Oliver Spencer’s ’Repurpose’ is a lesson in fashion circularity

The story behind Oliver Spencer’s innovative new repurposing scheme – a Wallpaper* Designer Awards 2024 winner – which sees clothes resold, reused, or recycled in a multitude of ways

Oliver Spencer factory images
Behind-the-scenes at Oliver Spencer’s Repurpose project
(Image credit: Courtesy of Oliver Spencer)

When the London-based designer Oliver Spencer hosts a dinner party, guests will often come away not just satiated, but with bags of clothing containing unwanted samples or garments that he no longer wears. ‘If you’re coming round to my house,’ he smiles, ‘you do best if you’re my size.’

A new project, launched in November 2023 after more than a year in the planning, operates in a similar spirit: to expand the lifecycle of a garment and prevent it from being thrown away after use. ‘Our industry makes a massive footprint,’ Spencer says. ‘We need to get a lot better at what we are doing. We’re responsible for the garments we make.’

Wallpaper* Design Awards 2024, best circular approach: Repurpose clothing initiative, by Oliver Spencer

Oliver Spencer collage of clothes

British menswear brand Oliver Spencer’s new sustainability initiative aims to extend the lifecycle of fashion garments by repurposing clothing in a variety of ways

(Image credit: Photography by Neil Godwin at Future Studios for Wallpaper*, fashion by Jason Hughes)

Titled Repurpose, the project’s initial success is rooted in the way Spencer has fostered a community since he started his menswear label in 2002 (his four London stores act like hubs for his devoted consumer, and he often calls himself ‘shopkeeper’ rather than designer). Previous customers can pop into these stores and drop off their unwanted Oliver Spencer garments; after assessment, these are reused, resold, upcycled or repurposed by being broken down into their composite textiles.

In return, customers get credit to spend in store, and the process can also be done online. ‘A lot of people tell me they’ve had this jumper for ten years, and it’s in great working order, and that’s fantastic,’ says Spencer. ‘But if you don’t wear it anymore, we can find it a new home, or it could go and have a life somewhere else. When we sell a garment, we are never divorced from it, we remain married to it.’

Oliver Spence Repurporse iniative

(Image credit: Courtesy of Oliver Spencer)

The project utilises Recomme, a 2023-founded, white-label clothing recycling and ‘recommerce’ platform, to do the heavy lifting. After garments are dropped off, they are delivered to its warehouses and assessed: those deemed unsuitable for reuse or resale are divided into streams for recycling. Single-fibre garments, like those made from cotton and wool (as most of Spencer’s garments are), are reduced to pulp and spun into new yarn, while mixed-garment fibres are delivered to various educational institutions for use in creative projects. Finally, footwear is taken to a separate facility where it’s split into parts: rubber soles are remade into faux leather or recycled into trainer soles, while other elements are used in a multitude of ways, including as cushioning fibres inside sofas. Recomme predicts the resale market – where it will facilitate the sale of secondhand products online – will surpass ‘new’ sales by 2025.

’In the UK, we throw away around 300,000 tonnes of clothing a year. That’s such a shocking statistic,’ says Spencer. ‘The number one thing for me is that I want clarity as to where these garments are going. If you’re going to take them away from me and send them to Atacama [the Chilean desert is one of the largest dumping grounds for discarded clothing], I’m going to be pretty furious. With Recomme, we have complete traceability.’

Oliver Spencer Repurpose Behind Scenes

(Image credit: Courtesy of Oliver Spencer)

His hope for Repurpose is not just that it impacts the Oliver Spencer shopper – after all, as he says, he is just a ‘micro menswear label’ – but that it acts as a test case to bring the concept to larger retailers and brands. ‘I’m just saying to people, this is what we’re doing. But wait for us to do it a little bit longer and we can iron out the creases. And then we can start getting the really big players. I’d like to present it to them and say: I’ve got the answer.’

His other desire is to cut through the noise of ‘greenwashing’ campaigns by major fashion brands, which he believes have decreased the trust that consumers have in sustainability initiatives. ‘We’re actually telling the truth,’ he says. ‘We don’t deliver rubbish. People want quality, they want to know about the responsibility of the business, that you’re a good brand to buy from. I’ve spent 20 years building that trust.’

A version of this article appears in the February 2024 issue of Wallpaper* – dedicated to the Wallpaper* Design Awards 2024 – available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today


Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*, joining the team in 2022. Having previously been the digital features editor at AnOther and digital editor at 10 and 10 Men magazines, he has also contributed to titles including i-D, Dazed, 10 Magazine, Mr Porter’s The Journal and more, while also featuring in Dazed: 32 Years Confused: The Covers, published by Rizzoli. He is particularly interested in the moments when fashion intersects with other creative disciplines – notably art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and reporting from international fashion weeks. Across his career, he has interviewed the fashion industry’s leading figures, including Rick Owens, Pieter Mulier, Jonathan Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss and Manolo Blahnik.