Hello friends near and far! Nina here – co-founder and CEO of RETURE. By now you can probably see we are pretty obsessed with upcycling (we not-so-secretly hope you will be soon as well). Why? Because we believe that fashion should be based upon collaboration, craft, community, creativity, and sustainable practice – all elements which thrive through the practice of upcycling.
Personally, I am someone who adores fashion. I love the meaning behind clothes. The intricate details sewn meticulously by careful hands. The reflection of culture and of our own evolving identities. I spent my teenage years manically absorbing the pages of Vogue because of the mesmerising beauty of collaboration and the vibrant colour these images brought to every-day reality. My dream job was that of becoming a fashion critic – reviewing what was on the runway, pointing out connections to the wider arts and society. Alas…
Was it death by “Like”, the relentless pace of the industry, the realisation that we collectively throw away 1 lorry-truck full of textile each second into landfills that made me realise that this shift towards endless product pushing was stifling purpose and connectivity within fashion? The industry I obsess(ed) over faltered, especially in regards to the lack of genuine sustainable practice, which led to me connecting with like minded individuals to take a stand and – excuse the cliche- create the change we wanted to see.
Having worked in the fashion industry as a commentator and academic, I was lucky to have befriended and collaborated with design talents who make up part of the industry’s celebrated new generation. I continue to be in awe of their work, but mostly of their driving values which shape everything they do. They embrace their responsibility they have when creating garments of value in a sustainable way. However, with 4,000 UK design graduates per year and only about 500 design related jobs, it is becoming more and more competitive to carve out a name for yourself or grow a brand. Combined with macro-environmental shifts – COVID-19, Brexit – young fashion talent needs more support than ever, especially after university graduation.
This is why I was desperate to start RETURE, a fashion upcycling platform, which connects these talents with clients who have too many clothes being underused and risk being ultimately disposed of. Upcycling presented a unique opportunity to solve two problems: support craft in the digital age and extend the life of our garments. For us, upcycling through co-creation is a solution in bringing back meaning in fashion: meaning in the garment itself, but also meaning in the experience of connecting with another human being, the thrill of following the work in progress, and wearing something ingrained with a story.
The more we value what we own, the more we value the memories associated with such pieces, and our own personal stories. The more we care about our garments, the less likely we will throw them away. In a world where we dispose of 92 million tonnes of textile waste per year in the UK – upcycling has tremendous effects in the wider community.
Fashion is not a force for good – the people within fashion can be the forces for good, through great design, collaborative knowledge transfer, and inspiring us all to do better.
I am so lucky to have co-founded RETURE with James and Robin Williamson who are also passionate about the societal benefits of technology, and are working tirelessly to make the upcycling process more seamless and accessible. It is an immense pleasure to be able to work with a growing purpose-driven design community and I encourage you to discover their work on RETURE Bespoke and RETURE Boutique. You may even begin your own upcycling journey – choosing to support craft, extending garment life, and receiving a one of a kind garment.