Old jeans, tired button jackets, and out-of-style overalls are among the castaway denim designs hiding in many closets. Some see junk, but Nina Rozin sees jewels.
The Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) student has designed elegant high-heeled shoes using old denim, winning the 2023 Upcycled Design Competition hosted by KPU’s Wilson School of Design (WSD).
“Upcycling is creating a conversation, it’s creating a movement, it’s creating informed customers,” says Rozin. “I want to inspire all of us to feel beautiful and special with the simplest materials and celebrate life with an idea of a little less consumerism, a little less consumption, and walking towards a more positive future.”
For the competition, the Wilson School of Design partnered with Our Social Fabric, a non-profit textile recycling organization.
By demonstrating the viability of transforming fabric and material waste into upcycled design concepts, the competition aims to create awareness of Our Social Fabric’s efforts and inspire the talented emerging designers at WSD.
Participants were invited to create a three-dimensional design using recycled textiles and found objects, with the goal of making the world a better place.
Rozin, a shoemaker and international student from Israel, is a graduate of the London College of Fashion and is now furthering her education at KPU by studying fashion marketing. She found inspiration for the upcycling project from 20th century French shoemaker Roger Vivier, who designed expensive fabric shoes for celebrities and royalty.
“I really wanted to match this idea of luxury and grandeur with very simple fabric, so I chose denim,” she says. “It seemed such a mundane fabric to try and elevate.”
Rozin also considered the environmental harm denim creates.
“Denim is very wasteful. It uses huge amount of water to produce the cotton, and the dyes used to create the famous blue colour have devastating effects on the environment,” she says. “I wanted to raise some awareness of the harmful side of denim production and how problematic the way that we source our materials might be.”
Michael Pope, a WSD instructor and lead mentor for the student competitors, says this year’s submissions were the most diverse yet, with entries coming from four different design programs.
“The designs were truly innovative and showed how varied results can be when themes are left open to interpretation. This is also a year we saw some amazing collaborations with teams as well as individual submissions,” he says.
KPU design students are challenged to consider environmental and social responsibility in all their work, says Pope, adding the competition allows them to apply personal perspectives and design skills without concern of grading or bringing their ideas to market.
“There are decisions at every step of design process to mitigate damage done to the planet in regard to material culture. This competition raises awareness that upcycling has to be an ongoing and viable choice in that decision-making process,” says Pope.
For winning the competition, Rozin will receive a $2,000 prize from Our Social Fabric. Emma Juhala’s fibre art shawl design earned second place and a $1,500 prize, while Mehdi Abbasi and Elise Charpentier won the third-place prize worth $1,000 for a dress inspired by protests against injustice toward women in Iran. Winning the People’s Choice Award, which comes with a $500 prize, was Eren Berg for designing multifunctional pants using fabric waste.