The "Karesse" collection by Les Récupérables

They say you can tell a lot about someone by looking at their trash. After a trip to Brazil, where she discovered how locals gave a second life to discarded plastic, French fashion designer Anaïs Dautais Warmel decided the best way to judge the extent of fashion’s waste problem was by joining a recycling plant in Paris. “That’s when I realized how big the problem was: People were getting rid of 1 ton of stuff per day, sometimes 2 tons between seasons, and 30 percent of the waste was textiles,” Dautais Warmel said. Amazed at the treasures people would throw away, she opened a secondhand store at the recycling plant, where she discovered she could use the vast amount of linens to transform them into clothes. Born in 2016, Les Récupérables (“The Recoverable”) uses old curtains, tablecloths and various household textiles to make an elegant line of upcycled silhouettes.

Key sustainability achievement of 2018: Les Récupérables signed a partnership with TDV Industries, a manufacturing company specializing in workwear, to use leftover fabric estimated at 200,000 meters a year. “It’s great for us as the fabric is super resistant; it is initially used to make welders’ jackets.” The brand also achieved one of its main goals: all of the ateliers Les Récupérables works with employ people in rehabilitation, including 13 Atipik Confection in Marseille, France.

Sustainability target for 2019: The next step would be to scale the production up. In 2018, the brand produced 1,000 garments, sold internationally on the e-shop and during pop-up stores in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux. “The limited stock of fabric is actually what sets us apart,” Dautais Warmel said. “The customer can’t hesitate for too long: When we say it’s our last dress in this design, it literally is.” Now stocked at Parisian concept-store Centre Commercial, Les Récupérables is fund-raising and has just added business developer Ambroise Doux to its team. In 2019, the brand’s founder plans on repeating her personal motto as often as needed: “Don’t throw away because away doesn’t exist.”

Third-party plaudits: Les Récupérables is part of the Fashion Revolution movement, whose yearly campaign encourages customers to question brands about their production methods. “Ethical fashion in France didn’t use to be very good,” said Isabelle Quéhé, founder of the Berlin-based Ethical Fashion Show and coordinator for Fashion Revolution. “Today, there is a real movement of young designers choosing to address sustainability in a creative way. Les Récupérables is definitely one of them.”

Biggest challenge: In addition to her partnership with Le Relais, a recycling facility in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, Dautais Warmel now works with brands to use their deadstock fabrics. “We only use non-exclusive textiles and unrecognizable block colors,” the entrepreneur said. “Brands need to understand we’re not stealing their intellectual property, just helping them avoid paying fees to stock all this unused fabric.”

If you could wave a magic wand: “I would want all fabrics to become 100 percent natural. That way, if one day we get fed up of a pair of trousers, we could just bury it at the bottom of our garden and flowers would grow out of it.”