Last spring, during the first days of sheltering at home, Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez realised that they were in a bind. The world’s premium fabric mills, many based in the areas of northern Italy hardest hit by the pandemic, were all closed until further notice. How could a luxury fashion label design a new collection without any new fabric? After innumerable Zoom sessions with suppliers, they decided to use bolts of deadstock fabric leftover from past seasons. “We had this vast archive of fabrics from the past decade and we really tapped into that—and in a strange way, it forced us to be more creative,” recalls Hernandez. “Ninety percent of the spring 2021 collection is made from archival fabrics that have been reworked in different ways.” Meeting the challenge with an optimistic throw-on-and-go collection of rib-knit separates and oversize tailoring in earthy tones, the duo also achieved their long-held goal of reducing waste. “This process has taught us a lot that we plan to take forward into future seasons,” McCollough explains. “We keep saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be sad if we got out of this and went back to life as it was?’ It has made us think outside the box.”
That ability to pivot was required of nearly every design studio across the world this season, as brands grappled with unprecedented supply chain interruptions caused by Covid-19. It meant that they had to reconsider conventional beliefs about what constitutes high fashion. Upcycling, the process of reusing existing materials, used to conjure up crafty, scavenged visions of Mad Max —the opposite of luxury. Until recently, less than 1 percent of the fabric produced by the fashion industry was recycled into new garments, according to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy think tank, contributing to an estimated loss of US$500 billion worth of materials each year. This is an industry defined by its relentless quest for the new and the next, with labels churning out four or more collections per year, each made from new and different fabrics, the leftovers of which almost immediately become, you guessed it, deadstock.
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