Fringe is supposed to come back with a vengeance in 2020, though the degree to which the ongoing global pandemic will stifle predicted trends is still unknown. In decades past, it was associated with cowboy apparel, hippies, and outdated furniture from the 1970s, but it’s now being reimagined as “expensive, elegant, and dressy.”

Outfits from designer Rie Sakamoto's ultra-original Rubber collection.

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A new collection of bold, creative garments from Japanese designer Rie Sakamoto integrates fringe into various garments in surprising ways, all using the most unexpected of materials. “Rubber Collection” takes an object you’d never normally associate with fashion and uses it as the one and only component of a dress and shawl-style jacket: the humble rubber band.

Thousands of ordinary rubber bands are knitted together like more traditional fibers to create these ultra-stretchy orange garments. Sakamoto, a graduating student at Japan’s Tama Art University, knitted them all into panels that resemble coarse linen thread from afar.

A recent piece from Spoon & Tamago explains that: For her thesis exhibition, she decided to turn her eyes to the lowly rubber band, a stationary item overlooked in contemporary design [that] values functionality and scarcity. Working entirely with rubber bands, which have limited functionality and are definitely not scarce, Sakamoto created a line of garments that were on display at an exhibition in Tokyo last week.”

Sakamoto says she realizes that the rubber band has more functionality than meets the eye, and that its underestimated aesthetic value is really only limited by our own imaginations. Out of a range of her “Rubber Collection” sketches, it looks like only two have actually become real garments, but they show off the designer’s premise with ease, and the fringed collar, armholes, and hemline are all nice touches.

Renderings of Rie Sakamoto's innovative rubber band outfits.

The designer also notes that the material makes the garments highly versatile, since its unusual degree of stretch will enable them to fit on a wide range of body sizes and shapes. That’s definitely something we could use a lot more often in fashion — especially now that the archetypal stick-thin model showing off clothes that aren’t realistic for most people has finally grown stale.

Rubber bands are certainly a far cry from the sort of avant-garde materials rising in popularity among buzzy fashion designers like Iris Van Herpen, including 3D-printed filament, thermoplastics, LED lights, wearable technology, and even biotech materials more closely associated with medical innovations than clothing. But for Sakamoto, that appears to be part of the point. Rubber bands aren’t high tech. They aren’t particularly exciting. They aren’t exactly sexy, either, but they’re readily available all over the world, and in the right hands, they can be art.

Outfits from designer Rie Sakamoto's ultra-original Rubber collection.

One has to wonder, of course, how comfortable rubber band clothing really is, especially when you have body hair. Imagine all those rubber stitches grabbing hair all over your body and pulling at it — ouch! Still, “Rubber Collection” is a fun illustration of the fact that all sorts of overlooked materials already exist, and we just have to be creative enough to see their possibilities.

Close-up of the fringe-covered collar and sleeves on Rie Sakamoto's new rubber band clothing.

You can follow Rie Sakamoto’s work on Instagram. Plus, check out more futuristic fashion design and innovative new materials, from digital accessories to recycled ocean plastics, in our Fashion & Style section.