The Genteel
April 22, 2021


Harvey's Weleda "skin food" dress.

While the idea of wearing newspapers and tin cans might conjure up images of Oscar the Grouch, "trashion" just might be the future of fashion design. With news that the EU is sending recyclable waste to China and the UK is attempting to save money and limited landfill space by transporting household waste to Norway to be burned for energy, there's certainly room for change in the way we see, and deal with, waste.

I first experienced the potential of recycled fashion at Brighton Fashion Week's inaugural Sustain Show this June, which sought to promote recycling and use of discarded materials to create wearable pieces. The collections at the Sustain Show proved just how beautiful our trash can be. Among them, Dumpster Design, created by 22-year-old fashion graduate Daisy Harris-Burland, was a standout for its bold creativity. 

"In my world nothing is deemed as rubbish. I thrive off manipulating materials, and pushing the boundaries of fashion in doing so. Creating something beautiful and elegant out of original harsh materials is a challenge I love to accept," said Harris-Burland in an interview with The Argus.

Related: Is eco-fashion trendy or timeless?

Harris-Burland launched Dumpster Design in 2007 and since then, the label has been featured in Vogue and Marie Claire, as well as at the Radical Designer Awards in Monte Carlo. Her most recent collection was filled with a colourful array of '50s silhouettes, including big skirts and tiny corseted waists. The show stopping "Bounty Bride", a wedding dress made entirely from kitchen paper (13 rolls, to be precise) was a sight to behold - despite losing a few sheets on the runway. Apart from a few recycled denim creations, Harris-Burland uses non-traditional materials in her designs - think flyers, posters, newspapers, magazines, cardboard, bubblewrap and kitchen paper.

Related: 31 Bits uses recycled paper to create statement jewellery.

The "Crime Scene" dress.

Nancy Judd is another trashion designer who shares her creations on her website, Recycle Runway. Her projects are made entirely from used materials, from old clothes to discarded tires. Among her creations are two dresses - "Caution" and "Crime Scene" - made entirely from police tape; a black canvas dress covered in rusty nail "feathers"; a glass evening gown - yes, glass; and a 1920s style flapper dress made from a shower curtain and hand-cut sequins from aluminum cans. A particularly impressive piece is the full-length faux fur coat made from cassette and video-tape.

Not only does trashion re-use materials that would otherwise go to waste, it's offering a new platform to raise awareness of environmental issues. Through Recycle Runway, Judd aims "to capture the public's attention and inspire people to consider the environment in their daily choices." She has been working with recycled fashion since 1998 and her inspirational designs have gained her international recognition.

London-based designer Gary Harvey is probably the most accomplished of today's trashion designers. His Eco-Couture collections have appeared in the Green Shows at New York Fashion Week and have graced the pages of VogueElle and Vanity Fair to name a few. His work has been on display at the V&A and MoMA and he has worked with the UK Government for National Recycling Week to produce colourful dresses made from cans, bottle tops and cardboard boxes.

While working for Levi Strauss as the Creative Director, Harvey's first eco-conscious dress was made from 42 pairs of discarded Levi 501s. He has since made dresses from old Burberry coats, wedding dresses, old army jackets and Hawaiian shirts. His Financial Times dress, made from 30 copies of the newspaper, is a stunning example. His designs have also been seen on Livia FirthBeth Ditto and Alicia Silverstone.

Related: EcoChic Design Award: Hong Kong's Move for Sustainable Fashion.

Not only is this [recycled] fashion environmentally conscious, it has opened up a marketable form of advertisement.

With the possibility of wearing flyers and other printed media, trashion means these labels have been able to collaborate with brands to create one-of-a-kind pieces for PR advertisements. Dumpster Design has worked many brands, including Benefit CosmeticsElectric Hair and Veolia, the largest environmental waste company in Europe. Nancy Judd has worked with Delta Air Lines, Toyota, Coca-Cola and Target and one of her pieces, a coat made from Obama campaign images, was accepted into the Smithsonian Institution's permanent collection. Gary Harvey, likewise, has worked Weleda to produce a dress made from 350 packages of "skin food." Not only is this fashion environmentally conscious, it has opened up a marketable (and potentially profitable) form of advertisement.

While many trashion designs are intricate and time-consuming show pieces - in other words, not necessarily made for daily use - the message behind them remains; as a society, we're throwing away too many things that could be re-used. And although it seems like a niche designer domain, fashion conglomerates such as H&M, Marks & Spencer and Topshop have all initiated campaigns promoting recycling and sustainability. As innovations continue and social-consciousness prevails, trashion may just be the future of the fashion industry.




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