Upcycling was trending before the pandemic, but the concept took on a different meaning during the early days of COVID lockdowns last spring. With factories empty, stores closed, and orders canceled, designers found themselves with mountains of inventory and declining sales, an unthinkable combination pre-2020. In many cases, the only feasible way to create a new collection was to use what they already had, whether it was leftover fabrics or overstock; that such practices are inherently sustainable was simply a bonus.
For Tim Kaeding and Lela Becker, the duo behind the Los Angeles denim label Mother, the predicament sped up an idea they’d already been mulling over: a 100% upcycled collection using old or damaged Mother garments. “At first, we were just thinking it would be a great project,” Tim says. “But once COVID happened, it became a necessity. Every store was shut down for months, and suddenly we were stuck with all of this product.” In addition to finished Mother garments, they found rolls of fabric and blankets they’d tested for color or shrinkage, which would typically get thrown away. The designers challenged their production team to cut it all up and re-engineer the garments they had on hand—jeans, denim jackets, cargo pants, T-shirts, sweatshirts, and bandanas. To fill in the blanks, they visited L.A. rag houses, where they were shocked to find “mountains and mountains of extra clothing, some of which has never even been worn,” Tim says. “It really shows you how much excess there is in the industry.”
The result of their experiments is a new capsule launching today, 60% Mother. As the name suggests, Mother garments and textiles account for 60% of the collection, while the remaining 40% come from the rag houses, and each item is 100% one-of-a-kind. There’s a patchwork jumpsuit made of several different pairs of jeans; a cropped sweatshirt Frankenstein’d from two split down the middle; a multi-panel denim midi skirt; a tank dress pieced with scraps of deconstructed cargos; bubble jeans with a drawstring waist from a vintage army sack; and a patchworked tote that smartly reads “save your mother, save yourself.”
“They truly are individual pieces, because everything has to be cut separately and be individually thought through,” Tim explains. “It was a really hands-on process, with a very small group of people working on each piece.”
With prices starting at $125 and topping out at $520, it’s also a rare example of upcycled fashion that is actually affordable, accessible, and wearable, at least compared to the four-figure items we see on the runways. Tim said they’re hoping to eventually use upcycled materials and garments in every Mother collection going forward. “It’s not only inspiring to work this way, but there’s such a ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “As a consumer, you can address the problem of waste and buy something that is completely unique—how much more fashionable can that be?”