First napkins, then bandanas, now aprons
You may have heard us talk about UPCYCLE by The Sleep Shirt before—it’s our collection of products made from fabric remnants under 10 metres long. It’s one way we work to reduce our wastage as a company and, over the years, we’ve been so pleased with how popular some of the UPCYCLE pieces have been.
When we first launched back in 2012, it was with a single nightshirt—our best selling style whose design was based on a men’s chemise found in London at Spitalfields Market. Over the years, we’ve launched plenty of additional styles: pyjama sets that many people wear as separates—and not just for sleep; kaftans that double as stylish beach coverups; slip dresses that look great on a night out; and, of course, our T-Shirt by The Sleep Shirt range of well-made layering basics as well.
We didn’t, however, anticipate that we’d create napkins, tea towels, and kerchiefs. “A few years back, we noticed we had a lot of extra fabrics,” recalls Alexandra. “Some were left over from production runs, and others were fabrics that we had bought for sampling and which had never been used in a collection.” Everything that measured 8 metres or more was turned into a classic shirt, which we sold in our first ever One and Only Sale.
That solved that—but we still had smaller scraps of fabric that weren’t large enough for an item of clothing. All of our collections are made from natural fibres, so we knew that if we had to throw the remnants away, they would degrade over time. However, our fabrics are high quality and expensive—we source them mainly from Japan, Italy, Portugal, and China—so this felt like a pretty sacrilegious option.
“I can’t remember how or why exactly, but somehow, we decided to make smaller items with them,” says Alexandra—and so the first UPCYCLE collection was born. Comprising napkins, laundry bags, tea towels, and zip pouches, each UPCYCLE piece is made by small, female-run production units (in fact, it’s often a one-woman operation). We give them very long deadlines, so they can squeeze the work in when they have time, which, in turn, helps us keep prices down for the collection.
Each new apron by UPCYCLE uses approximately half a metre of fabric. In general, we try and create products that are practical around the house; pieces that go with the ethos of our Sleep Shirts—that are versatile, comfortable, and designed for the long term. In fact, our napkins always sell out, so we also know there’s an appetite out there for something functional.
“We wanted to make something practical, that was for around the house, and that would be a nice piece that shows off some of our fabrics,” Alexandra says about the apron. “I imagine someone making Sunday breakfast in their nightshirt, with the apron over top.”
Of course, since we’ve been so focused on becoming more size-inclusive, we also decided to do a plus-size version of the apron. Even though most aprons are flexible in terms of sizing because you simply tie them closed, we wanted to offer one that would provide a bit more coverage for our plus size customers. “The concept of a one size apron for all bodies seemed a bit strange to us,” she says.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UPCYCLE?
Now that we have napkins, tea towels, and aprons, what’s next? We’re always exploring options. “I am making some lavender sachets as a sewing project for my kids, so we might consider making some of those,” says Alexandra. Is that a hint? Maybe—or maybe not. “Napkins are our best sellers so we will always make more of those,” she continues. Perhaps they’ll go on a table with placemats by UPCYCLE, or perhaps we’ll venture into accessories: UPCYCLE scrunchie, anyone? Stay tuned—we’ll keep you posted.