Free Press Journal

Reinvent: Is ‘upcycling’ the new fashion buzzword?


Can your decade-old jeans be re-worked into an eye-catching contemporary fashion statement? Can the fabric waste generated in the process of manufacture of garments be put to any sartorial use? Can your second-hand clothing be transformed by fashion houses into chic, trendy wear? The answer is a resounding yes, as our marquee Indian brands — Boro, Doodlage, Péro, KaSha, et al – are proving upcycling with stunning results.

Pune based designer Karishma Shahani of KaSha illustrates, “Up cycling fashion could be anything from reusing stuff that has been already used or something that wasn’t even relevant before. We up cycle anything from something like plastic which does not even have any fashion quality, or even a regular textile which is given a special treatment.”



“It is not just a commercial thing that we are doing, it’s a very emotional service that we provide to people for those who are attached to their pieces in their wardrobe and they don’t wish to discard it.”

Is upcycling just a trend or is it here to stay?

With brands world over delivering focus to the same, from the Cambodia based Tonlé that makes their products using textile scraps to L.A based Reformation that repurposes vintage clothing. These brands challenge the ‘use and discard’ philosophy of consumerism and its environmental downside. Designer Paromita Banerjee states, “Up cycling has always been a part of Indian context,” perhaps best illustrated by Bengal’s well-known kaatha technique – a method of stitching multiple layers of fabric, generally old saris, the stitch running around the edges to create rags and cushions for day-to-day usage. Inspired by this technique, the designer collaged prints from her earlier ‘Boro-I’ collection to create works for her ‘Boro-2’ collection last year at the Amazon India Fashion week, upcycling full-throttle. Her label name ‘Boro’ itself means mended or patched textiles, used as clothing by Japanese peasants and artisans.

Banerjee elaborates, “Up cycling for me is not a kabadi ki dukan thing, which is prevalent in India where you end up taking old waste and then try to do new things. What we really do in this is that we don’t waste our leftover fabric because all of it is hand-woven by our weavers and sometimes you get very sentimental. So we up cycle them into different kinds of products which have more value. It could be bags, winter kimonos or handmade notebook covers.”

For NID graduate Aneeth Arora, who established the popular Péro  brand (Péro  means ‘to wear’ in Marwari) and who strives to perpetuate India’s handmade clothing tradition and leverages local skills and material to create unique Péro  garments, upcycling has been a continuing endeavor. “From the beginning, we tried not to throw away any fabric and use these instead to make tags, bags, etc.,” says Aneeth.

“Of course, we were not into upcycling like say Doodlage is – they buy industrial waste and second-hand clothing and upcycle the same. For Péro, upcycling started seriously about three years back, actually with my patched Ralph Lauren jacket. I loved this old jacket of mine. Each time it was damaged, I added more patches and details to it. Over a period of time people started asking if this was an actual piece in my collection. Then photographer Dayanita Singh brought her old black jacket to me, saying it fitted her beautifully, but she had over-worn it. Could I revive it? I kept it for two seasons, grafting motifs and returned it, writing ‘upcycle by Péro’ below the brand name and that’s how the upcycle by Péro  service began.”

A grandma’s chikan sari that a young girl is loath to discard, a pair of trousers that one loves and wants to see revved up, clothes rich with stories that ask to be preserved – Péro  breathes new life into these items and bring them up to date. Arora further states, “It is not just a commercial thing that we are doing, it’s a very emotional service that we provide to people for those who are attached to their pieces in their wardrobe and they don’t wish to discard it.” Upcycling for the brand does not end with clothes only. Recently, Péro upcycled Adidas Stan Smith shoes, planting hand-knit crochet flowers with beadwork on Adidas shoes for women; the result has gone viral online. “It’s not a commercial collaboration, though,” clarifies Aneeth. She states “Our collaboration started because they were aware about the up cycling concept, they approached us with the idea of up cycling their shoes. Hence, we came up with two different concepts where women were to do with more floral and delicate designs and men were more of simple patchwork and small details.”

The passion to conserve has driven designers Bhumika and Jyoti Mukherjee (Rani Mukherjee’s sister-in-law) to pitch a Zero Waste Concept Store, in the upscale Juhu locality in Mumbai in May this year; the store is dedicated to displaying and selling classy clothes and accessories that come out of a zero waste manufacturing process.

“We do not waste any fabric at all. Whatever fabric is left while making outfits is used in the making of stoles, footwear, accessories. Even the last scrap of fabric gets used to create a button,” reveals designer and currently store manager Aashi Choksey.

Barely two-month-old, the store is attracting attention and purchase of chiefly palazzo skirts and pants, pants made of jute fabric, capes, and lehengas – all dyed in myriad colours of nature. “We try to ensure that our clothes even while being nifty and special, lend easily to re-use. So we have hand-beaded borders for our lehengas which can be worn to any party and not just to weddings.” Bhumika and Jyoti mark the store as “their first step towards being more considerate residents of planet earth.”

While fashion is by its very nature transient, one hopes upcycling will gain more traction with time. As designer Amit Aggarwal who’s uses industrial waste in his collection to produce some exquisite futuristic designs, rightly observes, “In terms of up cycling, our new age generation also understands that the world needs to be taken care of. Places to store more and more clothes are going to get lesser over a period time. It is for us to know that these existing pieces can be tweaked or worn in a different style.” With shops like Zero Waste Concept Store being set up and the Indian youth warming to jeans with its immense potential to be re-invented (cut, ribbed, spray-painted, patched up) in ever-swelling numbers, prospects of upcycling look bright.

Amit Aggarwal

Amit Aggarwal

Inputs by Oshin Fernandes