Amazing Art Sculptures Made From Recycled Clothing


New to Old” 

Artist Derick Melander creates large geometric structures from carefully folded and stacked second-hand clothing that weighs between five hundred pounds and two tons. What seems like a straightforward process – procuring the clothing, sorting it by colour value, folding and stacking it – soon takes on a life of its own. Thousands of once loved and lived in pieces of clothing can’t be discarded that easily.

Look at the images below, for example, showing the 2008-installation “The Ocean is the Underlying Basis for Every Wave,” an “S”-shaped wall of folded and stacked clothing sorted by colour. A total of 2,908 garments were used, weighing 1,859 lb.

Why second-hand clothing items? Says Melander: “As clothing wears, fades, stains and stretches it becomes an intimate record of our physical presence. It traces the edge of the body, defining the boundary between the individual and the outside world. … When I come across a dress with a hand-sewn repair, or a coat with a name written inside the collar, the work starts to feel like a collective portrait.”

“The Ocean is the Underlying Basis for Every Wave” (2008)

Clothing as an individual project yet collective statement? Kind of like “you are what you wear” meets “the personal is political.” Fact is that while working on the pieces, the thoughts that go through Melander’s and his volunteers’ minds invariably focus on the “who.” Who has worn this clothing? And what was this person’s story? As it becomes obvious that the clothing has been handled and lived in, it transforms from an object to a piece of living history.

“Grasp” (2005)

Melander wants us, the viewers or visitors, to interact with his sculptures and reflect on the bigger pictures. Take his 2005-installation “Grasp” above. Like a doorway, the 6-ft-tall structure invites visitors to take a peak at what’s inside. What visitors don’t realize is that they have to brush against the garments while entering the shoulder-wide doorway, thus “completing a circuit with the rest of the clothing.”

“Grasp” from above

It’s easy to see how clothing, our protective, and decorative, layer against the outside world, very quickly takes on a deeper meaning, kind of like the discarded skins of a person. Says Melander about this transformation: “As the layers of clothing accumulate, the individual garments are compressed into a single mass, a symbolic gesture that explores the conflicted space between society and the individual, between the self and the outside world.”

“Flesh of My Flesh” (2008)

Some of Melander’s art works raise important environmental questions. On September 24th, 2009, Melander together with many volunteers created the 5 x 7 ft sculpture “Into The Fold” from 3,615 pounds of folded second-hand clothing. It was done in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall as part of the 5th Annual “Green Brooklyn…Green City” Fair and Symposium. The event was hosted by the Office of Recycling Outreach and Education and all clothing was loaned by textile recycling company Wearable Collections. Why exactly 3,615 lb of clothing? That’s the amount of textile waste created by New Yorkers every 5 minutes, a truly mind boggling figure!

Here’s the video of the making of this monumental textile sculpture:

Into The Fold, Brooklyn Borough Hall from Derick Melander on Vimeo.

New York-based Melander, son of an abstract painter, has many interests that have shaped his artistic path. He received an associate degree in communications from Elizabeth Seton College in Yonkers, NY in 1985 where he studied music programming, film making, acting and graphic design. After working as an assistant to artist Jerry Goodman, singing in two bands and teaching nursery school, Melander got his first own art studio and a BFA from NYC’s School of Visual Arts in 1994. He has a second career as an information architect and is the organiser and curator of many art exhibitions.

Melander’s artworks, simple as they may seem at first glance, soon reveal the larger context that makes us ponder over questions of identity and image, but also the garment and fashion industry and how many different pieces of clothing each of us really needs. And those old clothes chucked out while doing the spring cleaning? Well, we got some ideas for those.

Derick Melander

Guest Post courtesy of Environmental Graffiti, written by Simone Preuss.

For more artworks and upcoming projects, visit Derick Melander’s website.
All images courtesy of Derick Melander
Thanks also to the folks at 1800recycling for letting us know about Derick Melander.

About Starre Vartan
Starre Vartan is editor-in-chief of and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life.


  1. omg!! these are amazing!!!

  2. That wave of clothing, truly is an eco-chic sculpture. Nice post!

    – Maurizio Maranghi –

    Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  3. Wow, this is amazing. Looks like water color.

  4. Ummm, how about giving those to people who need clothing instead of making, art with them.
    Beautiful? Yes. Logical? No.

  5. Interesting and so unhealthy, because it has too much chemicals inside.

  6. I know. Something about stacks of things that makes me want to smash them.

  7. give these clothes to poor people please

  8. My mother kept all her clothes, she kept all my sisters clothes and my clothes and tenants clothes if they should leave them. She was one of those DPs from WW2 who threw nothing away ….newspapers,plastic containers and so on.
    What should I do with them? (well the clothes anyway)
    Some clssic stuff from the 60 s are easy to sell, less so from the 70,s ,80’s -harder and the 90s forget it. Give to the poor….well the charity shops might take the best….”poor people dont want to walk around in period costumes (sorry those comments above). I thought about putting my clothes in order from my babygrow suites to the present—-a womb to tomb statement….I guess
    Veritas…..oldest art theme and underlying all art……..

  9. It’s so creative of these art works. Although these cloths seem to be out of fashion, the recombination has achieved such an amazing work. I think innovation actually exists in all details of our life.

  10. The whole “poor people don’t want to walk around in period costumes” is a bit of a stretch to say. Just because something is out of fashion doesn’t make it a period piece. It’s not Rococo, Victorian, etc. It’s clothes that are just not considered fashionable. If you are freezing, you are freezing, if you are hot, you are hot. You don’t really care what you wear to protect your skin, if your home is the streets where most people don’t even give a second glance.

  11. It looks like a energy wave and also the side view of an ocean wave. Beyond the creativity of this piece, why not take all this fabric and put it to good use, make blankets out of it, use it for rags, recycle, upcycle, clothe other children, repurpose the fabric, get creative and come up with multiple uses for the fabric.

  12. To all those who commented on giving the clothes to the poor: all charity clothes centers are FULL, you can pick your fav color of every item in every size! And nowadays even very poor people prefer to buy a new shirt for 5$.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *