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Schiaparelli transforms electronic waste into high fashion

When it comes to sustainability, the fashion industry typically makes headlines for being a wasteful polluter. At the latest Schiaparelli show, the brand’s head designer transformed e-waste into clothing that is both upcycled and beautiful.

What do the fashion and tech industry have in common?

To start with, both industries are extremely resource heavy. The fashion industry relies on many non-renewable resources, using 79 trillion litres of fresh water per year. In fact, making the clothing we wear generates 20 percent of all global wastewater annually.

Meanwhile, our beloved smartphones, tablets, and computers are comprised of a mosaic of precious metals including aluminium, cobalt, copper, gold, palladium, platinum, silver, tantalum, tin, and tungsten.

These metals are found at varying depths beneath the earth’s surface, requiring intensive mining to obtain them. This process uses large amounts of fuel, produces tons of runoff waste water, and disturbs all natural life in the surrounding area.

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The social impacts of fashion and technology have also become inextricably interlinked, too.

The advent of social media and smartphones has changed our shopping habits, altered our perception of style, and accelerated the speed of trends all while enhancing accessibility to fashion.

A large portion of garments are worn and photographed for social media only to be banished to the ‘off-trend’ mere weeks later. It’s also not uncommon to upgrade to the latest smartphone without rhyme or reason, but just because.

In this way, technology and fashion are fall into the same category. They are essential and valuable items, yet both have extremely short lifespans.

So what if we could combine waste from one of these industries to make something beautiful for the other?

This overlap was exactly the what Daniel Roseberry had in mind as he went about creating the Spring/Summer 2024 collection for Schiaparelli’s latest fashion show.

He thought carefully about the tensions between digital and physical, present and past, reality and fantasy, and decided to name his show Schiaparalien – an imagined representation of what high fashion would look like in the future, if humans eventually live on planet Mars.

One of the most visually stunning pieces was a long-sleeve mini dress made entirely of tech waste. Each piece was pulled from gadgets produced years before smartphones took the world by storm.

Made up of loose wires, electronic chips, and the shells of old brick phones which acted as broaches, the dress sparkled and shined – commemorative of a time long gone.

There was also the inclusion of a Swarovski-encrusted ‘robot baby,’ similarly made up of motherboards pulled from Motorolas, Nokias, BlackBerrys, and other popular mobile phone brands from the 2000s, when mobile phones were a novelty and diversity in tech was booming.

In a moment behind-the-scenes, Roseberry tentatively discussed the subject of Artificial Intelligence. He questioned what machine learning means for all creatives and gave his opinion on AI interpretations of his own work.

‘What differentiates us as humans is our memories. I think of this as in music—like in an album where you have all these different references being mixed together,’ said Roseberry.

‘[The collection] is all pre-2007, which is now basically prehistoric technology, things like the flip phones, the CDs, the calculators and things like that,’ Roseberry said.

‘A lot of people on TikTok have been taking AI and turning my collections into digital collections and seeing who wore it best, so I was thinking, the only card I have to play now is really my memories.’

Although the recent Schiaparelli show strived to imagine the future by reminiscing on the past, these tech-fashion pieces simultaneously stand as representation of how rapidly we consume goods in today’s society.

Like trendy clothing, modern technology is bought, used, and forgotten about at almost light-speed. There seems to be a never-ending stream of ‘newness’ that we feel me must attain, so much so that we eventually become nostalgic for what once was.

Schiaparelli’s pieces managed to be beautiful, eye-catching, and certainly high-fashion, while cleverly prompting us to think about where we’ve come from – and what the future might look like if we continue along our current path.

Despite Daniel Roseberry’s worries, one thing is for sure:  AI certainly can’t offer us that deep of a dive into nostalgia.

At least not yet.