Balenciaga’s latest campaign has caused quite the stir on social media, featuring pairs of dirty, completely worn-out sneakers that you might expect to see tossed to landfills. Why the controversy? These Balenciaga sneakers have been deliberately destroyed. And, if you so wish, you can actually buy a pair of slightly less worn “full destroyed” Paris high-top sneakers for the grand sum of $1,850. The limited-edition shoes (of which there are just 100 pairs) feature rips throughout the cotton canvas, as well as black markings and scratches along the sole – with the white version also treated to replicate the discoloring process.
The French fashion house has said the campaign shows how the sneakers are “meant to be worn for a lifetime” – a message that is in keeping with Demna’s commentary on the climate crisis in the past (think of the apocalyptic backdrop to his fall/winter 2020 show). But purposefully distressing a pair of brand new trainers, rather than upcycling pre-existing ones or launching a pre-loved collection, even, feels like a missed opportunity.
Of course, distressed fashion is nothing new: back in the early Noughties, ripped stoned-washed jeans were all the rage, with the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé being key poster girls of the trend. In recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence of the deliberately distressed aesthetic, whether that’s on the runway at the likes of Gucci, Celine, and Diesel or via off-duty looks from Kim, J-Lo, and co.
Achieving this faux worn-out effect, though, can have a huge impact on the planet and the garment workers who make our clothes, often involving the use of harsh chemicals, as well as vast amounts of energy and water. While technologies are improving (Gucci and Diesel are now using more eco-friendly washing techniques, for example), there’s still something counterintuitive about deliberately damaging brand-new garments – particularly considering that more than 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced every year, and over 70 percent currently end up in landfills or are incinerated.
Given that there’s no shortage of pre-worn clothing already out there, why not make use of it? There’s clearly an appetite for fashion that doesn’t look brand new – something that the industry can capitalize on by upcycling or re-working pieces that are destined for landfill (Re/Done’s upcycled Levi’s collection is a good example).
For those who want to buy into the distressed aesthetic, it couldn’t be easier thanks to resale sites like The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective, and Depop. If you’re searching for a pair of ripped jeans, a distressed leather biker jacket (as seen in Prada’s spring/summer 2022 collection), or – dare we say it – some pre-worn sneakers, there are plenty of options out there for you.
Distressed fashion can be cool – but let’s make sure that it’s truly sustainable while we’re at it.
This story originally appeared in British Vogue.
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