Waste not, want not

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If you’ve resolved to be a little more eco-conscious in your travels this year, check out these earth-friendly shops in some of the world’s coolest cities, writes AMY LAUGHINGHOUSE

New York

Recycling old textiles into new fashions isn’t limited to tying on a tattered bed sheet and calling it a toga. At Geminola, in New York’s trendy Greenwich Village, London transplant Lorraine Kirke is taking salvaged style to another level.

Remember the scene from Gone With The Wind where Scarlett O’Hara, in the throes of poverty but eager to make a good impression, eyes her green velvet drapes and envisions a gorgeous new gown? Well, Geminola is a bit like that, but with a fizzy dose of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw thrown in. In fact, Kirke designed the frothy green, knee-length gown Carrie wore when she unexpectedly encountered Mr Big in Paris in the Sex and the City finale, joining the ranks of Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, and Vivienne Westwood, who also outfitted the pocket-sized fashion icon for her role in the show.

“I love to recycle clothes and fabrics,” says Kirke, who began as an interior designer. “I started to dye and make shower curtains and bedspreads out of old pieces that I found. One day I put a bedspread I had dyed turquoise on a bed and thought, ‘I could make a dress out of this!’”

These days, Kirke visits flea markets around the world, scouting out bolts of rare cloth, bits of lace, antique buttons, and decades-old dresses she can cut down and restyle. She totes her treasures back to New York, where she works with three seamstresses to convert these vintage finds into “new” dresses and tops, as well as housewares such as bedspreads and napkins, often hand-dying them (using organic dyes) in buckets in her laundry room.

The oldest fabrics she has used date to the late 19th century, but, she says, “My preference is those lovely silk rayons from the 1940s, because they’re durable and come in fabulous, bright colours.” She’s even recycled her role as a television fashion designer. Her daughter, actress Jemima Kirke, recently sported one of her mother’s redesigned wedding dresses in the TV series Girls.

Geminola, 41 Perry Street, New York, tel: 001212-6751994, geminola.com

Helsinki

Designer Isabella Haas takes the old adage “waste not, want not” seriously – but always with a wink and a smile. Her two Edel City boutiques, in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, embrace the motto “ethical design and eco-luxuries”, meaning shelves filled with witty wares made from bits and pieces otherwise bound for a landfill.

Haas has sourced nearly 50 like-minded designers, many local, although some of her goods, such as sandals made from recycled tire treads, come from as far away as Africa, where designers work with people with disabilities “and women with Aids in Kenya, and they help the artisans start their own bank accounts,” says Haas, who is keen on giving back to the community.

Edel City’s more unusual items include handbags with old telephone receivers as handles, dresses fashioned from men’s trousers, and neckties made from seatbelts. “It’s important to have a fun aspect and a twist,” says the Austrian, who studied industrial design. “Some customers come in here just to feel good, and that’s the idea. We want eco-living to be cheerful.”

Edel City, Fredrikinkatu 33, tel: 0035844- 2709329, and KLUUVI Center, Alekstanterinkatu 9, tel: 0035844-2190497. edelcity.com

Zurich

Freitag is a Swiss company renowned for its line of messenger bags made from old seat belts, truck tarps and inner tubes. Since 1993, the line has expanded to include handbags, totes, wallets, toiletry kits and more, all made in the distinctive, colourful Freitag style.

“Every single bag is individual,” says Claudio Nold, who started working for the company because he was such a fan of its products. “I had my first Dragnet bag for 12 years. They’re good quality. You can’t kill ’em.” Freitag has an online shop and locations around the world, but at its headquarters in Zurich, its flagship store is housed in a collection of old cargo containers stacked several stories tall. Even the view from an open-air platform atop the shop overlooks a “recycled” area, which has been transformed from an epicentre of industry into a hipster hotspot, chock-a-block with clubs, restaurants, and galleries.

Freitag Headquarters, Geroldstrasse 17, 0041-433669520, freitag.ch.

London

From woven juice-boxes to old sacks that once contained cement, rice and even fish, there’s nothing you can’t convert into a handbag or tote, as fans of Ganesha fairtrade boutique have discovered while browsing the shelves of this shop on London’s South Bank. Other ingenious upcycled goods include scarves, bunting and notebooks, all using vintage sari silk.

Shelves in this cosy shop are further stocked with disposable plates made from leaves, placemats and coasters fashioned from rolled-up newspapers, and “vegetarian” soap devoid of animal byproducts. Better still, Ganesha’s suppliers include organisations like the Nepal Leprosy Trust, expatients of a Calcutta medical clinic, and Cambodian landmine and polio survivors.

“The most important thing to us is sourcing products from alternative trade organisations,” says Purnendu Roy, who cofounded Ganesha, in 1996, with Jo Lawbuary.

“They’re building up communities and providing sustainable income. If things can be recycled, too, that’s a positive benefit.”

Ganesha, 3 4 Gabriel’s Wharf, London SE1 9PP, tel: 0044-2079283444, ganesha.co.uk

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