Slow Fashion: Up-Cycled High Fashion Streetwear

Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Versace. What do these brands have in common? They’re all high fashion, luxury brands that appear famously on runways (check out my previous article about catwalk modelling!). I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Big Four Fashion Weeks: New York, London, Paris and Milan Fashion Week. The high fashion scenes around the world have evolved to include more contemporary designs, combining the art of street style too. Menswear artistic director for Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh is one of the driving forces behind the streetwear movement. He is also the founder and creative director of a highly popular Milan-based luxury clothing label, Off-White. You’re probably wondering how the fashion industry accepts streetwear as high fashion. Well, let’s find out.

Models parading exaggerated costumes on the runway packed with fashion enthusiasts such as their clients and the press.
High fashion or haute couture is something that’s known to be exclusive. Most people know about it through famous international Fashion Weeks.
Photo by Michael Lee on Unsplash

Haute Couture Aka High Fashion

If you aren’t aware, there have been a lot of discussions surrounding the meaning of fashion. No matter how insignificant we may think fashion is, it is actually a symbol of class and socioeconomic status. French word, haute couture, literally translates to high dressmaking and guess what? Haute couture didn’t actually originate from France. The term originally referred to English fashion designer, Charles Frederick Worth‘s work in the 19th century. So what’s so special about high fashion and why is it so expensive?

Despite the idea that fashion is for everyone, haute couture is definitely not. This lies in the fact that haute couture is all about exclusivity. They’re custom-made pieces for an individual where production usually occurs after at least one fitting of measurements. The other reason is all these pieces are made by hand, ranging between 100 to 400 hours a piece. Thus the high quality and price. The French government imposes strict regulations on the high fashion industry and even has special rules restricting which type of works can pass off as high fashion.

Streetwear As High Fashion?

Mention streetwear and the visuals that pop up in most minds are the bold logos and graphics. For decades, streetwear was merely a youth subculture style that millennials popularised through skateboarding or hip-hop culture. Sportswear brands like Adidas and Nike have been trying to tap into the streetwear market for the longest time. Unfortunately, there’s still a distinctive disparity between these brands and luxury, streetwear brands such as Off-White and Supreme. And it turns out that apart from celebrities, millennials are the next biggest group of consumers. The Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) are regularly on the lookout for what’s on-trend. The merging of streetwear and high fashion is definitely a symbol of the fashion industry’s mix of culture and style.

A pair of 3-colour tone Nike trainers worn by a youth sitting on a building ledge.
Sneaker culture is also something that goes hand-in-hand with streetwear. As much as they’re called designer trainers, such shoes are still rather easily accessible and are resold at a spiked price.
Photo by Danilo Capece on Unsplash

With the rise of social media, It’s not surprising that streetwear is gaining momentum and is even becoming the forefront of fashion. This demographic is mainly amongst the Gen Z. Where and how does streetwear blend into the high fashion scene? Well, the simple answer lies in the use of luxurious materials to produce premium products. Therefore, the merging of streetwear with high fashion allows people to dress casually yet look expensive at the same time.

Sustainable And Slow Fashion

Nowadays, people are more aware and more cautious of the clothing brands they purchase. That’s why now we see an emergence of slow fashion. The aim of slow fashion is to reduce the amount of waste produced through reusing old materials and ‘upgrading’ them into a new piece of clothing. Most importantly, having a circular economy is essential to allow slow fashion to thrive. H&M has this programme where they encourage their customers to ‘trade in’ in their old clothes for discount vouchers. In some sense, slow fashion and high fashion have a commonality: they both produce made-to-fit clothes that can prevent textile waste. Right-fitting clothes mean less waste is produced.

“The whole process of up-cycling is a way to connect with our clothes to make them memorable.”

Mahenaz chowdhury, Zero-waste designer at Broqué
A pair of male and female models wearing Broqué's orange and blue patchwork lounge coats. Male model is holding a matching orange umbrella.
Broqué models wearing patchwork lounge coats from their recently launched clothing line. Check out the inspiration behind the design on their Instagram page!
Photo by Emad B. M. Hassan
Side profile of a male model in Broqué's blue patchwork lounge coat.
Mahenaz started Broqué to revive Bangladesh’s slow fashion culture and artisanal heritage.
Photo by Emad B. M. Hassan

Sustainable fashion is often priced at a comparatively higher value than prêt-à porter (ready-to-wear clothes). Often, prêt-à porter are only offered in standard retail sizes. So, the question is: why should one pay more for a piece of re-worked clothing when they can just buy a brand new fit off the rack instead? Go ahead. If you do realise the high degree of waste that the mainstream textile industry produces, you might want to reconsider the way you shop. Yes, the cost of up-cycling is higher compared to mass produced ones, but this is due to the tremendous amount of effort involved. Up-cycled clothes are hand-stitched and their designs varied, making them unique pieces to every individual.

