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Looking at the past to redesign the future: upcycling chat with Andrea Garcia, Asata Maisé and Bibi-Jane

Looking at the past to redesign the future: upcycling chat with Andrea Garcia, Asata Maisé and Bibi-Jane
By Renoon

“What does it even mean that a piece is upcycled?”…knock knock. Who is that? We’re letting you inside a Google Hangout call with Andrea Garcia from Ensō, Asata Maisé from the eponymous brand, and Bibi-Jane from Bibi-Jean to discuss upcycling everything

Wednesday,  June 22nd, 18.00 sharp: our second edition of Circle Chat starts – an interactive call where insightful minds picked by the Renoon team explore the different and responsible sides of fashion and the industry behind it.

For the occasion, we asked three designers from the Renoon community to join us to talk about upcycling: Andrea Garcia, co-founder of Ensō – the beloved upcycled and curated vintage store based in Amsterdam; Asata Maisé – the self-taught designer, founder of the eponymous brand from Wilmington , Delaware (just outside of Philadelphia); and Bibi-Jane – the upcycler behind BibiandJean, the upcycled denim brand, with an important following on TikTok.

They all accept with joy, Andrea logs in from “the middle of nowhere” in Spain, where she is vacationing, while Bibi-Jane and Asata join us from their studios; being surrounded the first by nature, and the others by their space of continuous inspiration…

Asata Maise Andrea Garcia Bibi-Jane Upcycling Enso Recycling
Bibi-Jane (left), Asata Maisé (center) and Andrea Garcia (right)

Iris (co-founder of Renoon), rushes into the meeting as well. We are all dead from the day, and happy we can share some moments with others exploring different ways of doing fashion (we are around 25 people). After the introductions of the case, we jump in…

What does upcycling even mean?

As it comes out, it’s very subjective. Indeed, as Andrea explains, it is a huge world that needs to be discovered and the best part is that it means something different for everyone! For her, it means freedom! Clearly, for each of the participants there are benefits in doing this… So then, why should you upcycle?

Asata explained how upcycling for her is a lifestyle choice: “After a few years of learning how to create garments, I started to think how I could make this practice more sustainable, and for me it was also an aesthetic choice, as I’ve always been attracted to vintage… So I started going to thrift stores not just for clothing but also to find garments I could use to upcycle!”

Should you not know the difference between upcycling & recycling, Asata’s got you! “Recycling is when you take a material and break it down to create something else out of it, as with recycled bottles. Upcycling is when you take a material and, keeping it in the same state, and you do something with it!”

For Bibi-Jane it was a natural process in her creation “When I started, I only used materials I got from thrift stores or that my friends donated to me… and that’s something about it that had a story, especially when it comes to denim, and this makes it all more special to me!”

That’s it. At this point, the audience starts being very involved in a free and open discussion. Here I am scrubbing notes – trying to get as much as I can out of the experiences that are being shared…

Asata Maise Andrea Garcia Bibi-Jane Upcycling Enso Recycling
Upcycled denim cushions by Bibi and Jean

The first issue tackled is that of sourcing… Where do upcyclers get their materials? Is it hard to upcycle?

A good place to start sourcing is thrift stores, but as you get in deeper it gets more complicated

As you might expect, it’s not as easy as getting new fabrics… For everyone the experience is different, there’s who loves going on the Internet, Asata shares how Etsy & Ebay are really good, as you can find specifically what your are looking for!

Andrea, on the other hand, shares how they are in contact with big factories! “We’ve been really lucky, and Covid really helped because now big factories give you deadstock materials in an easier way, sometimes also telling you where the fabrics come from (for instance, you may get to know that the fabric is from Jil Sander or Chanel!). This is also a huge step for sustainability, because its like big brands admitting that deadstock is not waste, but is to be reused!”. Clearly, this makes sense if you have an upcycling business, while if upcycling is your hobby you may wanna follow Asata’s advice, or Bibi-Janes…

Bibi-Jane has a different experience, as strangers and friends reach out to her to donate stuff! However, she notes how it is important to set boundaries because some people donate low-quality garments and not much can be done with it! 

At this point, Shannon O’Hara from AgentReclaim share how it is important to have relationships with charity shops to get what cannot be sold, because most times those goods get destroyed!

Asata Maise Andrea Garcia Bibi-Jane Upcycling Enso Recycling
Upcycled works from Bibi and Jean (left) and Asata Maisé (right)

The point of upcycling is really that of using something that would end up destroyed otherwise! 

Now you might wonder, how can you know that what these designers are telling me is true? How do you know that they really use deadstock materials to create their pieces?

All the designers agree that the key is storytelling, on different channels and ways, but it’s essential for them to let the consumer know the journey of that garment to be fully transparent!

Bibi-Jane does it via TikTok, educating people on what she’s actually doing, because a lot of people do not know what upcycling is! Asata plays with the customer experience, adding explanatory cards narrating the customer the story of the garment and letting them know how that piece is unique! Lastly, Andrea insists on how it is essential to make people understand what they are looking at.

Asata Maise Andrea Garcia Bibi-Jane Upcycling Enso Recycling
Upcycled looks by Asata Maisé (left) and Ensō (right)

It is important to have a tone of voice also so that everything makes sense together!

A big issue this could tackle is that of transparency in the materials, as raised by Eugenio Riganti from MustHad – the marketplace for upcycling fashion. The big challenge for upcyclers is the difficulty of guaranteeing that the products sold are effectively made from deadstock or pre-owned clothing… Is the strong connection with the audience enough? Or will certifications be the future for upcyclers?

Asata Maise Andrea Garcia Bibi-Jane Upcycling Enso Recycling
Upcycled pieces by Ensō (left) and Asata Maisé (right)

The key is educating the audience, and being really transparent in everything that you do! 

19.15: our chat comes to an end, it lasted more than we planned it to, and it left us full of new inputs and ideas for the future…

Will upcycling be the future of fashion? One thing is certain, I will start collecting these unique pieces with more understanding of what’s behind them!

Asata Maise Andrea Garcia Bibi-Jane Upcycling Enso Recycling
Find Upcycled pieces on Renoon!

P.S.: Wondering where to buy upcycled pieces? Check our upcycling partners on Renoon!

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