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17 of the Best Kitchen Upcycles


There are two ways to upcycle your kitchen. You can upcycle things that come from your kitchen (spoons, plates, etc.), or you can upcycle things to put in your kitchen (artwork, storage and other containers, organizers, etc.).

Here are some of THE BEST (and coolest) ways I have found to upcycle things for your kitchen

First, it’s good to note that there are literally hundreds of ways you can upcycle things in your kitchen. Your imagination and resources are really the only limits you have when it comes to upcycling things. If you can think it up, you can create it.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the pictures that are used in this post. They are the handiwork of the people who produced the projects linked to in this article. I will provide the links to the websites and articles that I retrieved the pictured from.

#1 CD Mosaic Backsplash

In this DIY backsplash project, you use old CDs to create a really mesmerizing mosaic. I mean, who uses CDs anyway? It’s a great way to make use of old trash to create a really classy looking backsplash.

Honestly, when I first looked at this project, I didn’t even know it was made from CDs. Instead, to me, it looks like some sort of shimmery tile, which I think is awesome.

There are a lot of benefits to using this project for your backsplash, but primarily, it gets CDs (which aren’t really usually recycled) out of the trash and put to good use. And it also just looks really cool without costing very much. Because CDs are becoming more and more obsolete, they’re way cheaper than tile. A quick Facebook Marketplace search could probably get you all the CDs you need for around $10.

#2 Book Knife Block

This is a super nifty way of keeping your knives safe and people safe from your knives. There’s no glue or carving involved. You just tie some books together and slide your knives in.

I’m kind of a sucker for books myself, especially older, hardbound books. I listen to more audiobooks than I do read books, though, and so this is a great way to take care of those classy looking, older books that you just don’t have any other use for.

#3 iPad Stand

In this project, you just take an old trowel (or spade or hand shovel–or whatever you call them), and you stick it on the back of some repurposed wood.

I think in this example, it was leftover trim wood that they used, but you could definitely use an old pizza peel or some other flat wood surface.

They used epoxy to ensure a good adhesion between the trowel and the repurposed wood.

As with most things, because we’re talking about items for your kitchen, I would want to make sure that the items you’re using are clean. Especially because this wood and trowel have been outside, you don’t want rust and other things getting into your food as you use your iPad to cook. Nasty. But as long as it’s clean, you should be good to go.

#4 Book Box Spoon Holder

This project is about a quarter of the way down the page on the link in the headline. Not a lot of information is given on how they created it. But there are loads of tutorials on the internet on how to create book boxes.

In fact, I found one on Youtube here. This one makes the book box like a case, but I imagine if you cut the edges all the way through to the top of the book, and then seal the book closed again, you’d probably be just fine in creating a book box for your spoons and other mixing utensils.

#5 Teapot Light Fixture

This one’s REALLY unique, but I’m kind of a fan. Essentially, you just replace a lightshade with a teapot.

I’m actually not 100% how this is done, and unfortunately the website doesn’t give very much info either. But I assume you just cut a hole out of the bottom of the teapot (with a drill and jigsaw, maybe) that is big enough for your light’s needs.

It looks like this one could be a little more technical than the others so far, but it’s also really unique, so I like it a lot.

#6 Globe Paper Towel Holder

I honestly am not sure what to call this. But I like it.

I think the only piece that would be difficult with creating this piece is finding an old globe. Specifically, you need to find a globe with where the actual sphere is broken. Otherwise it’s more like a lateral-cycle instead of an upcycle.

But I love this project because it takes a piece of the kitchen that is not usually an eye catcher, and it makes a statement with it. Paper towel holders are rather unremarkable, but this changes the game.

#7 Wooden Spoon Garden Markers

There are two things I really like about this project: first, it’s easy. It’s paint and old spoons. Even as someone who doesn’t really consider himself very crafty, this is doable.

The second thing I like is that when my wife and I got married, we were given WAY too many spoons. Like so many. And so this puts them to good use.

The fact that the spoons already have a pointy end makes them really easy to stick in good soil. So that’s nice too.

#8 Whisk Tea Light Holders

I actually pulled this image from Pinterest. I don’t think the photo is on the actual site anymore. But that is the page it directed me to, for what it’s worth.

