Here’s What Happens When Sanitation Uniforms Take A High-Fashion Turn

Photo: Courtesy of Heron Preston.
Designer Heron Preston, a former Nike employee turned Kanye West associate, was very surprised New York's Department of Sanitation (DSNY) actually took him up on his offer to collaborate (as were we). Even more surprising? How the city organization raised his pitch a couple of notches. "I approached them about doing a tee collaboration using only second-hand vintage T-shirts that we would make new again by screen-printing DSNY branding on them," Preston told Refinery29. "They came back with an idea to launch this concept with a New York Fashion Week event."
When Preston announced his endeavor a few weeks ago — to transform discarded trash collector uniforms into a high-fashion collection — it predictably raised some eyebrows. But Preston's intentions with Uniform seem entirely sincere, and DSNY's participation certainly underscores that this was a collaboration, not a parody of traditionally un-chic professions. DSNY issued a call for donations, let Preston inside its facilities, and even scouted for venues with him. The whole project also raises awareness for various initiatives as well as the newly established Foundation for New York's Strongest.
Last night, at the Dattner Architects-designed Spring Street Salt Shed, the first chapter of Uniform was revealed to a gathering of the expected NYFW attendees (read: very creatively attired fashion editors, stylists, and their ilk) as well as suit-clad city government employees. Preston upcycled donated sanitation worker uniforms from the past few decades by screenprinting them with both archival department graphics and insignia, as well as the Heron Preston for DSNY logo. The lookbook, which was also shot inside the Salt Shed, pairs the collaboration with acid-wash high-rise denim shorts, sweatpants, and camo jackets — basically, a downtown cool-kid uniform. Items in this collection are expected to drop online soon, with prices ranging from $60 for upcycled T-shirts and $80 for Heron Preston x DSNY short-sleeved styles, between $100 and $120 for long-sleeved and button-up silhouettes. Prices went up to $600 for rain jackets and $1,250 for bags.
What's most significant about a designer working with the city government, to host an event during one of the most important weeks for the fashion industry: the "collision of culture" it represents. "Bringing these two worlds together is unheard of — I think when you step outside of your circle, you can achieve true breakthrough," Preston explained.
Uniform's roots trace back to a question one of Preston's friends once asked him: "Do you want to apply 'fashion and art' in the 'fashion and art' space, or to more wicked issues?" Preston said that proposition lingered, and eventually triggered a chain reaction that led him to the DSNY. "I was swimming one day in the ocean, and this garbage bag brushed against me, and I remembered what I cared about: I hate litter bugs, I hate when beaches are dirty," he recalled. "I’ve also been wanting to redesign uniforms," Preston told us, which brought him to the DSNY. "They’re a uniformed force that cares about littering and wear tees, just like I do."
For Preston, collaborating with the DSNY also speaks to the role fashion can have in addressing societal issues — with this collection, the issue is sustainability. "I knew that fashion was a tool to communicate powerful messages," he told us. If anything, by working with the DSNY, he draws attention to the work the government is already doing to bridge the gap between industries. "They have ReFashion NYC, a program with Housing Works where they help New Yorkers donate their clothes; they have the 0x30 Initiative, which I didn't really know about, either."
What made this partnership distinct, and the message more effectively communicated, for both Preston and the DSNY, was how it encouraged all parties involved to branch out of their usual circles a bit. "When I was at Nike, I learned that 'Nike talking about Nike' isn’t as cool as 'kids talking about Nike,' Preston argued. "That’s always stayed with me, as well: DSNY talking about DSNY — no one’s paying attention to that. When you break out of it, you start to get this."
Ahead, check out the first installment of Uniform.

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