Electronic waste is giving plastic pollution a run for its money. Currently the fastest growing waste stream on the planet, our old broken, obsolete, and otherwise unwanted gadgets clog landfills, litter the earth, and leach toxic chemicals like lead and mercury into soil and groundwater.
Romanian artist and fashion designer Alexandra Sipa has found a creative way to repurpose e-waste wires and cables, and it’s chic enough to get the attention of Vogue. The 23-year-old graduate of Central Saint Martins in London says it all originated with a “happy accident.”
“I was researching for my sustainability project for school, and my headphones broke. I noticed the wires inside were so colorful. It was also the fifth time I broke my headphones that year, so I wanted to find a way to reuse them and thought about creating a fabric out of them.”
Sipa had recently returned to her hometown of Bucharest, Romania to visit her family. While there, she took in her culture’s sartorial past and present, as well as all the inspiration to be found in her grandmother’s colorful home filled with recycled objects. Drawing lacemaking techniques from the tablecloths she found there, she learned to craft wires sourced from local recycling centers into a stunning collection of dresses, robes, veils, tops, and accessories.
Romania is rich in folk art designs and traditions. Patterns and symbols seen in everything from blankets to bridal gowns originated as a way for craftspeople to share their histories with one another, and to channel energy throughout the body, which translates nicely to Sipa’s use of wires in her work.
The artist incorporates traditional embroidery techniques and motifs into her designs, but other influences make their way in, too, like references to popular beach towels featuring prints of bikini-clad women. “Most of the fabrics I used have a Romanian attitude,” she tells Vogue. “Very nonchalant, humorous, and adaptable.”
While Sipa was the primary designer and fabricator of the wire garments, all of the complex work behind them required a little assistance. Among other things, her boyfriend learned to make wire lace alongside her, and she sent patterns for the collar of a jacket to her mother in Romania, who finished the pieces with her own reclaimed wires and in turn sent them back. A lingerie designer herself, Sipa’s mother had a big influence on her daughter’s career choice, immersing her in the world of fashion from a young age.
“She made cardboard cutouts of Barbies for me to trace on paper and draw on top of and taught me how to hand-sew,” she says. It’s no surprise, then, that some of her woven wire clothing ended up being Barbie-sized.
It’s hard to tell the garments are made of wire until you get a close-up look. You might think wires would result in clothing that’s stiff and uncomfortable, too, but the pieces actually drape with surprising grace. For some, like the jacket from her “ROMANIAN CAMOUFLAGE” collection, Sipa even paired them with textile factory remnants.
The patterns are sometimes discernible and sometimes abstract, but always engaging to look at. Would you have guessed all these gorgeous pastel shades of mint, pink, yellow, and lavender were present beneath the outer casings of wiring in your home?