Main image: Mimicry by Judith Affolter
According to a UN report, the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, responsible for 8–10% of greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of industrial water pollution. With billions of kilos of clothing ending up as landfill each year, isn’t it time we start dressing more responsibly? Fortunately, Berlin is home to several companies able to help you do that.
Eugenie Schmidt and Mariko Takahashi’s concept of “contemporary upcycling and reassembly” was originally intended as a way to create fashion from people’s stories through their old clothes.
“Whenever [they] donate something, they receive a number,” Schmidt explains. “We take pictures of the clothes, wash them, and register them in a digital database.” This enables the donor to see what has become of their clothes, while the buyer can scan a QR code and see where the clothes came from.
With an archive of almost 10,000 items of donated clothing, demand has led SchmidtTakahashi to create two labels, Unikat and Duplikat. Both look to use upcycling and eco-fabrics to create new and unique pieces from donated clothes. Unikat stays true to the original concept, creating unique pieces from donated clothes, while Duplikat is more flexible, creating eco-fabrics. Of course, any items that aren’t sold are upcycled back the line!
Keeping it in the family:
Akya make unisex bomber jackets from old saree, offering a vibrant alternative to the standard jet-black Berlin club uniform (though without the matching beanie). They also make kimonos. Produced in India, each piece is made in collaboration with small family businesses, ensuring safe and fair working environments, with shipping emissions offset through programmes such as Atmosfair and Sadhana Forest.
“Working with second-hand fabrics is a lot more time-intensive,” says founder Johanna Kempter. “We have to choose every single saree and check the quality over and over again. If they have any holes, we’ve got to cut around them and find spontaneous and creative uses for the fabric.”
Is it worth it? “Well,” says Kempter, “after two-and-a-half years working with second-hand fabrics, I’ve got just two little boxes of leftovers.” These offcuts contribute towards packaging materials “instead of packing every single piece in plastic.”
Going full circle
A similar ethos is expressed in the different styles available from Silfir. Buki Akomolafe makes clothes for the modern “gentlewoman”, combining European tailoring with the techniques and patterns of West African tradition.
Silfir sells sustainable products from other brands online, but is about to launch its soft workwear uniform. The idea is to offer an everyday suit made from fully recyclable, sustainable materials with zero waste. As with all the clothes Silfir sells, the “fully circular design” comes with a two-year repair guarantee. If beyond repair, the clothes can be sent back to Silfir in exchange for a discount on your next purchase. The old clothes will then be properly recycled with help from www.circular.fashion.
Mimycri is currently producing bags from rubber dinghies that made the treacherous journey to Greece. Mimycri keeps the prices of its modern minimalist bags as low as possible by operating as a non-profit. The money they make goes back into hiring, training, and, consequently, empowering refugees.
Buying second-hand should always be the first choice, says Mimycri’s Vera Günther. Especially in Berlin. “There are wonderful second-hand stores in almost every corner of the city.” Her favourites are Soba 32, The Good Store, and Let Them Eat Cake.
“It’s a win-win,” she says. “You save money and get things with character that not everyone is wearing, preventing things going to landfills or donated to countries where they destroy the local textile economy.”
While producing in small batches creates considerably less waste than mass production, it is possible to go a step further. Made-to-order is where Berlin-based menswear brands start to pull their weight. Roughly a third of clothes produced are never sold, so the ability to sell a piece before it is made means eliminating the waste inherent with brands trying to second-guess the market.
Of course, we can’t all afford to get clothes tailored. That said, Babakoto, operating out of the Jyoti Fair Works in Neukölln, will make you a washing-machine-proof, travel-proof, activity-proof suit from sustainable materials at half the price of most tailors.
Tailored to fit:
As well as shopping responsibly, why not hassle your favourite brands to partner with fashion on-demand startup ZyseMe. This AI-powered retail system enables brands to produce customized clothing at scale, currently working on menswear projects with H&M and Hirmer.
This not only means that clothes can be sold before they’re produced, but that they can be made to the customer’s measurements at a fraction of what traditional tailoring costs. With fit being the reason for three-quarters of returns, this should drastically reduce shipping emissions as well as waste.
The customer can also input details beyond size, such as fabric choice or their preferred type of collar on a shirt. “By giving the customer what they really want, rather than a close proximity of it, we aim to increase the lifespan of each item, and consequently its value,” explains ZyseMe founder, Bobby Östberg.