Upcycling airbags, from vehicle to wardrobe

The jackets and bags in Ryohei Kawanishi's latest collection are more unusual than they might look at first glance. The Japanese fashion designer, now based in New York, took up the challenge of creating his latest collection from used airbags. The initiative is as creative as it is conscious, reflecting the importance of using upcycling to reduce pollution from waste and refuse.
Upcycling airbags, from vehicle to wardrobe

Although car manufacturers are beginning to work on optimizing the management of airbag recycling, many are still discarding these safety systems because they can’t be reused. Still, a handful of fashion designers are working to turn airbags into clothing or accessories. Originally from Tottori Prefecture, in the southwest of Japan, designer Ryohei Kawanishi recently created a whole collection from recycled car airbags.

It is at the request of the car recycling company Nishikawa Shokai that the designer embarked on this upcycling project, reports the South China Morning Post. Unable to recycle its airbags, the Japanese company asked Ryohei Kawanishi to work on a solution to reduce the environmental impact of these safety components. This was a major challenge given the specific nature of the source material, designed to withstand extreme heat and impact.

The first pieces were by no means not crafted overnight, but the Japanese designer finally rose to the challenge with flying colors, unveiling not just a few items, but an entire collection of clothing and accessories. “It took us more than one year to find a specialist sewing company that could complete the processes of cutting the airbags to the correct panel shapes and then reconnecting them in the patterns for garments,” Ryohei Kawanishi told the Hong Kong daily newspaper.

Comprising bags, hats and jackets, the collection has met with a certain degree of success among the younger generation. And the fashion designer isn’t stopping there. He is already planning to add to this collection with basics for day-to-day wear, and even to test out dyeing of this new kind of fabric, which, for the moment, is only available in white.

Ryohei Kawanishi is not the only designer to have worked on upcycling car airbags. Back in 2021, Heron Preston also presented a collection, in collaboration with Mercedes, featuring clothing made from the German automaker’s used airbags.

For its part, Hyundai has used airbags, windshields and other materials from its end-of-life vehicles to craft a collection of ready-to-wear clothing for men and women. These experiments all serve to show that solutions exist to significantly reducing waste, which is partly responsible for the environmental impact of two of the most polluting industries.