Upcycle: From Denim to Furniture 1

Thursday, April 9th, 2015
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Denim is fast becoming an up-cycled favourite for furniture and homewares.

Designers are using the woven blue fabric to create rugs and upholster furniture, and are even moulding it to homewares such as vases.

Blue was nominated as one of the year’s strongest colour trends by design futurists, with shades such as cobalt blue and classic navy recognised in the paint sector.

Both local paint supplier Haymes and the US-based Benjamin Moore have identified blue as a leading paint colour for the year.

“Blue is indeed one of the most important colours, very calming and the darker shades also are very atmospheric,” said global trend forecaster Milou Ket in touting it as a popular design choice for 2015.

Blue jeans have been around since German-American Levi Strauss devised them in 1873, and they remain a wardrobe staple around the world. However, they also require a great deal of resources to produce, with 20 to 60 litres of water needed for the finishing process for the average pair.

That, coupled with the overwhelming demand for jeans underscores the need to make the most of denim.

While up-cycled denim instantly receives environmental credit, it’s important to understand the up-cycling process, where material is sourced and just how the humble jean can make it from a wardrobe to a floor rug in a sustainable way.

Some fashion labels are beginning with the denim product itself. Stella McCartney considers the life cycle of her denim by creating a collection of biodegradable jeans.

Last year, G-Star teamed with music icon Pharell Williams to unveil RAW for the Oceans, a collaborative project which sources plastic from the ocean and transforms it into denim. Designer Adriano Goldschmied, meanwhile, incorporates recycled yarns into his jeans according to supplier David Jones.

RAW for the Oceans denim life cycleClick to enlarge

RAW for the Oceans denim life cycle
(Click to enlarge)

In 2013, Dawn Ellams, a PhD student at Heriot-Watt’s Scottish Borders Campus explored “no cotton” denim in a bid to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use associated with conventional manufacturing for denim jeans.”

In her study, the no-cotton jeans were made using Tencel, a fibre created by man-made cellulose fibre production company Lenzing AG. In using Tencel, Ellams only used one fifth of the water, energy and chemicals needed to manufacture conventional jeans.

More eco-friendly production is one thing, but what of jeans that are already in use?

Swedish denim company Nudie Jeans recently received global media coverage for its denim up-cycling initiatives whereby customers can have jeans repaired for free, or they can hand used jeans in to their local store to be transformed into furniture and rugs.

The breakdown of Nudie Jeans' up-cycled chair and rug

The breakdown of Nudie Jeans’ up-cycled chair and rug

The projects is part of Nudie Jeans’ Denim Maniacs program which seeks to up-cycle 100 per cent of worn-out jeans. They recently created a limited run of foldable camper seats and rugs.

The company up-cycled 2,700 pairs of jeans to create 250 unique camper seats and 350 rugs in two sizes.

“(The) foldable camper seat is braided by hand, using the in and out seam of nine pairs of rigid Nudie Jeans, one belt and one leather patch,” the company’s website reads.

The remaining leg fabric from the nine jeans used for each camper seat was then shredded and tightly woven to create the rugs with the company recycling 90 per cent of every pair of jeans used. Back pockets, rivets, buttons and waistband couldn’t be used in this project but have been kept for future up-cycling opportunities.

In Brisbane, Australia, KT Doyle recently launched JEANBAG from a local competition that focused on sustainability. Doyle creates beanbags in Australia made from 100 per cent cotton recycled jeans.

She sources the denim locally from charity groups like the Endeavour Foundation, which supports people with disabilities, and the RSPCA.

The JeanBag features locally sourced denim and up-cycled and made in Australia

The JEANBAG features locally sourced denim and up-cycled and made in Australia

In the US, LegendBlues creates denim furniture, pillows and accessories, some of which feature recycled jeans.

LegendBlues designer Liz Richardson encourages clients to bring their jeans to personalise their furniture. This blends with the nostalgia trend so many consumers use to personalise the furniture in their homes and living spaces.

“Each piece tells a story unique to its owner – it’s for people who cherish their jeans and the memories they rekindle,” Richardson writes on LegendBlues’ website.

Other denim sources allow for designers to collect remnants and fabric cut-offs from textile mills for their projects.

Clothing company Esprit actually uses its own manufacturing cutoffs to recycle denim into new garments.

There are also companies that do the work for designers, including US-based Iris Industries, which specialises in creating sustainable composites. One of Iris’ products, Denimite, is made from recycled denim fibre.

Iris has various sources across the US for its post-industrial and post-consumer denim textile scrap. The company also produces the product in-house.

The company describes Denimite as “highly mouldable, lightweight and touch, with no offgassing of toxic chemicals,” offering flexibility for furniture and shapely homewares.

Denimite Tray by Matteo Fogale and Laetitia de Allegri

Denimite tray by Matteo Fogale and Laetitia de Allegri

So long as denim remains a fixture on the runway, the up-cycling opportunities appearing endless.

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  1. Erin Dowell

    First insulation and now furniture. Classic, durable, and Eco-friendly.