The high ceiling of clothing designer Doron Ashkenazi’s studio in the Florentin neighborhood in Tel Aviv is hung with racks upon racks of his Mediterranean-styled men’s clothing, a sea of linen shirts, jackets and pants from seasons past.
“All that surplus?” said Ashkenazi, pointing toward the ceiling. “It’s lost money. Leftover inventory is like a cancer for designers, because what can you do with it?”
As it turns out, quite a lot.
Ashkenazi, a veteran menswear designer who has survived 30 years in the highly competitive local fashion business, is hoping to blaze a path with recycled fabrics.
Using new and used clothing that had been collected, sorted and smartly recycled into new fibers and fabric by Re-Fresh Global, a local textile innovation organization, Ashkenazi recently designed a denim-style jacket out of recycled felted gray fabric flecked with every color.
“It was really easy to work with, flexible and easy to fashion,” he said.
It was a collaborative effort.
Ashkenazi’s wife happened upon the Re-Fresh pilot in Kfar Saba in June, where the innovation organization, supported by the German Embassy in Israel, Bank Hapoalim, H&M, WIZO and the city of Kfar Saba, initiated a pilot to repurpose textile waste. It collected, sorted and prepared 10 tons of clothing for resale, upcycling and smart recycling.
“Racheli Ashkenazi said, ‘Listen, Doron will make a jacket from this,'” said Revital Nadiv, one of the two founders of Re-Fresh Global.
Nadiv and Victoria Kanar, who created Re-Fresh Global, are local fashion industry veterans who wanted to find ways to recycle and reuse the huge amounts of surplus clothing inventory available in Israel.
Once they had a pile of fabric ready for recycling at the Kfar Saba pilot, it was taken to one of the local remaining textile manufacturers, where it was processed into the piece of fabric that Ashkenazi used for his jacket.
“We keep processing and pressing this fabric,” said Kanar, fingering the latest square of recycled fabric. “It keeps getting finer and more user-friendly.”
Kanar, who had long worked in marketing and public relations for the local fashion industry, felt that Israeli designers and clothing companies were backwards in their approach to technology and textiles.
Her Re-Fresh partner, Nadiv, was a fashion designer in the first part of her career, first working with international companies such as Disney and then opening her own boutique studio.
Nadiv eventually retrained in textile technology, learning about laser cut fabrics and other techniques before joining Kanar.
Menswear designer Ashkenazi was an obvious first partner for them, frustrated as he’s been by the glut of leftover clothing and fabric, and bored by the new fabrics he could source in local stores.
“They put me to sleep,” he said.
Like many studio designers, Ashkenazi creates capsule collections, working with a relatively small amount of fabric. Once he’s made six or seven styles, or when the fabric is done, he moves on to the next collection.
He began upcycling his older pieces a few years ago, reusing clothing from his own collections to create new pieces.
“Open your closets and your friends’ closets and work with what’s there,” he said. “Turn the fabric around.”
It helps a little, but it doesn’t address the scale of fast fashion giants such as Zara or H&M or local clothing companies Castro, Honigman and others.
“There’s no one who can use all this leftover fabric,” said Nadiv. “The situation is that fast fashion controls the whole world. Everyone’s losing in this game.”
Both Nadiv and Kanar pointed to the fact that while the fashion industry is changing, with laws in Europe regulating how clothing companies must safely dispose of their surplus inventories, local design schools still don’t teach about technology and new methods in fashion.
“Israeli design schools are excellent at teaching creativity and how to work with very little,” said Kanar. “But they don’t touch technology.”
“They teach things that are no longer relevant,” said Ashkenazi, who teaches fashion design at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. “I see the same syllabus every year.”
For now, Kanar and Nadiv of Re-Fresh Global hope to introduce some new ideas and methods into the local fashion industry: recycling, remaking and rethinking the uses for surplus clothing inventory.
Their recycled felted fabric is a first step, and they’re working with several designers on a collection.
“You have to be courageous and it’s not easy,” said Kanar. “When you start changing something, everyone’s scared whether their customers will buy it. You just have to be brave and try something new.”
Re-Fresh Global is now working on establishing a pre-plant of its microfactory in Germany as its first activity outside of Israel, and applying for public funding from the European Union and with a consortium of Israeli and European organizations.
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