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Upcycling is not a new concept. Upcycling fabric and clothing, however, remains a challenge that many fashion designers face. The multi-faceted nature of fabric and the requirements of a "good" design make upcycling a complex process. To better understand this, I've outlined the fabric cutting procedure below.

Firstly, fabrics are produced in rolls of fixed width. Since a garment involves various curved shapes, cutting fabric for a garment will inevitably result in remnants (small, odd-sized pieces of fabric that are usually discarded). Secondly, most fabrics today are a blend of different fibers. Even if they consist of a single fiber (for example, 100% cotton), they may vary in weight and weaving type. When it comes to clothing design, the fit of the garment is heavily dependent on the weave, the warp, and the drape of the fabric. In particular, the more form-fitting a design, the more crucial the fabric structure. For these reasons, manufacturers prefer to cut from a roll of new fabric rather than remnant fabrics. Ironically, it is also simpler, faster and cheaper to work with new fabric than it is to upcycle. 

As designers and producers, our role includes finding solutions to minimizing fabric waste. At A.Oei Studio, I've developed two upcycling methods. The first is a patch-working process where I recreate a new textile panel using fabric remnants. The second is a re-design of an existing garment. 

1. Artisanal Fragments

I call these designs "Artisanal Fragments" in reference to the manner in which the garment is constructed. Instead of starting from a pre-conceived idea, "Artisanal Fragments" come to form through the process. It is a fluid and spontaneous method that relies on the uniqueness of remnant fabrics. 

For every 40m of fabric cut (~25 dresses), I generate 1% of usable remnants, an amount sufficient for one jacket. In this method, I first trim the remnants into squares or rectangles. Next, I sort the pieces into groups based on a color and texture scheme. Typically, I use a stand-out color or pattern as a design guide, followed by one to two neutral colors. Then I start sewing the various pieces until they form a panel large enough for a garment. In order to ensure a consistent drape, I match the grain line (the lengthwise direction of the fabric) of the individual remnants. Each time I stitch two remnant fabrics together, I immediately press the seam to prevent distortion (which tends to happen when you work with multiple pieces). A one-of-a-kind garment can now be made from this panel. 


2. Regenerate

"Regenerate" refers to the re-design of an existing garment. Many of us have unworn clothing sitting in the dusty corner of our wardrobe. We may keep them for sentimental purposes, artistic references, or we may simply have forgotten about them. Upcycling enables us to bring new life to the garment.

Project 1: 

Original wedding gown


For this project, my client wanted to transform her wedding gown into versatile daywear that retained some of the original gown details. The complexity of this project stemmed from the mermaid cut of the gown -- a silhouette that involved multiple seaming details. To maximize the gown's fabric, we decided on an asymmetrical top that kept the shape of the bodice, and a skirt that utilized the gown's flared train.


To increase the functionality of the top, I added sleeves cut out of the Corals Print and replaced the open lace back with the gown fabric. The collar and its jade buttons were then re-incorporated into the top. The skirt was cut from the train of the gown -- side panels and waistband cut from the Corals Print added to complete the look. Both top and skirt included the gown's lining. At the end of the project, we had re-purposed 90% of the existing material, leaving behind a small portion of gown materials such as the lace panels that can be further re-purposed.

Repurposed cheongsam top and flared skirt set

Project 2:

The second project involved a re-design of a kaftan top and skirt from the 80s. This outfit belonged to my client's mother. The style might have been outdated but the cotton tartan plaid fabric was in perfect condition. Out of this fabric, I created 3 new pieces that could be worn interchangeably. A bias cut top and ruched skirt based on the Contour Dress, and a Bell Cheongsam Top. 


Original outfit

Repurposed designs: Bell Cheongsam Top, Draped Neck Top, Ruched Skirt

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