A sculpture made entirely of recycled jeans has become a conversation starter for attendees at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, colloquially known as COP26, in Glasgow last week—and according to its creators, that was exactly its intention.
Located in London’s Grosvenor Square, the 16-foot wide “Messy the COP Ness Monster” installation is made of upcycled jeans with scales crafted from jean back pockets and a neck made of denim waistbands. A play on “Nessie the Loch Ness Monster,” Messy’s name intends to show that, unlike the Scottish folklore character, “there is nothing mythical about circular design or the environmental impact it will have if the fashion industry adopts it at scale.”
The piece was created in partnership with artist Billie Achilleos, the streaming platform WaterBear and Mud Jeans, the latter of which has had a strong connection to recycled denim since its launch in 2012. The brand’s jeans leasing program allows customers to pay a monthly fee to borrow a pair of jeans, after which the brand takes it back and ensures it gets a second life. Next up, the Dutch denim brand is expanding its circular commitment to create jeans out of 100 percent post-consumer recycled denim.
In the conference’s aftermath, the Messy sculpture will be on display in London through Nov. 11.
Each year, COP26 serves as a meeting point for world leaders to discuss climate-related topics. In a statement released ahead of this year’s conference, the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion (UCRF) urged an entire systems reset that focuses on building a circular economy.
Circularity has become an increasingly popular subject throughout the fashion industry as the climate crisis intensifies. The past few years have seen the development of circular-based initiatives like the Ellen MacArthur Jeans Redesign program and the Dutch Denim Deal, both of which encourage the increased use of recycled materials and the creation of garments that are easier to recycle at end-of-life. Mud Jeans is a participant in both initiatives.
Others have used upcycled textiles to shine a spotlight on sustainability in the past.
In 2019, artist Valentino Vettori and partners launched Arcadia Earth, a New York City-based art exhibit that transports visitors through an immersive experience designed to educate them on ecological issues like overfishing, plastic pollution, food waste, deforestation and climate change. Covering 15,000 square feet across 15 thematic rooms, the exhibit features installations from 12 environmental artists that have each been developed using upcycled materials and reusable elements, including on a room developed with Tencel and created with the company’s compostable and biodegradable fibers.
Denim art, specifically, has garnered a fan base of its own. Artist Ian Berry often uses the fabric to create intricate portraits and most recently worked on a project focused on pop culture icons that have influenced the trajectory of denim. Pieces are currently being showcased in a solo exhibition entitled “Material World” at Sweden’s Textil Museet from now through May 1, 2022.