Trending Topic: Filipinos are Calling Out Elise McMahon’s Upcycled Pieces—Does it Deserve all the Hate?

Instagram commenters also pointed out her brand’s likeness to Rags2Riches, a local social enterprise.

Today, Vogue shared the story of furniture designer Elise McMahon’s advocacy for upcycling used t-shirts for her pieces. The New York native shares that although people donate or resell their old shirts with good intentions, most end up in landfills in Ghana and Chile. However, some just throw them in the trash.

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She adds that up to 15 million t-shirts are either dumped in landfills, being burned, or thrown in the ocean in a single month. With the amount of waste generated, McMahon started to think of ways to repurpose the fabric with help from friend and textile artist Francesca Capone.  

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That was in November 2020. Now, through LikeMindedObjects, McMahon offers furniture, accessories, and custom interiors made of old t-shirts woven into chairs, stools, and even an 18 inch by 18-inch textile loom (worth $200). 

Looks familiar

Shortly after the story was posted on Instagram, Filipinos on social media were quick to notice her creations’ similarities to their traditional cleaning rags or basahan.

Weaving is a tradition in the Philippines that spans thousands of years since the early inhabitants of the archipelago. Depending on where you ask, its origin story is different and mythical. Ifugaos of Northern Luzon would attribute the craft to Punholda’yan, one of their deities. While in Southern Mindanao, the indigenous people of B’laan would credit their goddess Furalo for the practice of weaving. 

While in the Philippines, a vast repertoire of intricate techniques from Ilocos, Bicol, and Mindoro using plant fibers, discarded textiles are also repurposed. Basahans can be found along sidewalks and near public markets, sold at P10 to P15 each. McMahon sells an item worth $200, and many commenters pointed that out. 

Similar idea

On Instagram, one account wrote that “Rags 2 Riches did it first.” The homegrown brand, also known as R2R, was founded in 2007 by Reese Fernandez-Ruiz. With the goal of “lifting Filipino artisans out of poverty” by making unwanted fabric into rags and then into bags. 

 Fernandez-Ruiz started her brand in Payatas, where primarily women artisans made a living by selling woven foot rugs. They were faced with unfair wages due to lack of transparency from middle men and only earned P12 to P16 after making ten rugs daily. 

At 15 years old, R2R has fully integrated its artisans into its supply chain. They currently offer ready-to-wear, pouches, bags, and accept requests for made-to-order pieces. Fernandez-Ruiz’s work as a social entrepreneur has been featured in National GeographicWashington Post, The Guardianand Cause Artist. 

Making upcycling a hobby

Based on the similarities, McMahon and Capone also want to make a community with LikeMindedObjects. “One person doing something doesn’t make a huge impact, but if there’s a community behind it, it can,” Capone told Vogue. In their first year, the brand repurposed about 200 pounds of scrap t-shirts. McMahon describes it as “a drop in the bucket.”

Going back to McMahon’s $200 textile loom, she tells the fashion magazine what it’s actually for. As a template that can make upholstery patterns, she says, “It could also become a jacket or a sweater, or weighted blankets, or rugs.” As an advocate to get more people into upcycling, it can be a template for them to start. 

Banner photo from @likemindedobjects on Instagram.

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