Good-bye fashion, hello ‘trashion’

A growing trend of ‘eco-chic’ – environmentally conscious design that creates new from old – has started to blossom in Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods.

Brightly colored Godspeed chairs 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Brightly colored Godspeed chairs 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
South Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood may be best known for its nightlife, but during the day it remains what it always has been: an artisan and garment district.
Every weekday morning, after the tiny synagogues in the north of the neighborhood empty, Florentin’s narrow streets fill with the buzz of saws from carpentry workshops and the clack of sewing machines.
It is here, amid Florentin’s wholesale garment sellers, furniture workshops and dusty Judaica stores, that fashion designers Shai Wallach and Andrea Hughes chose to establish Poplove, a fashion label combining urban street wear with more than a dash of ecological awareness.
Part of a growing trend of “ecochic” – environmentally conscious fashion and design – that has started to blossom in Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods, Wallach and Hughes deconstruct secondhand clothes to refashion them, literally, into brandnew pieces.
“To source our fabrics, we buy secondhand clothes that were donated to WIZO [the Women’s International Zionist Organization],” explains Hughes. “We look for mostly natural fabrics, like 100% cotton T-shirts, but also for interesting colors and textures.”
All Poplove’s T-shirts, skirts and dresses incorporate material from more than one original garment.
Sometimes the material is dyed, but usually Wallach and Hughes carefully fit together colors and textures to create a certain style or effect.
Like Florentin itself, the result is a patchwork of apparently contradictory elements: a distinctly urban aesthetic that is environmentally friendly; new clothes that are also old; street styles that are delicate, even almost fragile.
Among the recently completed garments on display in Poplove’s studio is a gorgeous green cocktail dress with a bustier of soft white denim, with a matching green jacket adorned with tiny clusters of creamy-pearl beads.
It’s hard to imagine, but these items began life as a prim, full-skirted evening dress and a pair of faded old jeans.
Other recent creations include summer dresses and T-shirts made from fabrics carefully sourced from different shirts.
It is the old, secondhand fabrics that give the clothes their distinctive, distressed look, an aesthetic Hughes says many mainstream fashion designers also aim for.
“Designers like Diesel achieve something similar, but they need to use a lot of energy to make their new fabrics appear old,” Hughes adds. “Whereas our fabrics are already old.”
Wallach and Hughes, whose eclectic influences include British fashion designer Alexander McQueen and Tel Aviv street art, say eco-chic is driven by a strong sense of innovation as much as a desire to be green.
AT THE heart of eco-chic’s ethos is the idea that designers should direct their creativity and artistic vision to produce beauty from what consumer society dismisses as “garbage.” One expression of this is “trashion,” formed from the words “trash” and “fashion” and meaning new clothes created from discarded ones.
In this, local eco-chic brands like Poplove are a world apart from the large, mostly international, “fastfashion” chains that dominate Israel’s malls.
Global brands like Zara, Mango and H&M constantly drive new trends by designing, producing and delivering low-priced new clothing to their worldwide stores, sometimes within days.
“The big [fashion] chains constantly pump out new designs into the market,” says Wallach. “But we don’t want to follow those trends, we want to stick to our own aesthetic. We don’t want to encourage the mind-set of the chain stores.”
According to Hughes, being fashionable does not have to mean a constant cycle of buying and discarding.
“We want to encourage the idea that people can develop their own sense of style, that they don’t need to keep replacing items in their wardrobe,” she explains. “It can be tough, because everyone here wants to be a fashionista and have the latest trends; but our idea is that if you cultivate your own sense of style, it’s possible to wear the same piece over and over again.”
Another way eco-chic differs from big brands is its emphasis on the local.
As well as purchasing recycled fabrics from the Tel Aviv branch of WIZO, Poplove sells its clothes in small local boutiques like the Plasma boutique on Tel Aviv’s King George Street.
However, Hughes admits that it is tough for small, local designers to compete with the big brands in Tel Aviv’s malls.
“It is sometimes hard [for small independent fashion designers] to find a voice,” she notes.
Hughes and Wallach believe that it is not enough to just focus on being green. Designers should create beautiful, stylish clothes that people will want to wear.
The good news is that if, in the past, the concept of ecologically friendly clothing conjured up images of uncomfortable, untrendy, sack-like garments woven from hemp, eco-chic has changed all that.
“Poplove’s message is that style shouldn’t be sacrificed to sustainability,” Hughes adds. “Eco designers should never forget that they are producing fashion, and so their clothes need to look flattering and stylish.”
Joy van Erven, co-owner of the Florentin-based eco-furniture company Godspeed, also says it is aesthetic appeal and not ecological friendliness that drives his designs.
Established by van Erven, a Dutch artist, and Swedish designer Finn Ahlgren, Godspeed recycles discarded, decayed wood salvaged from neighborhood dumpsters to create original items of furniture.
“We’re not trying to save the world.That’s not our main goal, but it’s a really nice side effect,” van Erven says.
Like Poplove’s Wallach and Hughes, for whom discarded fabrics are a way to explore a creative vision, van Erven says he and Ahlgren use old, scrap wood because of its unique properties and not because it is “green.”
“Finn [Ahlgren] and I were really just struck by the different ways the natural materials that we use decay,” he adds. “The decay itself is beautiful.”
