At the Urban Air Market in Los Feliz, a swanky neighborhood tucked into the east side of Los Angeles, I was excited to see so many upcycled crafts in one place. Particularly of the textile variety, considering how Americans throw out 11 million tons of textiles every year. 80% of those old clothes goes straight to landfill. The majority of what we donate winds up being sold to traders in developing countries, where the glut of cheap used clothing depresses their domestic apparel industries. The details of which you may have already seen here.
Knowing this, I was overjoyed to discover TheRadKidz at this market. They make adorable children’s (and some adult) clothes from used clothes. They currently only sell at craft markets, and could probably benefit from the help of a good website builder, but their clothes are AMAZING. If you really want to flaunt your eco cred, your kids need these clothes. The biggest issue with this type of upcycling is that when you make a garment from other garments, the new pieces have to be smaller than the original pieces. I made a men’s blazer for a friend who is a size XL. It took three jackets and a pair of pants to make one jacket. This is fine when you just want to reduce the total amount of textiles winding up in landfill. But what’s even more efficient is childrenswear. Kids are small, so an adult dress can make at least 1 1/2 children’s dresses.
While major players like H&M and C&A create foundations through which to fund new innovations in the field of textile recycling, most of these innovations are still a long way off from being commercially viable at scale. Their foundations also fund many other great projects, but is it too little, too late? Especially for H&M, sitting on billions of dollars of unsold crap. Meanwhile, we can’t keep throwing away so much clothing. While it’s valuable for consumers to simply consume less clothing, it’s also important to keep people employed.
Upcycling creates more employment because upcycled clothing is a lot more labor-intensive than clothing cut from yardage. This is also the reason it’s not widely adapted. Clothing has become cheaper as brands find people willing to work for less money. When making clothes from old clothes, each pattern piece is cut out one by one. When making clothes from running yardage, the cutter can stack dozens of layers of fabric and run a saw (or laser, oftentimes) through the fabric, cutting dozens of pieces at once.
I first became aware of the upcycling process while working for Burning Torch, a women’s contemporary line based in Los Angeles. It was fascinating to see the giant bags of used clothing transformed into gorgeous new clothes incorporating details from the original garments. Sure, it’s not cheap, especially because it’s too complex to farm out to an offshore factory accustomed to working fast & cheap. But it’s worth it to give your kids some clothes that actually reduce the mountain of waste your generation is leaving behind for them to deal with.
More photos from the Los Feliz Urban Air Market. The Rad Kidz weren’t the only ones using recycled materials…