Why Waste What You Can Wear? | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 08.03.2002
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Why Waste What You Can Wear?

Used candy wrappers, discarded and worn out clothing, torn and tattered bus upholstery – don't toss it out. Just recycle it and wear it proudly like the trendiest of Berlin’s fashion-conscious hipsters.


Gisela Seppeler wearing an outfit made from upholstery of Berlin buses

Imagine, you’ve just bought a candy bar – a gooey chocolate sweet covered in a plastic-coated wrapper. You devour it and think nothing more of the paper packaging. But this is where Mirijam Rehmet, a Berlin student and fashion designer, steps into the picture.

For Rehmet, the candy bar litter is the stuff of her dreams, or at least of her clothing. Rehmet calls herself a "Snack-Bar" designer, and she’s always on the lookout for candy wrappers. About 200 such paper wrappings, for example, went into a sweet and environmentally friendly raincoat.

Although people on the street might look at her in a peculiar way, Rehmet doesn’t think her style of clothing, with she calls "upcycling", is all that strange. "I imagine that if a lot of people started to do it, then it would change something very basic in people’s awareness", she says. "Everyone would have a different relationship with their own trash."

Rehmet’s method of recycling trash to make clothing is just one of the many examples abounding in Berlin’s off-beat fashion scene.

From old to new

The trendy design team of Hans Georg Krampe and Maren Lass has discovered that the old, worn out clothes of yesterday can be turned into today’s hottest fashion statements. All it takes is a little bit of imagination and a lot of cast-a-ways.

The two graduates of Berlin’s Academy of Fashion Design spend hours rooting through second-hand shops and flea markets in search of the perfect used clothing. When they find an item, whether it be a corset from the 18th century or bell bottoms from the 1970s, the designers ask themselves what the tattered piece of material could be in its next life.

Models in Müll


Krampe and Lass’ label Werkmeister is all about deconstructing traditions of fashion by combining seemingly incongruous older styles for a contemporary feel. The designers literally tear apart pieces of historical clothing and remove them from their original context before sewing them together again for new meaning.

New things are taboo for Werkmeister’s experimental fashion. Only old clothes tell tales, they say, and only old clothes can express the charm and drama of yesteryear.

Whatever stories the clothing reveals, Krampe and Lass’ customers are certainly interested in listening. The young design team is one of the fastest rising fashion studios in Berlin. Well-known German actresses and celebrities with a penchant for eccentric clothing have been seen donning the Werkmeister label, and even the exclusive department store KaDeWe has sold the designers’ recycled clothing collection.

Clothing to take you places Recycling material for new fashion items can be as easy as taking the bus home after work. For Gisela Seppeler this was definitely the case.

One day, the hobby seamstress was sitting in a Berlin bus and noticed how the sunshine streaming through the window reflected on the seats’ upholstery. "It had this quality, this beautiful way of glowing – I immediately fell in love with the material," Seppeler said.

After lengthy negotiations with the Berlin transportation authority Seppeler was allowed to create an outfit out of the upholstery. At first she stuck with rather classic cuts for dresses and skirts, but then she began expanding to more trendy bags, caps and even house shoes.

Comprised of 85 percent wool, the material is cozy and warm in the winter, Seppeler says. And the bright reddish orange color makes the clothing a nice pick-me-up in Berlin’s drab weather months.

Seppeler says the clothes are very comfortable to wear. "It’s like getting on a bus late in the evening, and inside it’s pleasant and warm and homey, and you’re happy to be going home."

Seppeler’s collection of bus clothing is surprisingly affordable. Skirts and dresses cost between 100 and 300 euro and the bags around 130 euro. House shoes are a veritable discount at just 25 euro.

Not only are the items fairly inexpensive, wearers of the designer fashion have the two-fold advantage of always feeling like they’re on the way home and saving the bus upholstery from ending up in the garbage pit.

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