Van Erven has furnished his family’s home in Jaffa with Godspeed designs, which combine practical functionality, a curious beauty and a distinct sense of fun. Above a dining table made from a patchwork of different bits of wood, variously varnished, hangs a giant sculpture in the shape of a moose’s head – a “hunting trophy” made of parts tracked down in various Florentin dumpsters.
The moose is also functional. “It’s not just decorative. It’s also a coathanger,” notes van Erven.
The strong local element characteristic of eco-chic also runs through Godspeed’s designs. Not only does van Erven source wood from Florentin dumpsters (“Friday afternoons are a good time to go hunting for wood,” he advises), he cites the south Tel Aviv neighborhood, with its narrow streets packed with artisans and carpentry workshops, as a major source of inspiration.
“Florentin is where we discovered the beauty of decay,” he remembers. “It’s so totally different from what you’d find in Amsterdam or Stockholm.
There’s so much junk on the streets. It really made an impression on us, and that’s the reason we started to go dumpster diving. We’ve found lots of amazing materials left over by the artisans who work in the area.”
Van Erven also notes how specific local conditions – like the extreme heat of the summer – play a role in shaping how the scrap wood decays, and hence in how a piece of furniture looks.
One unusual element of Godspeed’s furniture is that each piece is constructed in just one hour.
“We wanted to free ourselves from the stereotypes we were taught in art school, and the traditional ways of making furniture, where design processes can be endless,” says van Erven. “In our studio we only need a screwdriver and a hammer, and it’s very liberating.”
Ironically, the idea of assembling furniture in one hour calls to mind the “build-ityourself” philosophy of Swedish home furnishings giant IKEA.
Immensely popular in Israel, IKEA is in many ways the home-furnishing equivalent of fast fashion. Global logistics and distribution systems allow the company to ship its designs all over the planet and sell them cheaply in identikit stores.
Yet while IKEA’s low-cost, flat-packed furniture is designed to be discarded when it gets old or damaged, van Erven says Godspeed’s designs encourage the opposite behavior.
Just as Poplove’s Wallach and Hughes say they encourage people to think outside the “throwaway” culture of fast fashion by cultivating an individual sense of style, Godspeed’s designs deliberately embrace decay and damage, so people do not have to discard a product if it gets stained or chipped.
“We want to create furniture where the decay process is actually part of the life story of each item,” says van Erven. “If someone spills red wine on her new IKEA sofa, it’s ruined. But if that spill happens on one of our pieces, it becomes part of it.”
And like Poplove’s clothes, Godspeed’s furniture is also created on a very small, individual scale.
“Godspeed is very personal,” says van Erven. “We don’t have a showroom, but that means we are not tied to anything. It gives a certain freedom.”
“PERSONAL” IS exactly how Elanit Neutra, another local designer, describes her work creating purses, bags and home accessories from discarded car tires.
Like Poplove and Godspeed, Neutra is moved by the potential for beauty in what others have already discarded as garbage.
In her tiny studio just off Rehov Sheinkin, old tires in various stages of decay are piled high. In the room next door are racks and racks of hand-made bags, baskets, purses, plant-holders and coasters.
Each piece is marked with the scars of its former existence: mended punctures, scuffed rubber, road marks, imprinted serial numbers.
It’s hard to imagine the process by which Neutra transforms these ugly, rather smelly tires into stylish fashion items.
“Using recycled items in design encourages you to be very creative, because it forces you to think about exactly what you can make,” she says.
Similar to the way Godspeed’s van Erven was suddenly struck by the beauty of decaying wood in a Florentin dumpster, Neutra says the inspiration to create fashion from tires began as a chance encounter on the street.
“One day I stumbled across an old tire that had been thrown away, so I took it and made a rather dressy bag out of it,” she remembers.
“My friends really liked the results, so it turned into a sort of hobby.”
Today, that hobby has grown into a fulltime job, with a design studio in Tel Aviv and an Internet store catering to customers in countries including Japan and Spain, where eco-chic and “trashion” have a big following.
“The idea is that what I create is functional as well as beautiful,” she adds. “It’s not just decorative.”
Neutra emphasizes that though recycling the tires is a long, physically demanding process, the limitations of the material are actually a source of inspiration.
“Recycled tire rubber is limited in terms of what you can do with it, and because of that it’s actually much more interesting,” says Neutra.
The final results, Neutra stresses, are more than worthwhile: not least because of the satisfaction of doing something to help the environment.
While Godspeed’s van Erven describes the use of recycled materials as a “good sideeffect” of his work, and Poplove’s Hughes and Wallach insist that style and beauty need not be sacrificed for the sake of environmental friendliness, for Neutra it is the green aspect of her work that is paramount.
“Recycling is a way of life for me, it’s not just a trend or a fashion,” she says. “People buy my designs because they are beautiful, but really also because recycling helps the environment.”
AS ECO-CHIC brands like Neutra, Poplove and Godspeed establish themselves as part of Tel Aviv’s design landscape, is there a future for “green” style here – and if so, will it be driven by a desire to be green, or treated as just another design element? Van Erven believes that though initially Israel’s green design scene lagged behind the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, at least some elements of the trend are now firmly entrenched in Tel Aviv’s local creative community.
“The ‘make-it-yourself’ scene is big here,” he notes. “You see it a lot in fashion, and now also in furniture, especially in Florentin and around the flea market in Jaffa, where there are a lot of small-scale designers. It’s here to stay.”
Poplove’s Wallach agrees that there is a future for eco-chic in Tel Aviv, but adds that the key to its successful future is first and foremost good design: environmental friendliness alone is not enough.