Sustainability is an overused word. Being a member of the global community with an awareness that the world’s resources are dwindling, I strongly believe in it. Sometimes, though, I think the term is just used for marketing purposes and loses its true value.
Yes, this is a cynical person here. Then this view changed when I was introduced to Ucycle. I really like what the company stands for, its ingenious process, the creativity of the creators, and, of course, their products.
They say that the fast-fashion industry depletes the earth’s resources, and textiles are one of the biggest polluters in the world. However, there is an answer to this dilemma. Recycling is a form of sustainability, giving clothing a second life, a resurrection of sorts.
Fashion isn’t just about looking good anymore. It’s about looking good while being mindful, caring, kind to the planet and people.
Recycling fashion is not new. There are vintage and thrift-store buyers who encourage others not to buy new clothes. They have been doing this for years. Fashion brands on the high street, sportswear, and the luxury market have adapted to this movement as well.
Patagonia was promoting clothing environmental ethics early on. It was also one of the first to use recycled materials and switch to organic cotton. Gap’s Generation Good collection uses less water, lower emissions and responsibly sourced textiles. Even Zara has been labeling their garments as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)-certified. Adidas and Nike have highly marketed their recycled polyester lines, too.
There are more companies joining the sustainability bandwagon, which appeals to consumers who demand accountability from brands.
Seven years ago Tati Miranda Fortuna set up a company that supplied custom-made uniforms for airlines, integrated resorts, hotels and restaurants.
Later on, she realized that it was her responsibility to provide her clients with a more ethical and sustainable solution for the thousands of uniforms that she provided. She set up a take-back program called RT3, where her clients returned their old uniforms. These items were recycled and repurposed. This was the beginning of Ucycle.
In comes daughter Carmela Fortuna, who has loved fashion ever since she can remember. Carmela has worked in and trained in Uniqlo, both in Tokyo and the Philippines, for almost four years. She says, “I also thought about what I could do differently in fashion, and how I could have a more lasting and significant impact beyond just aesthetics.”
With Carmela’s strong operations background, love for fashion, and desire to make a difference, Tati decided that she was the best partner to have in her new venture.
Ucycle is authentically sustainable because in its essence, the items they create are utilitarian, specifically workwear. Carmela adds, “Everything we make is born out of a certain necessity, will always be practical and functional, and made to last. It’s still fashion but it’s more than that.”
Tati follows up by saying that “fashion isn’t just about looking good anymore. It’s about looking good while being mindful, caring, kind to the planet and people.”
There is nothing frivolous in what they do. I think this movement is appropriate to these pandemic times where excess just seems so insensitive and spells out a lack of awareness.
Recycling, reworking, repurposing, upcycling
More than recycling, there is a bigger global movement with regard to sustainability, which includes recycling, upcycling, reworking, and repurposing. It is called “circular fashion.”
On Ucycle’s pursuit of circular fashion, Carmela states, “Basically our mission is to keep any item of clothing in use for as long as possible, to extend the life of products and materials. We are circular fashion advocates and would like to support and make possible circularity in fashion in the Philippines.
“Therefore recycling falls under a way in which to extend the life of products and materials. However, there are also the options of reworking (making changes to the original version of something), repurposing (adapting an item’s use for a different purpose), and upcycling (reusing old items in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original).”
According to Tati, the process of reworking, repurposing, upcycling and even reusing is what fires her up. “All of it promotes our mission of prolonging the use of any item for the longest possible time. This is the real essence of circularity. It stimulates my creativity, plus I know it is doing good in every way.”
The benefits of intentional design
I learned from my chat with the two ladies that eight billion pieces of garments using virgin materials are created annually, and every second, a garbage truck of clothing is burned or sent to a landfill. It takes 200 years —yes, 200! — or more for all this clothing, depending on the fabric, to decompose.
The linear model of “take, make, and waste” has created irreversible damage to the planet. Ucycle does its part in conservation by extending the life of clothing items, and reduce their environmental impact by 20% to 30% at least.
I was enlightened by Tati and Carmela about a concept probably more important than recycling, which is the principle of intentional design.
“The design process is often the best stage to influence the sustainability of an item. So we design with this particular intentionality from the outset. This means designing for longevity by making sure the products are of high quality, built to last, functional, practical, and born out of a certain necessity. In doing so, we attempt to transform the meaning of design and its deeper significance, taking responsibility from the beginning of a product, and allowing also for a more lasting solution.”
Ucycle is launching three items on 11.11 ( Nov. 11) under the R3NU brand. The first capsule collection is called R3denim using repurposed deadstock denim. This includes The 3-Pocket Work Jacket, The Ultimate Utility Carry, and The Full Body Apron. These limited pieces can be purchased as ready-to-wear or can be customized by adding your personal garment, textile, or fabric.
Among the three, Tati prefers the apron for her clients in the hospitality industry because of its versatility. Personally, she likes the denim jacket because a piece of one’s favorite clothing or one that has sentimental value can be added to it.
Tati, an image professional, has the ability to influence her clients to embrace ethical and sustainable fashion choices.
Currently, she is a member of the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) global sustainability committee, and the president-elect of the Philippine chapter. This is an example of an inspired global movement where image professionals are encouraging, influencing, guiding, and leading their clients towards more conscious choices.
“My first advice to an individual client is to shop in your closet first. I select clothes that are well-made and will last a long time. That way you already help the circular fashion movement by buying less and buying better.”
Coming from the younger set, Carmela contributes, “I feel, and studies have also shown, that Millennials/ Gen Z are more conscious and aware, take responsibility through showing support for brands that have a better impact on people and the planet. Younger people especially demonstrate their values through their consumption habits, like what they choose to purchase, what brands they choose to use. It usually demonstrates their ‘whys’ in life.”
These are some of the products that Ucycle created which I think are brilliant.
Uniforms/corporate wear made from lower impact materials. They have created versions and new designs of corporate wear/ uniforms utilizing lower impact materials such as recycled polyester (recycled PET bottles) and 100% organic cotton. These items include jackets, T-shirts, bags, and even tailor-made pieces like blazers, skirts, dress suits, etc.
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Upcycled pajamas using the old bed linens and pillowcases of hotels. Ucycle created pajamas and pouches for a hotel to gift to their guests through their suite packages.
Repurposed items using old and offcut fabric from Tesoro’s. They created coasters, placements, and uniforms as part of an overall tablescape design.
Upcycled hotel room slippers using old hotel uniforms. Ucycle worked with a community in Kalinga in order to strip and reweave the fabric into room slippers for the hotel to place in their rooms for guests to use instead of the usual single-use slippers.
Upcycled rope bag using the old rope of a climbing gym, which is not suitable to be used for climbing anymore due to wear and tear. Ucycle turned these into chalk bags/pouches needed by climbers to hold chalk for climbing.
This is all so fascinating to me. It reminds me that the world really does have enough resources but we have just become so wasteful. I wish circular fashion would become second nature for fashion consumers and is here to stay.
To quote President Barack Obama, "We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it."