Priya Ahluwalia Wants Your Old Clothes: How a New Microsoft Collaboration Brings Consumers Into the Upcycling Process

Ahluwalia’s team will post “call-outs” for specific garments throughout the year: If they’re in need

Ahluwalia’s team will post “call-outs” for specific garments throughout the year: If they’re in need of striped shirts and floral dresses, for instance, they’ll leave the call-out open for months so they can continuously source. “We’re hoping that because people want to engage with this, it will really allow us to preempt things we need,” she says. “If I design a collection in October that will be shown in January, and I want to use blue cotton shirts, I can leave that call-out open [from October] until we start production in February. We can keep actively sourcing in the background, even if we aren’t in what is normally our ‘sourcing period.’”

The hope is that Circulate will streamline and bolster Ahulwalia’s design and production processes, but it’s also creating a new way for people to participate in the brand without actually making a purchase. Fans of the label might be excited to contribute to an Ahluwalia garment—a concept that is rarely available in fashion—and Londoners who are purging their closets could be happy to know where their clothes are going.

“People can’t source like this normally, and this way, I can try to rely on the community I’m trying to build, rather than the supply chain,” Ahluwalia adds. “I find it frustrating that the onus for sustainability is always put on designers. It’s really bizarre—there are so many other people and stakeholders in this industry. People want to do their best, but it isn’t that easy. If you want to be a designer who works responsibly, it doesn’t mean the ecosystem you operate in is set up for that. You could have the best intentions, but it might not work. So for me, this is a way to take control of those issues and figure out my sourcing in a new way.”

Ahluwalia’s typical sourcing process involves visiting warehouses and secondhand markets; here, a photo from a recent trip to India

The platform will be available to anyone in the U.K., with plans to expand into other markets soon. “The idea is to add locations where our factories are,” she adds, in order to limit international shipping and transport. “We have our denim factory in Italy, so ideally we would source our denim from around there and get it straight to the factory.”

Fashion’s sustainability problems are immense, with overproduction and transportation accounting for much of the damage. To Ahluwalia’s point, VR and digital runways aren’t really solving any of those problems; here’s hoping other designers are inspired to find innovative, productive ways to harness technology like she has going forward.