If you have kids, this might not be the best project because the tea lights are literally just hanging out. But other than that, I think this is a really nifty way of romanticizing the light in your kitchen in an eco friendly way.

This is one’s pretty easy because you just hang the whisks anywhere you want (away from flammable things, of course), stick the tea lights in, and you’re done.

I think the simplicity of it is kind of what makes it beautiful.

Maybe it’s just me, but something that comes to mind is, where do you get all those whisks?

I would probably just go down to the local thrift store. A lot of thrift stores with sell normal, everyday kitchen items, and you can probably get them for pennies. Really cheap, but also rustic and classy in this case.

#9 Thermos Lamp

The thing I especially like about this link is that it has instructions on how to build the lamp itself. A lot of project pages just have a picture and a few words.

I think this makes so much sense. I don’t know how long thermos are supposed to last, but it would make sense to upcycle them once the stop working the way you want them to (or you get a new one).

I think in this case specifically, the vintage look makes everything pop a little bit more and it looks SO intential.

And that’s the hard part, usually–making something look like it’s supposed to be that way. In this upcycle project, I’m not even sure if it was ever used for drinks or if it was always meant to be a lamp. And it’s really cool when you can get that part down.

I know this one is a little less kitchen-ish. But you need to wash your vacuum sealed water bottles every now and again. So I think it still counts.

#10 Cork Planters

I’m not a wine drinker myself, so I don’t see many corks, but UpcycleThat got this one right, for sure.

THEY ARE SO DANG CUTE!

My wife loves succulents and little things. And she especially loves little succulents. Seriously, though, they’re really cute.

And I feel like you could put them anywhere, you know? It looks like here they’re attached to magnets and put on a metal board, but you could put them anywhere I think. Just as long as you have something to make them stick.

It’s upcycle in the most eco-friendly way. Taking something that isn’t recyclable and making it useful–but also a step beyond that by planting something.

#11 Rolling Pin Hangers

So, a cool thing about this project is that you don’t need to do it. The link is to an Etsy page, so you can just buy it from the creator instead of taking a stab at it.

My first thought is “you must do a lot of baking if you need five rolling pins.” But my second thought is “maybe you don’t, and that’s why you are using them for something else.”

In all seriousness, you can probably buy these kinds of rolling pins used at a thrift store for super cheap. I love anything that has reclaimed wood. So this backboard of this rack is awesome.

Something to note, though. I think these rolling pins are actually solid body (I could be wrong). That way nothing rolls off. But whether they are or they aren’t, you can fix the rolling problem by glueing the axel to the rolling pin itself and that should stop any spin.

#12 Utensil Wind Chimes

I love the vintage part of this. I feel like even though it’s silverware, there’s still something classy about this wind chime set.

This link goes to a full tutorial, which is awesome because punching holes in spoons to hang them up isn’t the first thing that comes to mind on a list of things I know how to do.

My thought is that you’d want to make sure you have more than just silverware in your wind chime set because you want a variety of sound. You could probably achieve this with smaller spoons and forks as well as other items in your kitchen/house.

#13 Silverware Key Hangers

Thankfully this link also goes to a full tutorial on how to do this project. And it’s simple and clear, which makes doing the project a lot easier.

Man, there is nothing worse than losing your keys. All of the things I could have been on time for if I only knew where my keys were.

This project makes it super easy to keep tract of those pesky keys.

I would assume this project is especially useful for homes where the garage walks right into the kitchen. I grew up in a house like that, and this kind of project makes a lot of sense in that scenario because it makes it look more cohesive, instead of you putting your keys in the kitchen–where they aren’t supposed to go!

On the other hand, my garage and kitchen are on opposite ends of the house, so this project makes significantly less sense to do in my situation. But I do need to get a key rack soon. I’ve lost them a couple of times.

#14 Silverware Sun Mirror

Keeping on our silverware trend, this project incorporates a mirror in your kitchen so you can pick out the pieces of green that get stuck in your teeth (I still don’t know what they’re called).

Thankfully, this link also goes directly to a tutorial on how to make this sun-mirror for your kitchen, which again, is super useful.

There is almost NO empty wall space in my kitchen (it’s not huge), so this kind of project might not make sense for someone like me. Even though I like the way it looks.

On the other hand, this project makes tons of sense in kitchens where there is a lot of wall space because that wall space can be hard to fill up in a tasteful way.

