Discarded clothes transform into high fashion

Enough smart talk: action mode is the new cool. Time to pimp up old T-shirts, separate plastic from other trash and tag along with Amsterdam Makes Something Of It (Amsterdam maakt er wat van), the city council campaign that invites everyone to recycle more. The initiative was kicked off during Amsterdam Fashion Week, where six young designers showed that the clothes we cast off…are worth a million.
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The designers

Coached by industry VIPs Hans Ubbink, Peter Leferink (head of design at Amsterdam Fashion Institute) and Niels Klavers (head of the fashion department at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy), the six young designers created three looks each from clothes left over from this year’s huge flea market on Dutch King’s Day. Delivered to them in a big shipping container and hitting the catwalk on 16 July during Amsterdam Fashion Week.

Designing with an open mind

Designer Tijme Veldt (Gerrit Rietveld Academy) is putting the final touches on his collection in his atelier, an anti-squat building, in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. Hailing from Antwerp, but with German roots, Sarah Mayer (AMFI) arrives with two suitcases. One contains her collection – quite a colourful one, as it appears later.

“I figured it didn’t make sense to start this project with a clear concept”, says Tijme. “You might not find what you’re looking for – and then what?” Sarah agrees: “I joined this project with a totally open mind, but I did want to get some oversized clothes. It gives you some fabric to work with.”

Even before embarking upon the project, both designers felt the fashion industry needed to become more sustainable. “The project is like a reminder of what I already knew”, tells Sara.

“It didn’t make sense to start this project with a clear concept”

– Tijme Veldt

Tijme (right) backstage preparing for the fashion show. (Photo: Joanne de Lijster Photography)

Inspired by recycling

For their collections, Sarah and Tijme were inspired by recycling in different ways.

Tijme: “I always think of clothing as an embellishment of the body, but clothes also have a function. As I was standing there in between all those cast-offs, it seemed like they had lost their function. And I was shocked by how many white T-shirts there were! So, I made a garment by stitching them together. My collection’s message is that it’s more than okay if you only want to embellish yourself with beautiful clothes. Just as long as you’re conscious about it.

Sarah: “For me it was really all about quality. When going through the piles of clothes, the majority was of bad and fast-fashion quality. So, contrary to Tijme, I started looking for items that were of good quality. I found this chiquita banana shirt – beautiful in itself – and after some tweaking and added design work, it’s now one of my favourite pieces! My collection shows that if you put your mind to it, you can transform good quality cast-offs into something that’s quite stunning.”

Sustainability driver of creativity?

Indeed, sustainability has been described as the greatest driver of innovation. But can it also drive creativity?

Tijme: “Recycling clothes for a new collection means that you have to work with what you have. That’s just different. So, it doesn’t have to stifle your creativity. Like, it may close some doors, but it opens others. It’s thanks to these discarded clothes that I could create this collection.

“The project actually inspired me”, says Sarah. “I plan to use the concept of recycling more in my future work.”

“I plan to use the concept of recycling more in my work”

– Sarah Mayer


This 3D printed mask is part of Sarah’s collection. It is made of cornflour and can be recycled. (Photo: Nanette Hogervorst)

The coaches

Known throughout the industry, Hans Ubbink, Peter Leferink (head of design at AMFI) and Niels Klavers (head of the fashion department at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy) mentored the designers during the project.

Peter Leferink

How far should we stretch recycling – all the way down to reusing zips and leftover strands of yarn? “When it comes to sustainability, fashion lags behind all other industries”, Peter says. “It’s good to see a city like Amsterdam showing how you can apply recycling and the no-waste concept to fashion. We have an energy label for household appliances. But not for fashion. People have no idea how green – or not – a jacket is when they buy it. We need politicians’ support to change that.”

Hans Ubbink

Engaged in sustainable fashion since 1992, Hans says the project shows that not everyone is equally aware of how our choices as consumers affect our planet. “So many items of clothing that we salvaged still had years of life in them – and yet they had been cast off. More fashion designers are realising this and starting to mend and tweak such items for new collections. Besides this show, the Hacked collection by Van Slobbe and Van Benthum is also based on cast-offs – transformed into garments that may even be more beautiful than before.”

“When it comes to sustainability, fashion lags behind all other industries”

– Peter Leferink

The show

Sarah’s models ready to hit the catwalk (photo: Joanne de Lijster Photography)

The three looks created by Sarah. The blue jacket is made from a sleeping bag!  (Photo: Joanne de Lijster Photography)

Tijme on stage at the end of the show. The look in the middle is made from basic, white T-shirts. (Photo: Joanne de Lijster Photography)

Leather look designed by Marije Seijn, the black dresses are designed by Ariëlle van der Vaart, and the black and white photo shows one of Sarah’s models backstage. (Photos: Joanne de Lijster)

More about

Amsterdam Makes Something Of It All designs are on show at X Bank, in ‘the vault’ on the ground floor, until 15 August.

Join Amsterdam Makes Something Of It (Only Dutch) and start recycling your plastic, textile, glass, paper and cardboard.

Watch the fashion show

Fashion show Amsterdam Makes Something Of It, Amsterdam Fashion Week 16 July (1:53)

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