Recycled (left/top) and Bioplastic (bottom/right) sequins, by the Sustainable Sequin Company
Pic 1: Me in all the sequins - Photo and awesome necklace: TartWork
Now THIS could be a game changer!
I've been talking about this for some time, in that non-bio cosmetic glitter is now a cause for shock and outrage, but that the same people that walk around dripping with bio-glitter still go mad for sequins.. a top to toe outfit literally made of plastic is really no cause for concern?! (Oh I'm one of them, I'm not preaching!) Don't even get me started on face gems..
The difference between cosmetic glitter and sequin outfits is, of course, that one is single use and the other is an investment piece. I have a Rosa Bloom playsuit that I've cherished for about 5 years now. But I've been mulling over sequins for a while now. Designing my rain capes to sustainable standards, I've become more aware (not perfect, just aware) of the eco-friendly nature of clothes. I agonised over the few inches of nylon webbing involved in the Carny Valley easy-stow carry system because it was non-natural. It eventually made the cut because of it's durability. My capes are made to last and therefore their 'working parts' need to match up with the lifespan of the waxed cotton.
But back to sequins. The fast fashion industry has cottoned on to the love of shiny things. Once indie stalwart institutions, festivals (and the festival wardrobe), have become more mainstream. Now, as well as quality indie-label, boutique makers such as Rosa Bloom, Lady Jane and Kuccia, the high street has started churning out cheap fashion sequinned pieces. What happens to these cheaper items when people have worn them to their festival(s), sequins have fallen off and seams unravelled?
Enter this research.. Rachel Clowes, founder of the Sustainable Sequin Company and all round sequin saviour, is collaborating with Bangor University's experts in 'biocomposites' to create biodegradable / compostable sequins from a type of bioplastic called PLA (Polylactic Acid).. A quick Google of the name leads me to an Etsy shop full of recycled plastic (recycled polyethylene terephthalate or 'rPET') sequins! I'm gonna say that again.. *RECYCLED PLASTIC SEQUINS* This lady is already offering a greener alternative to virgin plastic sequins. She might be my new hero.. (Check out her Facebook page for general eco-glitter chat).
Back to compostable sequins. What popped into my head when I read this was 'Yey! Finally!' followed quickly by 'But how long will they last?'. Where does that leave investment pieces that aren't meant to be worn and thrown away? If used, will my sequins literally degrade whilst on the garment (remembering my +5yr old Rosa Bloom - I'm no throwaway girl!)? A quick read around tells me that PLA is an incredible material used in a wide range of items from medical screws to compostable cups! To degrade, it requires moisture and warmth upwards of 140/170 C (depending on the source you read). It sounds like these sequins will be fine on your garment, as long as you don't hot wash it and you don't leave it in your car in the summer..
Rachel's reasoning behind biodegradable sequins is that partywear is worn 2-3 times and then relegated to the back of the wardrobe. Does this ring true for you? Rachel's argument then is that you're then just storing waste until you finally throw out the garment. Her work is fascinating - Pic 2 features her work, showing three stages of garment life. 1. Intact 2. Partially 'liquified' sequins to create a 'new, old' outfit 3. All sequins gone and parts dyed with colour released on degradation, the outfit is still wearable and has transformed into a less bling, more everyday outfit.
"...Garments celebrate the ephemeral as they become enduring: everyday clothes that were once special clothes." Rachel Clowes in an interview listed below
In a reductionist way - three looks for the price of one, no worries about lost, bent or sequins that have lost their lustre.
From the other end of the fashion market, it's not likely that budget labels will produce garments with this type of artistic evolutionary approach. However, how will the cost of bioplastic sequins compare to standard sequins - ie will the cheap end of the market choose the eco-friendly or will they choose the cheapest, (whichever that might be)?
A lot to ponder but super exciting news! I'd love to hear your thoughts..
Are you a designer? Do you use recycled plastic sequins? Would you consider using bioplastic sequins? What would you need to know before buying?
Are you a consumer and lover of all the shiny things? Would you pay more for eco-sequins? What would be your questions to the designers of your shiny outfits?
Questions! Discussion! Go!
Pic 2: Rachel Clowes - Three stages of a bio-sequinned garment
"I’m working on developing zero waste designs as I’ve found that, on average, 33% of sequin film is wasted during the conventional punching process of round sequins.." Rachel Clowes in an interview listed below