Your challenge? Turn an old wedding dress into a men’s coat

1. Your Challenge
Jonas King, a contestant on ‘Upcycle Nation’, a new show focusing on repurposing and upcycling old items, at home in Brooklyn, October 27, 2022. (Photo: NYTimes)
For Thommy Douglass the assignment was a test of grit. He had just five hours to whip up a men’s coat made from a heap of castoffs: jeans, an old wedding dress, and threadbare tweed jackets.اضافة اعلان

The task, set by the producers of “Upcycle Nation”, a new television fashion competition, rattled him. Douglass, 35, a contestant on the show, which is set to begin streaming on Wednesday on Fuse TV, has been making and selling elaborate corsets, silk tops, and denim skirts from scraps for the past two years. He sells them on Depop and ReMuse, his e-commerce site on Etsy. But he had never designed clothes for men or worked in a television studio.

“You are catapulted into an environment you’re not used to,” he said. “You’re working with machinery that isn’t yours. So the level of nerves really kicks in.”

He tackled the project, as one of two dozen contestants culled from a pool of aspiring designers and artists known for reworking and reinventing second-hand finds into wearable clothes on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

The series, a variation on “Project Runway”, is framed, in part, as a rebuke to unthinking consumerism.

“During the last couple of years all of our lives have kind of shifted,” said John Scarlett, the head of in-house production at Fuse. The protracted pause of the pandemic “allowed us to reconsider how much we’re buying from a fashion and retail standpoint — and how much we waste.”

In packaging sustainability as entertainment, the producers are tapping a rising interest in upcycling.

“This is not just another fashion competition,” said Karrueche Tran, an actress and model who is the show’s host and executive producer. “We hope the show will be informative and inspire people to reuse household items in a creative way.”

Avoiding waste by repurposing remnants is not new. But it is timely.

Some luxury houses, including Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Marni, and Coach have embraced this trend, though later than many environmental advocates would have liked. And labels including the upscale Stella McCartney and Marine Serre, as well as Re/Done, Zero Waste Daniel and the Canadian company Preloved, have been built partly or entirely around upcycling.

The tag #Upcycled clothing has more than 363,000 posts on Instagram. On TikTok, #upcyclingfashion has over 52 million views.

According to a 2021 study from First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the notion of breathing new life into old clothes chimes with a new generation. These are people who have never set foot in a luxury store, some three-quarters of whom value sustainability over brand logos when shopping.

Contestants on the show range in age, background and experience. There is 18-year-old Jonas King, entering his first year at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City; and Andrew Burgess, 21, whose quilt hoodie drew a large following on TikTok and Instagram, and who, through his upcycled streetwear label, Wandy the Maker, has collaborated with brands including Panasonic and Guess. Georgia Culp, 49, a single mother, experiments with punk horror and rockabilly themes in “Scrap the Runway”, her design company.

Contestants share a commitment to sustainability. In King’s upcycling practice, fashion and social responsibility converge. He aims, he said, “to find ways of keeping things in the world instead of dumping them in the desert in Chile.” (The Atacama Desert in Chile is a notorious graveyard for scrapped clothing.)

The producers are looking for a radical, even subversive, display of creativity and improvisational skills using a needle, staples, glue gun, or shears. The challenge goes well beyond slashing or knotting an old T-shirt or fusing two high-end logos in the same garment. In each episode, three contestants are asked to assemble a montage from scraps or household staples, items as unlikely as an air mattress, a deflated exercise ball, or an old rug.

“In designing, my goal is always for you to see the life that my materials have lived,” King said. “If there is a little hole or a little discoloration, you know the piece has come from something else. It has personality, individuality, and a story.”

On the show, his assignment was to make a full outfit out of three satchels of randomly selected materials, mostly leather and canvas. “I immediately leaned toward the natural fabric,” he said. “You can see the fibers.”

Peder Cho, a judge on the show who founded the upcycle label Utopia, looks for polish. “If I’m making something myself, I don’t like a lot of rawness showing,” said Cho, an accountant-turned-designer who has collaborated with Target, True Religion, and other brands.

“I want the work to look like it came from the store,” he said. He is a stickler for detail. “I’m looking at all the elements the contestants use from the original piece,” he said, “the belt loops, the buttons, the zipper.”

Jerome LaMaar, another judge, places a premium on originality. “I want to see something that stimulates,” said LaMaar, a designer, brand consultant, and trend forecaster. “That’s what pushes me to become a kind of Cruella de Vil.”

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