Designer Cabbage: Make way for Fashion’s Luxury Philanthropists

Artwork by Linh Bui

Yes that’s right, cabbage. However we’re not talking about the leafy green, instead a chic and sustainable clothing trend disrupting luxury fashion. Cabbage - a term frequented within the fashion industry - refers to the scrap fabric awaiting landfill or incineration, and in light of the environmental crises (which has become increasingly apparent this summer) a growing number of designers are transforming these materials into something entirely unique. According to the Pulse report of 2017, over 35% of materials in the clothing supply chain end up as waste before a garment reaches the consumer, but innovation (and potential thievery) is allowing one person’s trash to become another person’s (avant-garde) treasure. Combine this ideal with limited garment releases and you have a new, exclusive response to the deteriorating climate from reformist members of one of the world's most wasteful industries.

Following a series of apocalyptic wildfires and mass flooding, change is no longer optional but vital, and it is evident the luxury landscape is changing when hand-me-downs and scraps become the new black. To reinvent deadstock or vintage fabric into something new and fresh is impressive beyond compare, and something which is certainly the case for Florence based cabbage lovers, AVAVAV Firenze. With designer Beate Karlsson at it’s creative core, the brand left Instagram agog with their innovative ‘finger feet’ shoe, a monstrous boot with finger like appendages made entirely from deadstock latex. The shoes would become a focal point of their Spring Summer 2021 collection, born straight from the wasted fabric of familiar luxury favourites including Fendi, Jacquemus, Burberry and more.

Whether you regard them as luxury pirates or environmental superheroes, AVAVAV’s manifesto is all about forcing change from top to bottom. ‘Here was this trademarked fabric from the most luxurious brands of the industry up for grabs…it raises the question of what would happen with it if we weren’t allowed to use it,’ says Karlsson. Their ethos is refreshing given the reality of garment waste. For instance, in 2018, Burberry alone burned £28.6m worth of unused and unsold fabric, clothes, accessories and cosmetics purely so the status of their brand was protected from a market of discounted items. The figure is mind blowing, and the action offers no logical justification. This is the harsh reality designers like Karlsson hope to tackle.

AVAVAV did not ask permission to use the fabrics and were very much aware of the potential consequences of their actions, however given the swift deteriorating reality of our climate (C02 levels in the atmosphere reached record highs in 2020), they simply have greater issues on their mind. ‘Sue us, but we can’t afford it,’ remarks a brand representative in response to potential legal issues. Likewise, their decision to produce limited quantities of each product opposes overproduction, while simultaneously generating an intriguing exclusivity around the brand. Their ‘huggable hoodie’ (originally priced at €200) features a graphic proclaiming ‘we only made 32 of this,’ while other products including those of the ‘finger feet’ family are virtually impossible to get a hold of.

Linh Bui inspired by the AVAVAV 'finger feet'

Although AVAVAV possess a distinctive design aesthetic, they are by no means alone in the field of luxury cabbage clothing. Take emerging designer Joy Craig, founder of the eponymous Depop store Joy Craig Studio. With a degree in fashion design and a fascination with fine tailoring, Craig turns luxury suiting on it’s head using entirely upcycled garments. If you haven’t seen her unique style over social media, you may have unknowingly admired her designs on the likes of Shaybo or Enny.

Inspired by her time at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi (a London based design house who encourage fabric recycling), Craig escaped the cyclical eat, sleep, repeat nature of the numerous UK lockdowns by starting her own brand. The Kingston School of Art alumna began by raiding her brothers closet - finding blazers and other tailoring pieces which had been pushed aside - and reworking them into figure hugging statement pieces, ‘I began posting them on social media and quickly found there was an interest, so I just started making more and more and now, it’s what I do essentially…the way it all came about was very organic.’

Although Craig only uses second-hand garments (of which she has a rigorous quality checking standard for), she creates her own form of cabbage in a zero-waste design process. A brand staple for the young creative is reworked blazers/dresses featuring strategic cutouts, the excess fabric of which is used to create separate garments or added onto the original piece for detailing. For example, the fabric removed from her cropped blazer design is tailored into a form fitting skirt, or the panels cut out to create sensual backless jackets are transformed into straps, drawstring or pockets.

‘I want people to see upcycled or repurposed fashion as an aspect that can be luxury,’ remarks Craig who continually fights the widespread perception of second-hand design. Since starting her brand, the young designer has not only launched a popular online storefront but was selected by Depop as one of their favourite sustainable designers as part of their 2021 Earth Day edit. Craig says, ‘I just love Depop as a platform…it’s underrated, but I think people are beginning to see that it’s a cool space.’

So in the wake of looming dystopia, the unlikely trend for your wardrobe is cabbage. Experimental designers such as Craig and Karlsson prove to us that there is not only a market for pre-disposed materials, but likewise a pool of fascinating designs to be explored. Although it is hard to predict if larger, more wasteful brands will be quick to adopt the same ethos of recycling and ethical clothing production, eventually it will not become a luxury of choice but a matter of survival. However above all, it is immensely refreshing to see a wave of young talent enforce real action through the medium of clothing, and pave the way for an attainable, more importantly sustainable lifestyle.

Article by Ben Sanderson