Hyundai wants to dress you in scraps of automotive waste. At first blush, that might not sound particularly appealing, but wait until you see the gorgeous corset Richard Quinn created from the fabric of a discarded airbag, or the pearl choker Alighieri created from a discarded seat belt.
The South Korean car company is partnering with six leading fashion brands from around the world, including Rosie Assoulin and Public School, to create a capsule collection. These limited-edition pieces will be sold in the London department store Selfridges starting this week, with prices ranging from $250 to $1,450. All proceeds will go to the Institute of Positive Fashion, a research-based organization devoted to helping fashion labels become more sustainable.
The car industry is devastating to the planet in many ways, from the resources required to manufacture a vehicle to the carbon and toxic fumes that vehicle spews once it’s on the road. The industry is fairly efficient at recovering metals and rubber from scrapped cars since these materials are so expensive and can be repurposed easily. But Hyundai wanted to highlight the materials from discarded cars that don’t tend to get recycled, like leather, glass, and airbags.
The fashion designers were brought on to showcase how these materials can be transformed into items that aren’t just functional but also beautiful and luxurious. The pieces express the designers’ eclectic sensibilities and incorporate varying amounts of recycled materials. Denim brand E.L.V., for instance, combined leather scraps with upcycled jeans to create a jumpsuit. Streetwear label Public School created a technical vest from seat belt webbing and airbag material. PushButton, a Korean brand favored by K-pop stars, created a vest from an airbag that features many of its original details.
When Hyundai approached Rosie Assoulin, she says she was intrigued by the challenge of using materials that were entirely new to her. She created a black tote bag with a geometric pattern on the front made from seat belt webbing, carpet fabric, and foam. “Working with cars, automobiles, heavy machinery, automation is so outside of our usual realm,” she said in a statement announcing the project. “At the same time [it’s] very much in our vocabulary to use nontraditional materials.”
Transforming car scraps into fashion is not a scalable, long-term solution for either the automotive or fashion industry, both of which have enormous environmental footprints. But this project, which is Hyundai’s second sustainable fashion collection, aims to help consumers and designers imagine a more circular future, in which companies don’t need to extract natural resources to manufacture products, but can upcycle or recycle materials that already exist.
“Post the pandemic, we have a massive opportunity to reset the fashion industry rather than returning to business as usual,” says Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, which spearheaded the Institute of Positive Fashion. “Upcyling, in particular, has to be part of the future.”