As far as fashion collaborations go, New York City's Department of Sanitation is probably at the top as the most unexpected partnership to cross the New York Fashion Week calendar. So surprising, in fact, that we did a double take. What's going on? Well, designer and artist Heron Preston, one of Kanye West's protégés, is doing something so admirable that it's revolutionary is what's going on.
In the first installment of a series titled "Uniform," Preston has joined forces with the city's sanitation department (DSNY) to create a limited-edition capsule collection of workwear-inspired pieces upcycled from donated DSNY uniforms in an effort to promote awareness of New York City's 0x30 initiative, which aims to send zero waste to landfills by the year 2030.
"A garbage bag brushing against my arm in the ocean inspired this project," he tells us at the presentation-slash-installation set in the DSNY's Salt Shed on Wednesday. "I was like, ew, I hate this—I don't want to be swimming in the ocean filled with plastic bags."
No one does.
"Right!" Preston says, emphatically. "I care about cleaning up beaches. I hate litterbugs. And then I remembered this desire of mine to one day redesign uniforms for an agency. And so the two collided. I had this epiphany—the Department of Sanitation is a uniform force that cares about the same things I do. They even have 'Don't Litter' messages printed on their trucks."
The guy truly cares. This isn't someone who's "going green" because it's currently trendy to do so. No, Preston really believes in the cause, speaking with so much passion, so much animation, it's hard not to get swept up in his vision. As for the design elements, Preston says it was a natural fit between the two. "They wear screen-printed shirts like I do, they wear hats and Timberlands—all the same stuff I wear and that I like to design," he explains, pointing out all the similarities between their 'uniforms.' "That's streetwear to me, so I'm redefining and rewriting the rules. This has never been done before."
Virgil Abloh, the man behind the very buzzy streetwear label Off-White, was also there to lend his support. "To me, this is the most important, most progressive, not only execution-wise, idea in fashion," he praises. "I've long since called Heron Preston the Azzedine Alaïa of streetwear. Within our industry, he's revered for a certain level of ingenuity and craft, and people are seeing that on a larger scale. We're being expressive, and we have the platform to showcase our ideas, but this is the stuff we're doing, even if nobody was paying attention."
For Preston, at the end of the day, it's also about celebrating sanitation workers for their service, for thanking them for keeping New York City, our home, clean and healthy. "Without them, we wouldn't be able to live in New York City," he says. "Literally, we'd have to move away or we would die."
It almost sounds hyperbolic, but he's dead serious. And it's true. But what do the sanitation workers think of the project?
"It's unbelievable," says Henry Ferranti, supervisor of network operations at the DSNY. That pretty much sums it up.
Scroll through to see the looks from Heron Preston's Uniform collection, which will be available at HPCxDSNY.com.