This New York Fashion Week is expected to be a head-scratcher, between the see-now-buy-now hoopla, the Tommy Hilfiger and Gigi Hadid carnival extravaganza, and the Department of Sanitation's debut runway moment. Yes, you read that last one right: Streetwear designer Heron Preston, best known for his work at Nike and Yeezy (and for approving that bootleg Life Of Pablo merch), will stage a presentation at Manhattan's Spring Street Salt Shed featuring "up-cycled" trash-collector uniforms donated by the city's Department of Sanitation (DSNY), The Cut reports. "When I started thinking about my next collaboration, I wanted to challenge myself," Preston told Refinery29 via email. "I didn’t want to do something easy. Working with a typical partner who shared a similar cultural space in fashion, art, and design was way too predictable. It wouldn't bring anything new to the table. For a true breakthrough, I needed to step outside of my familiar circles." Since Preston is interested in workwear, it makes sense that he'd consider re-designing the uniform of a local organization, like the DSNY. "I felt like they were the true unsung heroes of New York, working day and night, 24/7 to keep [the city] clean and livable for us, yet [they're] totally overlooked," he explained. "It was this passion of mine to get involved with real people to do good for them, but also for the environment," noting that the show is meant as a tribute to the work of sanitation workers as part of the 0x30 campaign, a project introduced by sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia last year where New York pledges to send zero waste to landfills by 2030.
To prep pieces for the runway, Preston worked with the DSNY to source old uniforms from actual DSNY employees, which he then screen-printed and embroidered with the word "Uniform," he explained. He also dug through the DSNY archives to unearth old graphics that'll make their way into the collection; Preston has been sharing snippets of the preparation on Instagram, documenting everything from the first meeting at the Salt Shed to his tour of the DSNY's Central Repair Shop in Queens, with the hashtag #HPC0x30). The reason to do all of this, repurposing these old pieces into high-fashion, Preston said, is to educate New Yorkers on the importance of reducing waste and sustainability — something he notes very much applies to the apparel industry. "I want people to understand how important sanitation workers are to the fashion industry and to recognize them as a valuable workforce to the well-being of our communities and businesses," he said. As if the idea of putting trash-collector gear on the runway wasn't intriguing enough, Uniform will also have a see-now-buy-now component: "Guests will be able to shop the collection and walk away with it on the same day," Preston said, adding that an online store will open up two days later. The expected price point for the repurposed uniforms has yet to be revealed, but it'll likely be on the pricier side: The DSNY is selling 25 tickets to the show for $2,030 a pop. To be fair, a portion of the money does go to a good cause: The plan is to donate proceeds from those VIP passes and actual ready-to-wear sales back to the DSNY via the Foundation for New York's Strongest, a non-profit organization that gives back to city sanitation workers and the 0x30 initiative.
The concept of trash-collector uniforms as high-fashion may seem bizarre, but it's already caught the attention of major industry players: Vogue has reportedly secured the exclusive rights to the runway imagery, according to Page Six. Plus, Preston hopes this is but the first installment of an ongoing project that will involve even more designers getting behind 0x30's mission. "For the next phase, I would like to invite designers to donate surplus materials that would otherwise go unused or to landfills and turn them into DSNY-inspired Uniform pieces," he says. "Imagine a Vetements DSNY-inspired hoodie, or an Off-White DSNY-inspired rain jacket, or a Yeezy DSNY-inspired, heavy-duty, long-sleeve T-shirt, and we auction those off to raise money for the Foundation for New York’s Strongest." Luckily, Preston is a frequent collaborator of Virgil Abloh, Off-White's creative director, and Kanye West, so this proposed move toward sustainability might actually happen in the near future. The Uniform show is slated for September 7 — the same day as Yeezy Season 4. Will West have the opportunity to drop in and see the pieces for himself? Guess we'll have to wait and see.