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October 20, 2017
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The On Air necklace was Cirillo's first creation. "Photograph courtesy of Ludovica Cirillo."

Take a look around your home or workplace; it's evident that we are entirely surrounded by electronic devices - especially smart phones, tablets and computers. Our reliance upon mobile devices corresponds to their very rapid turnaround in both design and manufacturing. With prolonged advertising campaigns driving consumers to upgrade their electronic devices to the latest models, old, unused or broken products quickly find their way into the rubbish bin. The average life span for desktop computers and laptops is three years and just two years for mobile phones. 

technology fashion jewellery recycling

Even old earphones can be recycled into 
trend conscious items of jewellery.
Photograph courtesy of Ludovica Cirillo. 

According to estimates by the United Nations Environment Programme, approximately 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste (electronic waste) is produced globally annually. In 2010, Gis Watch reported that less than 15 per cent of this amount goes on to any type of recycling - probably due to the risks of recycling products that may contain hazardous materials.

Helping raise public awareness on the recycling (and upcycling) of mobile devices is young designer and student of Architecture at the London Metropolitan University, Ludovica Cirillo. She recently began experimenting with turning discarded earphones, headphones, keyboards and electrical wires into necklaces, earrings and accessories (gloves, skirts, hats, etc.).

Over the past two decades, wearable technology has been trying to step into the fashion world but with small success. Made of thin circuits and invisible cables embroidered on the fabric, LED laser dresses designed by Hussein Chalayan and created by German-British designer and mechatronics engineer Moritz Waldemeyer in 2007 were the first innovative works towards wearable electronic haute couture. Some of the designs were covered with more than 15,000 controllable LEDs which displayed video images on their surface, offering an almost magical quality to the garments.

From Laser Laces (fiber optic shoelaces that can remain lit for up to 38 hours before requiring a recharge) to footwear designer Anastasia Radevich's Kinetic collection of fibre-optic boots that light up by flicking on a hidden switch, these conceptual garments have succeeded in thoroughly impressing the public. However they have yet to make a permanent stamp on the fashion industry. Although highly useful, these designs are often not very fashionable. A perfect example of this can be seen with the prototype mobile phone charging t-shirt, developed by telecommunication company Orange and renewable energy designers GotWind, which aims to convert sound waves into power. The front panel of the t-shirt is lined with a Piezoelectric film, which absorbs the energy of sound pressure waves and converts it into electrical energy.

With eco-tech accessories, consumers focus on a different aspect of luxury where even a bunch of electric wires can sometimes be turned into a chic product.

Even the sport industry in the last decade has tried to come up with some innovative products in which technology became functional to fashion. When wearing running shoes designed by Nike+, for example, wearers can improve their running experience by having instant feedback on their training thanks to an electronic sensor placed under the insole. Nike+ then transmits the information via the runners own iPod Touch or iPhone. For female athletes, NuMetrex has created a line of sports bras with strapless heart rate monitors embedded through tiny sensors that are placed discreetly within the bra fabric.

Among all these unique inventions, Ludovica Cirillo has found a place in the market through her eco-friendly goal of recycling discarded technology into fashionable creations and reinterpreting luxury in her own way. Her brand ByLudo started by accident. Cirillo was just a teenager in 2009, when to kill time whilst travelling to Berlin with her parents, she made her first necklace with old wires and earphones left in a drawer in her room. As soon as she gave it to her mum as a present, she realised the eco-tech necklace (called "on air necklace") could be the start of a career designing fashionable jewellery to sell.

At the TNT Festival dei Giovani Talenti, organised in 2010 by the Italian Ministero della Gioventù, aiming to promote young Italian talented designers, Cirillo was selected among 200 artists to exhibit her few simple creations at the Palazzo dei Congressi. In the same year, after participating at the Artisanal Intelligence event by AltaRoma (a show to highlight the works of Italian craftsmanship and fashion), she was noticed and encouraged by Italian designers and artists Roberto Capucci and Fausto Sarli as well as Massimo Arlechino (President of Fondazione Valore Italia, which promotes permanent expositions of made in Italy and Italian design) to present an entire collection of recycled technology jewels at The Margutta RistorArte in Rome.

The "On Air" necklace made of wires and earphones was her first and simplest creation, but it was with the popularity gained by the more structured "Crazy Type" necklace that led Cirillo to believe she had the beginnings of a business. The necklace took a few weeks to make as various keyboard buttons had to be stripped down from old computers, disinfected and catalogued piece by piece according to size and colour, then joined together with iron wires and glue.

technology fashion crazy text necklace

Cirillo has used parts of an old keyboard  
to create the Crazy Type necklace. 
Photograph courtesy of Ludovica Cirillo.

In 2011, the eco-tech Crazy Type necklace was selected in the competition, "This is bijou," coordinated by Pope Ratzinger's goldsmith Claudio Franchi. The design also had the chance to take part in this year's touring exposition, and was on show from the Museo del Bijou in Casalmaggiore to the Museum Boncompagni Ludovisi of decorative arts in Rome.

Cirillo usually designs and creates a prototype. Then with the support of the Roman workshop Pikkio, which specialises in high fashion accessories, she makes numerous copies of it on a larger scale to sell on the market, using her own pieces including keyboards, cables, earphones and CDs or re-used devices coming from the state recycling department, Ama.

With eco-tech accessories, consumers focus on a different aspect of luxury where even a bunch of electrical wires can be turned into a chic product. Cirillo's first client was Alda Fendi, the youngest heiress of the Fendi Empire. When the eco-tech collection crossed Italian boundaries, Oscar winning actress Melissa Leo wore ByLudo necklaces. Scottish singer Paolo Nutini often wears cufflinks made of computer keys or earphones. 

The need for making better use of recyclable materials means it could soon be trendy to be seen walking around town with a keyboard necklace hanging around your neck. Eco-tech fashion (in which actual technology pieces are recycled) is a promising off-shoot of tech-fashion (in which wearable technology is applied to clothing), successfully blending tech and fashion together through the use of e-waste.

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