: to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item
: to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)
Upcycle is a capsule collection of bags and apparel with sustainability at its focal point. By prioritizing this mission we circumvented some of the practical challenges faced by many clients who must make decisions based on higher priorities such as time and cost to market. The reality is that sustainability usually takes a back seat to the cheaper option, and therefore, by demand, the global market is filled with convenient but not so sustainable solutions.
Popular culture is slowly shifting towards lending more importance to social and environmental responsibility; and the supply chain will soon follow. Until then, we all face the challenge of navigating a global market where the sustainable choice is often the less convenient one. We acknowledged early on that because of this, we would need to be extremely judicious in strategizing the production of Upcycle.
Creative Direction + Design
As we began to outline the creative direction for the collection, we were fixated on one simple image—a sea of plastic trash, made up of a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, stamped all over with consumer-driven graphics. This image informed the patchworking of mixed media r-PET textures as well the mechanical placement of CPG-inspired graphics and color palette.
We also chose to center the collection around packable forms which have a lower carbon footprint by design. Sans the need to be stuffed for freight, transporting these products requires less packaging and less space, making them more fuel efficient. Packable designs also encourage re-use by serving as convenient alternatives to single-use disposable bags that are hurting our environment.
Sourcing + Manufacturing
With the vision now codified, we formed a team of specialists experienced in sourcing sustainable textiles and trims. The mandate was to scour the global market for best-in-class sustainable options for the following subsets within the collection:
+ Packable bags and jackets
+ Form-fitting activewear
+ Breathable t-shirts and bandanas
After reviewing hundreds of different qualities for the packable collection, we fell in love with a technical r-PET polyester made in a Korean mill that also supplies high-end labels such as Thom Browne and Prada. Its luxury quality outshined some of the materials we found in China, but also proved to be more cost effective than similar options found in Japan.
This fabric was nominated to our manufacturers in China with whom we have longstanding relationships in bags and apparel. Though r-PET textiles can be found all around the globe, China still leads the charge in supplying eco-friendly hardware and trims, which made a stronger case for our factory choice.
For the body-contouring athletic wear, we sourced a strong but supple fabric from Taiwan, a region also renowned for its athletic textiles. After deciding on the exact quality, the mill replicated the material using a r-PET polyester fiber. This fabric, along with a custom r-PET jacquard webbing from China, were nominated to a factory in Mexico.
This small Mexican factory was chosen not only for its leading cut-and-sew capabilities in activewear but also for its mission-led infrastructure. The female owner employs a majority female staff while also offering key roles to disabled people. By choosing to work with factories such as these we hope to strategically drive their success into the future.
(Organic Cotton + Bamboo Apparel)
For t-shirts we decided on a 100% organic cotton milled in Peru. Peru has a relatively small network that was easier to navigate than larger markets like China. Here, we worked with a family-owned factory with clean and cutting-edge facilities that have attracted brands like John Varvatos and Rag and Bone.
For bandanas, our specialists recommended bamboo for its eco-friendly properties but also for its amazing interaction with print and color. We worked with a trusted partner in China to source and print the material. Our first round of samples were flawless not only in print quality but also in its ability to drape more fluidly than cotton.
To bring this collection to life, our production team had to connect the logistical dots between 5 different countries. By the time the final samples came together in our New York City office, the COVID-19 pandemic came to a head. With the majority of our clients dealing with the new normal of remote working, we would not have the opportunity to host a showroom visit where we’d normally share this collection in person.
We decided to send the experience to our clients’ homes through a direct mailer. Due to the smaller than usual quantities (affected by the pandemic) we decided to print and kit these mailers domestically. After carefully selecting a recycled paper, we printed and packaged the lookbooks with a sample of our bamboo bandana in a pouch made from the same r-PET material showcased in the packable collection. In this way, we hope to engage our clients in a tactile experience at home in lieu of a showroom visit.
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As sustainability continues to be top of mind for clients, we further our mission of using business as a force for good by investing in research and development in areas of sustainability. Through the end-to-end design and production of capsule collections such as Upcycle, we are able to gain live insight into the global supply chain and inform practical applications of sustainability for any project.