the matter. I used a lot of unsustainable techniques to join my materials due to the limited time and submission deadlines. I now feel like I could’ve done more research and read more on the topic.

I do not think I wish to own a brand of my own. I feel there are already a million different brands that exist. I would rather work in tandem with already established brands or houses to help them discover creative solutions and materials to integrate fashion with sustainability. I take pride in my capabilities as a craftsman. It has taken a lot to find the strength and confidence in myself to be able to present my talent in such an unconventional way. I am immensely grateful to my teachers and my college for offering me this opportunity. This platform has played an instrumental role in helping me find my handwriting as a designer.

The one thing I learnt from the Zos Kia philosophy is to send out what you desire out into the world and eventually the right answers will come to you. I am currently looking forward to the Postgraduate Fashion Show and waiting for my one dream as a kid to come true. After that the world is my oyster and I am sure I’ll find a million new solutions to a million new problems that aren’t just exciting but also help save our planet!