Where others see garbage, Daniel Silverstein sees possibilities. That’s how the designer, known as Zero Waste Daniel, felt when he received from ThredUP as part of a collaboration 2,000 pounds of unsalable garments. Silverstein fashioned it all into the Full Circle Collection, 1,000 items such as dog beds, bowls, handbags and sweaters. The collection will be available to shop on November 15.
This is Silverstein’s second partnership with ThredUP. The first hookup in July of 2020 consisted of pre-worn clothing that ThredUP considered “like-new,” which became the base, or canvas. Unsellable scraps were transformed by Silverstein into Monstera-inspired leaves and hand-sewed onto each secondhand garment.
“After the first collaboration, we floated out a couple of different ideas,” Silverstein said. “They said, ‘This could be really something. Could you write us up a proposal.’ I went to the drawing board. I thought, What does waste look like. That’s always my interest, that’s always where I find inspiration, and always where I want to help be part of the solution.
“They told me that their aftermarkets team is dealing with garments that can’t be sold,” he added. “It could be a stain or an odor or a rip or a tear, or it could be not knowing what the sizing is. There are so many reasons why a garment can’t be sold in the second-hand market. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t usable textiles in each of those pieces.”
“It supports our mission of keeping clothing out of landfills,” said Erin Wallace, VP of integrated marketing at ThredUP. “We wanted it to be accessible in terms of price, in terms of categories. Obviously, the idea of doing that, a truly upcycled Zero Waste Daniel collection, was pretty much a dream.”
Silverstein started with the idea of using post-consumer waste, starting with the biggest pieces of fabric and the leftovers of the leftovers of the leftovers. “When I came up with a matrix of what I could do in terms of silhouettes and printing, ThredUP came back and said ‘Why don’t you do this for the holidays?’ I literally can’t think of anything more fun. We just got off and running.”
The collection, which started development in late spring/early summer, had a lot to do with material type. “Rather than saying, I only want jeans, I said, I want denim. Jeans are the hardest to reuse,” Silverstein said. “There’s lots of hardware everywhere, sometimes different material types. For us, we got to be a lot more lenient. I said, ‘Send me everything you can’t sell that’s non-stretch denim, and let me worry about the rest.’ We turned hundreds of pairs of jeans into products, starting with the biggest fabrics.
“We developed downward from the initial idea into a series of compatible products,” Silverstein said. “We used the interior pockets in the cross-body bags that we developed. There’s a lot of different types of products. We tried to be really creative. The leftovers were a source of inspiration. If all you see is a mess it’s very hard to make something beautiful out of it. If you start to look at each textile piece by piece and everything inspires you, there’s just endless possibilities.”
Wallace said that the amount of fashion waste is huge. Everything ThredUP receives goes through a 12-point inspection and it only can resell on ThredUP.com about 60% of what it receives. “What happens to the other 40% is a story we’re interested in talking about and making more transparent,” Wallace said. “Obviously, we work with a series of textile recyclers that adhere to our code of conduct, but we’re always interested in pushing the boundaries, like what can we do with these items to infuse them with more life.”
Wallace said of the 2,000 pounds of unsalable garments, “It’s safe to say it’s a drop in the bucket. This is a special collection, this isn’t a solution for textile waste. I want to be transparent about that. We’re not saying, ‘We’ll just take everything we can’t sell and turn it into a beautiful collection.’
“This is a labor of love with a tremendous amount of skilled labor that goes into to taking these unsalable items and turning them into something of great value,” Wallace added. “What we’re interested in doing with all of our after-market unsellable product is really finding a myriad of ways to handle this inventory so it’s upcycling and recycling. Upcycling is probably the highest form. We need the range.”
ThredUP’s 2022 Holiday Survey found that 78% of consumers said they would like to give holiday gifts that are special without spending a lot of money, Wallace said, which confirmed the direction of the collaboration.
Silverstein honed in on several trends, including the resurgence of Nineties fashion. For the designer, it was a chance to interact with a period he admired, but only knew as a child. “I never got to live that adult Nineties look,” he said. “I was born in the late Eighties, so all my Nineties fashion was little kids’ stuff.
“I’m paying homage to it now, and thinking about all of my mom’s great clothes growing up, her big sweaters her high rise jeans. My dad had all the great windbreakers and jackets and they’re oversized a little bit. I’m just loving working with all of these different items.”
One category that Silverstein designed into a lot was sweaters and sweatshirts, “We’re taking these very mundane clothes. It’s a joy to see them turn into something retro that’s also brand new,” he said.
“The other trend we really focused on is, What’s old is new again,” Silverstein said. “We wanted some of the worn aspects of some of these garments to show through. The wear on the denim is so important. We love the jeans, how they look when they’re really worn. Rather than trying to make the things look brand new, we want to highlight the love that goes into second hand clothing.”
Silverstein also focused on affordability and accessibility. “We were thinking of the holidays and gifting. Everybody’s got a budget for the holidays,” he said. “There’s 13 to 15 styles. There’s accessories, napkins, coasters and scrunchies – things that are really one size fits all solutions that start as low as $10.”
The crown jewel of the collection is a limited edition of collectors coats made from the leftovers used to make other products. Silverstein made the coats himself by hand in his studio. The coats sell for $600. Crossbody bags and bucket hats are under $50. “You can get a lot of items and a lot of value with most things priced under $100,” the designer said.
The collection has its own spokesmodel, a Nineties icon herself, Fran Drescher, whose TV show, “The Nanny,” aired between 1993 and 1999. “She inspired the look and artistic direction and the styling and how the collection came to life,” Silverstein said. “We worked with her stylist. Everything is Fran-approved. It’s really been an absolute treat making the collection come to life.”
“I love the ethos of this collection, and working with ThredUP and Zero Waste Daniel. To create Fran Fine-approved custom looks was a dream,” said Drescher. “This holiday season, it’s so important to consider buying gifts that are planet-friendly and give back. This upcycled collection is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. It’s especially close to my heart because ThredUP is donating a portion of the proceeds to my organization, Cancer Schmancer.”
“People obviously care about the environmental impact and love following ThredUP a mission-driven business that’s gone public and is now super successful,” Silverstein said. “We really get a lot of pressure in the fashion industry to make things fast, to make things cheap, and to take advantage of people. ThredUp gave me every resource to make things in New York, with however much time was needed. Just because it’s a big collection on a big web site doesn’t mean the values have changed.
“The number of times Ive heard from the collaborators, ‘I’m going to shop this collection and ‘I want to shop for my family’. We all believe in this collection,” Silverstein said. “We’re all drinking our own cool aide. There are so many collaborations that are about cutting corners and keeping up appearances. That’s just not what’s happening here. Anything that wasn’t made in my Bushwick, Brooklyn studio, was made in Queens or Manhattan.”
There was a lot of clothing, moving boxes and cutting up the garments. Silverstein likened the collaboration to tasting your grandmother or mother’s cooking. When it’s homemade, it’s made with love. “We made these pieces by hand with love,” he said. “Every item is like a hug.”