“Retooled” is an elective course at Otago Polytechnic, with students enrolled in the course collaborating with the New Zealand Red Cross Dunedin Op Shop to create upcycled fashion pieces for a charity auction. The project used older unsold pieces from the charity shop to create new looks, including patchwork denim designs, that were to be sold in the auction. The auction was held on 22 July, and all the proceeds went towards the Red Cross to benefit the wider community.
Upcycling is a design-based model in which an item has a circular life, where items that are due to go to the landfill (either as unbought shop items or old personal items) are redesigned and repurposed to make a new or more useful item. The course takes not only fashion items, but also furniture, artworks, and household objects, and recycles them into products with a similar or more useful function. Principal Lecturer at Otago Polytechnic School of Design says the project focuses “on design for social good and incorporating the values of sustainable practice/kaitiakitanga and collaboration/kotahitanga”.
“It sounds like an awesome project!” says Hannah, a Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Auckland, “Upcycling is very trendy at the moment, especially on fashion TikTok, with some creators giving really simple tutorials on how to upcycle clothes. I like that the group from Otago are using it to raise money for a bigger cause though, because often we think about how we use fashion to help ourselves, but we can also use it to help others.”
Upcycling has numerous benefits, primarily reducing the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. Each year over 100 billion garments are produced globally, with New Zealand importing 380,000 tonnes of textile products with over half ending up in the landfill. Infrastructure NZ has estimated that there is a gap of $2.1–$2.6 billion where recycling infrastructure should move in to divert textile waste from the landfill.
Currently, New Zealand does have governmental projects that are used such as the Textile Product Stewardship Scheme. The scheme is a component of the 2008 Waste Minimisation Act and runs within the Textile Reuse Programme which helps commit members of the fashion industry to creating a circular fashion movement. Stage two of the scheme began late March this year, where a pilot scheme tested ‘waste-to-value’ pathways.
A report by the Retail Industry Leaders Association in 2019 showed that 93% of consumers globally expect the brands they buy from to support local social and environmental issues. Another survey by Element Three and SMARI showed that 87% of US Millennial internet users would be willing to pay more for products that were sustainable. “I would expect corporations to be taking the necessary steps to ensure we’re limiting our environmental damage,” says Henry, a Bachelor of Arts student. “Even from a selfish perspective if they don’t and they ruin the planet, how are they even going to have a business in 20 years with no materials left?”
Another benefit of upcycling is that it can boost creativity. Students are also seeing the benefits of this with Ben, a Bachelor of Engineering student at the University of Auckland, saying “Upcycling is a really cool initiative, and I’d love to see people get more creative with it. I see a lot of fashion videos online for how to upcycle things, but they’re primarily made for stereotypically female clothing, but there’s so many ways to upcycle some old shirts or pants too”.