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  • In with the old: 7 upcycling labels to watch

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In with the old: 7 upcycling labels to watch

Get to know Berlin's innovative fashion upcyclers breathing new life into old rags.

Josef. Photo: Jason Krüger

Every year, 7.5 tonnes of unwanted clothes hit the landfill in Europe. Berlin, meanwhile, proves a breeding ground for innovation, home to a plethora of young, forward-thinking designers that turn textile waste into unique fashion pieces fit for the runway.

Haderlump

Haderlump with their Spring/Summer 2024 collection, Opus Manuum (“handiwork”). Photo: Finnegan Koichi Godenschweger

Sustainable fashion is where Berlin truly shines. No other brand makes that clearer than overarchiever Haderlump, which uses mainly recycled materials and deadstock fabrics. Only one year after its inception, the label made its international debut at the 2022 Paris Fashion Week as one of nine German up-and-coming brands and designers presented in the Berlin Showroom.

This year, Haderlump shone at Berlin Fashion Week with two ambitious clothing lines. The Autumn/Winter 2023 collection in January featured bold, dark garments made from old leather jackets, military uniforms and parachutes, only adding to the anticipation surrounding the label’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection, Opus Manuum, presented in July.

Haderlump. Photo: Finnegan Koichi Godenschweger

With metallic elements, rough, futurist cuts and plenty of oversize, both lines capture Berlin’s style to a tee. Mastering the fine line between the stitched-together look and expert craftsmanship, Haderlump proves once and for all that upcycling belongs on the runway.

Avenir

An Avenir staple: denim was a main focus at Avenir’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection, Synthesis, at Berlin Fashion Week. Photo: Jordann Wood

While it is often surprising that Haderlump’s garments were made from scraps, fellow Berlin Fashion Week contestant Avenir, founded in 2020, bridges the wearable and the visibly upcycled with surprising ease as well as a special focus on denim.

Avenir. Photo: Jordann Wood

The pieces, produced on a small scale in Poland and Portugal from deadstock fabrics, feature clean cuts and fresh colours while retaining the typical pieced-together upcycling look. Want to go custom? All of Avenir’s denim pieces are handmade-to-order in Berlin and cater to all sizes. The label encourages customers to send in their old jeans, so you can have your undesired pieces be transformed into something you love.

ONEOFAKIND

Team work makes the dream work: white top and jacket by @softskill.atelier, corset by @lelektra.berlin and the bell-bottom jeans by @still.apparel. Photo: ONEOFAKIND

All good things come in threes as attested by ONEOFAKIND, a collaborative studio founded in 2020 by designers Softskill Atelier, Lelektra and Still Apparel. Though individual up- and recycling labels in their own right, their designers regularly join forces to co-curate outfits and source and resell vintage fashion, which are on offer among the three designers’ own staples: Lelektra’s corsets, jumpsuits and bucket hats,

Snow White would have happily eaten a poisoned apple for this look: corset by @lelektra.berlin, skirt by @softskill.atelier, blazer by @still.apparel. Photo: ONEOFAKIND

Still Apparel’s zipper pants, mesh garments and bodysuits, and Softskill Atelier’s DIY tops, bags and jackets. All are made from pre-loved clothes, deadstock fabrics and, very occasionally, new fabric sourced in Europe. With Softskill Atelier also shooting upcycling tutorials for YouTube and the studio hosting design markets with fellow upcycling designers, ONEOFAKIND is already an important stronghold of sustainable fashion practices in Berlin.

  • Schönleinstr. 26, Kreuzberg, follow them on Instagram @oneofakind.berlin, prices range from €50-250

Maldonado

Fairy tale with a touch of grunge: Maldonado. Photo: Katharina Schafbauer

Unlike many pandemic-borne projects, Maldonado came to stay. Designer Camila Maldonado creates environmentally-conscious fashion for fairy-esque romantics who take their otherwise playful outfits with a healthy side of grunge – and they hit the zeitgeist. The label’s signature pieces are the pastel corsets made from tablecloths, curtains and deadstock vintage jacquard fabric.

Corsets made from deadstock jacquard fabric are a Maldonado staple. Photo: Maldonado

Generally one-off pieces, the Victorian staple comes in all shapes, fabrics and colours and caters to those looking to make a definitive statement. Though the designer hails from Colombia, a certain ‘Berlinfluence’ is undeniable: Maldonado’s screen-printed patterns bear uncanny similarity to the Berlin-beloved neo-tribal tattoo style. Drop by the studio to try on available pieces or to choose a fabric for the custom corset of their dreams.

Josef

Dystopian, distressed, denim: Josef debuts at this year’s Neo.Fashion with a daring collection. Photo: Gerome Kochan

If you’re looking for something that has upcycling written all over it, up-and-comer Eric Friesen will tick your boxes, and tick ‘em good. With all-denim garments reminiscent in construction of this year’s Next in Fashion winner, Nigel Xavier, Friesen’s one-year-old label Josef is to be watched closely and without blinking.

Josef. Photo: Gerome Kochan

Having moved from Darmstadt to Berlin six years ago to “live the fashion dream” and study fashion design, Friesen dropped out in early 2023, taking his talent from the academic to the avant-garde. His distressed denim patchwork creations use fabrics from Berlin’s Textilhafen, imagining bold, unusual shapes. The resulting dystopian designs featured at this year’s Neo.Fashion. and are already selling in the US. Best to get your hands on these pieces before Josef rockets to unattainable heights.

Wallawalla

Wallawalla turns your old trousers and jackets into stylish triangle bags. Photo: Sebastian Markgraf

You know those faux leather trousers slowly rotting away at the back of your wardrobe, the ones you bought from H&M five years ago? Send them off to Frederike Wehpke and get a new bag in return. Born-and-bred in Berlin, the fashion design graduate founded her upcycling label, Wallawalla, just shy of a year ago, reworking discarded or unwanted clothes into two types of bags: stylish triangle shoppers or festival-ready crossbody bum bags, with the latter using clips and straps made from recycled plastic.

The ubiquitous Berlin bum bag but make it environmentally friendly. Photo: Jason Krüger

Customers can either send in the clothes they’d like to see with a new lease of life, or choose from the selection of fabrics Wehpke sources from flea markets and second-hand shops; either way, the result is a sustainably-produced accessory that is one of a kind, and, if you go with your nan’s passed-down fur coat, truly personal.

mohlagé

The white cotton blouse from mohlagé’s brand new 01/2023 collection. Photo: Marie Edith Renate

In 2019, Fashion Design graduate and creative all-rounder Marie Edith Renate sat out on her balcony with her flatmate, discussing the state of the world and brainstorming hobbies that would be both fun and good for the planet. That was the birth hour of mohlagé, an upcycling “project” – because Renate thinks that calling it a brand or label would create pressure to grow a business on top of her nine-to-five. In 2020, her friend decided to pursue other plans and Renate went solo. Since then, she’s churned out five collections, the latest one in June.

The patchwork denim skirt by mohlagé. Photo: Marie Edith Renate

Made entirely from recycled and deadstock fabrics and second-hand garments, the line features timeless and timely pieces alike. Sturdy corduroys and white cotton blouses lay the foundation, while pieces like a Balenciaga Le Cagole-inspired shoulder bag and a patchworked take on the garment of the year – the denim maxi skirt – keep a finger on the pulse of fashion. Many of mohlagé’s pieces are one-offs, with designs from previous collections still available to purchase on their website.