Campaigners turn beautiful clothes into light bulbs

Fashion includes everything from functional items, like rucksacks, to statement statements, like quilts. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland, people were wearing suits and dresses, tops and bottoms, knitted and colorful clothes.

And, thanks to the fashion industry, some of those sweaters and sweaters are being converted into light bulbs. The Make Light Thing project, launched by the activist group Fashion 4 Development (F4D), has developed a creative campaign that allows consumers to take any item of clothing and convert the lights into kilowatts.

How it works

The Make Light Thing project asks consumers to take a piece of clothing they would normally discard into a donation bin, an idea that encourages designers to recycle unwanted clothes. F4D developed a pattern that transforms the light bulb into an LED bulb. An independent lab then converts the bulb into small energy-efficient devices.

The result

Right now, LEDs make up just 0.1% of the global lighting market, and the Make Light Thing project is looking to increase that by taking large amounts of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and turning them into low-cost light bulbs that can also be used for home lighting.

“People recycle everything from jeans to white shoes. Why don’t they just recycle their light bulbs?” asks Ian Giles, one of the designers behind Make Light Thing. The Make Light Thing project started in 2007 as a way to address global warming and wants to encourage more people to conserve energy and be environmentally aware.

“If it’s not something we’re going to collect like that [fashion recycling] would be acceptable but it should actually be a norm,” Giles told Popular Science.

Inspired by a similar campaign at Fashion Week London 2015, the Make Light Thing campaign launched in Poland at the COP26 event, where clothing was being recycled and sold off. Since then, the campaign has been on display in Paris and Unesco World Heritage Site, The Louvre, and the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Make Light Thing launched their exhibition in Warsaw in collaboration with the conservation organization ACRAU and The Polish Green Building Council.

Why Poland is the perfect location

Rising interest in ways to reduce energy use and stimulate the clean energy sector prompted delegates at the conference to invite Make Light Thing to Poland. The city of Krakow has high levels of energy efficiency and the Polish Green Building Council works to create more energy-efficient buildings. Poland is the second-largest manufacturer of utility-scale solar photovoltaic cells in the world.

“It’s a great place to exhibit from the energy efficiency side and to showcase the greatest potential for solar energy on a grand scale,” Giles told Fast Company.

F4D has been working with retail and creative companies to make the Make Light Thing campaign commercially viable. The Make Light Thing project even produced a dance video featuring a local Krakow nightclub as the setting for a runway show during the Boonstock music festival.

International award recipients

F4D also received international recognition in April with the award for Best Use of Fashion for the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. The award was presented to F4D by the Executive Director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in The Hague.

“With this (Make Light Thing) campaign, it’s providing education on climate change, climate resilience and green business models,” said Zuhair Mashhadi, who presented the award at the ceremony. “We are witnessing amazing initiatives and this is what the Secretary-General and UNFCCC want to give back to the people.”

In the short term, fashion campaigns also attract attention to a medium that could prove crucial to reducing climate change. “Even though it’s relatively small, it’s changing society in the fashion community in a good way,” says Giles.

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