Being born into the plan market economy of the GDR meant being born into a family who ‘had nothing’. To be honest, that’s not completely true in my case, as my grandparents worked in highly valued jobs. There were families who had less but regarding fashion, your income didn’t make any difference because highly craved items like denim pants only rarely even found their way to the tiny shops in the smaller cities. You had to have family in the western part of the country to send over packages from time to time, or you had to simply do it yourself. Crafting was not a trend but a necessity. When the great wall came down, I was in my second school year but the sentiment in the heads of the citizens of the former GDR didn’t change over night. Sadly, I didn’t learn how to sew, crochet, or knit in school like my mum did but I learned a few basics when I stayed at my grandparent’s over the weekends from time to time. Not knowing the techniques properly though made me become even more creative when it comes to upcycling. This is why I’m good at it. I always have to find my own way with the few I do know.
Additionally to [part 1] let me share some bits of wisdom I’ve learned over the years!
1.) Unlearn and overcome
The idea of brand new fast fashion clothing being more hygienically clean than second hand clothes is just absolutely absurd. To overcome this is relatively easy – just watch any documentary about clothing factories. Also, take in every fact about the immorality of ethically cruel production to get to the point where you can really overcome and those type of clothes will magically look absolutely ugly in your eyes. This will help you with the next step.
2.) See your limitless resources
I admit that it’s not always easy to step out of your comfort zone and it takes practice to pick up trash from the street, but once you did it a few times you start to form new paths of thinking in your brain and suddenly you will realize the amount of working materials all across your city laying in the dirt for free! Get rid of the thought of looking like a homeless person when you pick up stuff that’s laying in front of the overfilled clothing containers, or sitting in your neighbor’s ‘for free’ box they put outside. If something catches your attention pick it up with a smile and carry it home like a treasure grateful for the fact that you are not actually homeless. Then ask yourself why the thought you might be considered homeless by people who could watch you picking up trash put so much shame inside your body in the first place because it’s wrong on so many levels! You have learned that waste is a sign of wealth. Let that sink in for a moment. Feeling bad by picking up waste to make something out of it feels awkward because you grew up in a privileged society. It’s not your fault but your responsibility to be better and change.
3.) Deconstruct to reconstruct
Upcycling really is nothing like watching a YouTube tutorial of some kid shopping crafting materials on Amazon to try to transform some piece of clothing they probably will never really wear after the video was uploaded to buy the same materials on Amazon to step by step do the same thing to one of your pieces of clothing that you will rarely wear as well. The idea is to reuse every bit of your outworn clothes that you might have just put in the trash. Collect every button, zipper, pocket, string, cut out prints, … Completely take it into pieces because that stuff is ridiculously expensive! Even if you don’t necessarily feel like upcycling is your thing deconstructing is always a good idea, and if you’re clever you can make good money even with only this step! You will be surprised by how easily those things sell in bundles on Ebay.
4.) Twist and turn
Sometimes, you just have to think outside of the box, to give your old pieces a whole new style or purpose. Try to look at your stuff with the perspective of an alien who has no idea what the stuff is supposed to be. Wear that skirt like a dress, turn the jacket inside out, cut out the crotch and wear those yoga pants as crop top, activate your creativity, because this is supposed to be fun! Upcycling is a serious topic but also it’s about being an inspiration to others.
5.) Get inspired
Creativity on demand is likely to get exhausted after a while, even if you stay curious about what others do. Whenever I feel tired of alternating other people’s ideas, it helps me to do things for people I adore. At least in my mind. “What would XY like? What would they look dope in? What would make them laugh?” are questions that always bring new thoughts and ideas in my mind.
6.) Outsource what you can’t do
As I mentioned before, I don’t have all the expertise real designers, tailors, or professional crafters have but especially during the pandemic, I discovered Ebay/Etsy as platforms to kind of outsource different steps to people across the country. I’m the person who buys those bundles of pre cut fabrics, buttons, pockets, zippers, broken jewelry, and other materials from private sellers to give my money to real people rather than companies. Also, by searching for terms like ‘selfmade’ or ‘handcrafted’ you come across the most awesome stuff that you can reuse. One thing I just recently discovered are stitched gobelin wall art pictures. I could imagine those to actually look really cool as back pieces on denim jackets.
7.) Be silly and bold
Use all the freedom that comes with the creative process of upcycling! Think of the stuffed animal clothing designs of Jean Charles de Castelbajac or Virgil Abloh… Those are totally silly and that’s what makes them so awesome. Be different!
8.) Find your thing
I don’t know how to use a sewing machine and my hand stitching is not perfectly even. So, I decided to own my imperfections and make it my thing to use the biggest needle I could find, sew with wool, and let strings hang loose. It actually looks like a children’s crafting and I absolutely love it that way. Wool became my thing and I kind of created a very personal, visual language along the way after trying out this and that. Your thing might be distressing denim, or patching clothes, or putting lace trim on shirts, or… I really encourage you to try stuff out until you find your very own thing and become an expert in whatever that is! Not everybody has to do everything.
9.) Let it breathe
Sometimes I get discouraged by my own ideas and standards, because doing it my way takes patience and time and it sometimes feels like I will never come to an end and finish the stuff I started working on. Whenever those contra productive thinking patterns creep in it is the best idea to remember that upcycled fashion is slow fashion and only you set the time frame. Put the project to the side and do something else! I never only work on one thing at a time, but probably on ten different ones. This gives me the opportunity to let things breathe and that’s how I always finish stuff off completely satisfied and happy. Because I let fresh ideas develop, add a little more here, fix this there, and never push or force things through. Be patient!
10.) Build a community
By learning and sharing the process you’ll get people interested, and if you’re driven by passion you’ll see how the passion will come back to you, that’s a promise! The most beautiful thing about upcycling is how it will get people excited who might not quite be crafters themselves, but who will offer their support by sharing pictures of the stuff you did, giving you their old clothes or link you to stuff that could give you more input and inspiration because they ‘had to think of you’. Those friends are part of your very own community. Make sure to thank them and give back to them whenever you can. Only together real change can happen!