Broqué But Make It Chic

There’s a huge misconception that one has to wear the most expensive clothes to look good, or to be financially well-off to afford properly-fitted clothes. If you’re someone who’s curious about how slow fashion works, Mahenaz Chowdhury is THE person to go to. Born and raised in Bangladesh, Mahenaz is revolutionising the high fashion scene in Bangladesh. The best part? All through sustainable fashion or up-cycling rejects from ready made clothes discarded by fast fashion industries. In her pursuit to advocate the sustainable movement, she started her own company, Broqué. It is also a slang for being high class broke. And did I mention it’s also the first woman-owned, bespoke up-cycling studio in Bangladesh?

Mahenaz works very closely with her in-house tailor, M.D. Babul, to come up with creative clothing designs.
The faces behind Broqué: tailor M. D. Babul (left) and Mahenaz Chowdhury (right). Mahenaz speaks highly of her tailor mentioning he can do everything and anything when it comes to sewing.
Photo by Mahenaz Chowdhury
Mahenez wearing one of the high fashion streetwear designs in the Broqué clothing line. She often incorporates brightly coloured fabric into her apparels.
Mahenaz and her team are constantly looking out for innovative and creative designs to up-cycle clothes. Here is Mahenaz is one of her eye-catching apparel designs.
Photo by Mahenaz Chowdhury

Mahenaz set her focus on teaching sustainable lifestyle by giving online workshops to the public for free. You might be wondering how a small start-up is sustaining itself just by providing such insightful workshops. Well, Broqué has its very own high fashion up-cycled streetwear clothing line and to be more cost-efficient, they have an in-house tailor team. What that means is she basically goes through the entire process from cutting up fabrics to designing to looking for materials, with her handy team of tailors. Imagine the workload! Broqué doesn’t offer prêt-à-porter and instead offers bespoke clothing. What’s great is that all the clothes are gender inclusive!

Doing Your Part In Reducing Waste

It’s a safe assumption that most of us overlook the consequences of purchasing from fast fashion brands. Unfortunately, clothes from fast fashion brands are not made to last and would quickly be out of season after a couple of months. So why continue paying for ‘cheaper’ clothes when you can invest in albeit higher priced clothing, but of higher quality and durability? You would not only be doing yourself a favour by filling up your closet with only the essentials, but you wouldn’t have the headache of wondering what to do with your old clothes. Slow and sustainable fashion is definitely something we should all support. We head on over to our favourite clothing stores without realising that we might actually be impulse buying rather than buying what we really need.

Mahenaz again, wearing one of her own high fashion streetwear designs. A simple coat with strategically placed colours creating a V-shaped downwards towards the zip, looks casual yet chic at the same time.
Broqué is actively promoting sustainable, slow fashion practices to the public through free workshops. Mahenaz believes that when we up-cycle our clothes, we could turn them into something more memorable as well.
Photo by Mahenaz Chowdhury
The 5 main pillars of beliefs as set by Mahenaz herself: custom designs, promote slow fashion, hand-made, sustainable and empowering small communities through sustainable practices.
Broqué Ethos: a system of pillars of beliefs and practices that Mahenaz took upon herself to commit to in the name of sustainability.
Screenshot taken from thebroque.com

Broqué is on social media, namely Instagram, LinkedIn and a private Facebook group you can join if you’re interested in learning more about up-cycling hacks. If you would like to reach out to Mahenaz yourself, you could drop her a message on her personal Instagram or connect with her through LinkedIn. She’s highly knowledgeable so you’ll definitely strike up an interesting conversation with her!

So… Are You Reconsidering Your Wardrobe Yet?

Stay tuned for the next episode where we’ll dissect the differences between recycled clothing and up-cycled clothing. Bet you didn’t realise there’s a difference. You may want to hold off your next shopping trip. At least until you’ve learnt why the premium price you pay doesn’t always buy you quality garments.

Kimberly WONG

About Kimberly WONG

Communications major, with a passion for reading, Kimberly (Kim for short) has a knack for learning new languages. Having worked in various industries helped her to further polish her linguistics skills too. Loves a healthy discussion about anything under the sun.

2 Replies to “Slow Fashion: Up-Cycled High Fashion Streetwear”

  1. You are confusing streetwear and fashion…..the brands you mention are not actual streetwear they are only trying to emulate real streetwear….it did come from skateboarding and surfing first but hip-hop like the brands you mentioned in the article are nothing more than coat tail riders……a poseur can be spotted miles away.

    • Hi Ronald, thanks for taking the time to read and pointing that out. 🙂 I see where you’re coming from and you do have a point haha, time for me to do some more reading into what real streetwear really is. But I hope you still enjoyed the article nonetheless! Are you a fashion enthusiast?

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