Harold Tillman hails Nicola Roberts dress made from electrical cables

Harold Tillman at a reception at Buckingham Palace, 2019. Photo fergusburnett.com

We need this campaign – and we need to know how to recycle, says celebrated entrepreneur Tillman.

Fashion guru Harold Tillman has welcomed a dress made from old household cables as a brilliant and timely way to highlight the vast potential in recycling unwanted electricals. 

And he’s urged fashion designers – especially jewellers – to label their products when they are made from recycled metals, and consumers to buy jewellery made from recycled materials.

Tillman heaped praise on the dress made for former Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts to wear at the Fashion Awards 2021 in November. 

The Nicola Roberts dress was created from 315 metres of household electrical wires by the rising fashion designer Alexandra Sipa

Tillman, one the British fashion industry’s most influential figures over the past half century, said: “I think it’s a brilliant idea – to wake people up about recycling and giving away things that could benefit the environment.”

Dress is a perfect example of what can be achieved, says Tillman


The result of a collaboration between Sipa and Recycle Your Electricals, the Nicola Roberts gown is the latest initiative in the campaign to inspire the nation to recycle, reuse and donate old and unwanted electricals. 

Tillman said the dress was a great way to shine a light on the benefits of reuse and recycling. “Fashion gets a lot of publicity. It can definitely create public interest and awareness in what we can do to improve things.”

Former owner of fashion brands Aquascutum and Jaeger and chair of the British Fashion Council, Harold Tillman is now Enterprise and Business Advisor for the London College of Fashion. He was awarded a CBE for services to fashion in 2010. 

“I’ve got two drawers full of old plugs and things and you think Oh I might need that – but you never use them”

Perfect timing

Speaking to Recycle Your Electricals in the week of the COP26 global climate talks, Tillman said there had never been a better time to get everyone talking about how to save precious resources from going to waste. 

Recycling the metals in old electricals eases pressure to mine raw materials, reducing climate-changing emissions and damage to landscapes.

Small old electricals are the world’s fastest growing waste stream: an estimated 140 million unused electrical cables are gathering dust in UK homes alone.

“You couldn’t pick a better time, with the COP going on,” said Tillman, welcoming “everything that can be done to create intrigue and interest – it will definitely open their eyes”.

Tillman expected the campaign to strike a chord with the public. “As I’m talking to you I’ve got two drawers full of old plugs and things, and you think Oh I might need that – but you never use them. So you’ve got me on board.” 

Nicola Roberts at the Fashion Awards 2021.

Fashion’s footprint

Tillman’s commitment to sustainability goes back to his earliest days in clothing manufacturing, when he sought to guarantee decent working conditions for his employees. “It’s just ingrained in me,” he says. 

As chair of the Ethical Fashion Forum the entrepreneur has also led efforts to put the fashion industry on a more sustainable footing.

“Fashion and textiles are the second largest polluter – next to oil and plastics, I suppose,” he said.

“There is progress. There is a lot more to do but undoubtedly there is interest and awareness among large and small clothing retailers, manufacturers and fashion designers in producing sustainably.”

Jewellery from recycled metals

A short hop from clothes fashion, the jewellery industry has long used recycled materials, Tillman said.

“It’s a given. They’ve always recycled. Someone would break up a diamond bracelet that has been sold and remake it into something else that can be sold. The gold can be melted down and restyled. So that’s not anything new.”  

One area where the fashion industry in general could make progress is by flying less, Tillman said.

The pandemic has taught us that “people don’t need to be continually travelling around the world to run their business”.

“At one time I was going to Hong Kong once a month. But today I wouldn’t need to. A lot of this can be done remotely. So that’s a fuel saving.”

Consumer influence

While emphasising the responsibility of the industry, Tillman said the buying public also has a role to play. While we might not all be wearing Nicola Roberts-style electro-dresses any time soon, we can make other consumer choices – like buying jewellery from recycled metals

Tillman called on jewellery designers and brands to be more assertive about their use of recycled metals. “The public could be told more clearly – and these things do make a difference.”

“I think the public should start to look at what they’ve got. Do they need another one? Do they know they’ve got it? And resale is becoming really predominant, which is a very good idea because the product is going onwards to another user.” 

‘We need to know how to recycle electricals’

Parallels between the fashion and consumer tech market are obvious.

Anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled – and recycling can start with a repair, passing on or selling something.

Or it can mean ensuring that the valuable materials like gold, silver and copper in electricals are salvaged and remade into something useful – or beautiful.

“It all comes back to the same thing: how we can produce materials without smoke coming out of chimneys”, said Tillman.

“It’s not just one voice like Greta Thunberg that needs to be talking about this.”

Nicola Roberts models Alex Sipa dress made from recycled electrical wires

So would it make sense to make sure that all those cables and smartphones we have sitting around get recycled?

“Absolutely,” said Tillman. “I really, really think it’s brilliant. We need a campaign – and not only a campaign but we need to know how it can be recycled.”

As for the how, Recycle Your Electricals has got you covered: you can find your nearest electrical recycling point using our handy locator. The campaign to get everyone on board continues.

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