Kitchens are odd things. There are a lot of things to put on the counters, but not nearly as many things to put on the walls.

#15 Mason Jar Tissue Holders

I’m a pretty lucky guy in that I don’t cry much, and I’m not sick very often at all.

My wife on the other hand cries a lot. She self-identifies as a sympathetic cryer which means that we can’t watch emotional movies without her eyes leaking.

The cool thing about recycling mason jars is that it seems like everyone has them. And what do you do once you’ve eaten all the jam? You don’t have to throw them away anymore.

I think these tissue holders are just as classy, if not more classy than the ones that come with the tissues themselves too (not that there was a classy competition among the tissue boxes).

#16 Old Dishes as Art

You know, I feel like I’ve seen people do this quite often actually. But for some reason, it doesn’t really occur to me to take old silver and hang it on the wall.

But I guess the beauty in this project lies in its simplicity. Usually as upcyclers, we try to create something different. A “something else” that’s useful. But this project doesn’t require you to make something different, just to put something in a different place.

And I guess I find that super refreshing.

#17 Enamel Mug Organizer

I especially like the name of this project because it’s not just a “mug shelf.” Clearly they have mugs positioned in two different directions. I really like this because some things are better sorted vertically, not horizontally.

I feel like there aren’t enough cubbies this size. We all have a bunch of little things, but not very many places to put them, and I think this solves that problem.

Is Upcycling Important? Being Conscious of Your Footprint


Most of us want to be involved with something important. And upcycling can be a lot of fun, but what kind of impact does upcycling have in the world around you? And why is upcycling important in the first place?

The importance (or benefits) of upcycling can really be broken down into three major categories. Environmental, personal, and social benefits. By creatively reducing your overall waste footprint, you help yourself and those around you live cleaner, more engaging lives.

So what are these environmental, personal, and social benefits of upcycling? Maybe knowing a few can help you in your upcycle journey.

Environmental Benefits of Upcycling

Upcycling has some MAJOR environmental benefits, especially when compared to recycling or just disposing of items you have. And knowing a little bit about what happens when you don’t upcycle can add some clarity to how awesome upcycling really is.

I think most of us understand that littering is pretty bad for the environment. If you’re looking at things you can do with your trash, littering should be on the bottom of your list (like, right below eating it).

If that’s the lowest run on the “what to do with my trash” ladder, throwing it away is a couple steps above. Trash usually goes to a landfill, which isn’t great, but at least it’s contained.

Recycling is good, but most things that can be recycled can only be recycled a few times before they too become trash.

Upcycling is at the top of the ladder because your trash doesn’t go anywhere. It stays with you. Upcycling essentially keeps trash from becoming trash in the first place. This has a few different benefits for the environment.

Reduces What Goes In Landfills

This one’s kind of obvious, and it’s a benefit upcycling shares with recycling. But it goes even beyond recycling because the items never even leave your house.

Instead of spending resources to transport, break down the item to a raw material, make something new, and transport it again (that’s what recycling does), with upcycling, the item just changes from one useful thing to another.

So in many ways, upcycling can be more beneficial than recycling for the environment because it usually leaves a smaller footprint.

Reduces Your Consumption

Not only does less end up in landfills, but less is consumed in general. By transforming one thing into another, you eliminate the need to buy something else and consume it.

This means that you’re reducing your waste footprint on both ends. You’re reducing what you throwout, but you’re also reducing what you take in, making it a double-edged sword (in a good way) for environmentally conscious people.

And this is very closely related to the next environmental benefit.

Reduces the Need for Production

It’s true that the more you buy, the more you throw out. But even more so, the more you buy the more resources are used in production.

By making a backpack out of old jeans instead of buying a new one, resources aren’t used to create a new one for you, reducing production a little bit.

It’s hard to say how much of an impact each person has on this, but even helping cut resource consumption a little bit can help. So maybe Old Navy will still make the same amount of jeans and backpacks, but they didn’t make them for you.

Personal Benefits of Upcycling

There are also a few personal benefits that come with upcycling.

Satisfaction Knowing You’re Doing Good

Most of us like to feel like we’re doing some good in the world, and upcycling gives you that satisfaction. Not only are you making a positive impact on the environment, but you’re also making something yourself, which brings its own level of satisfaction.

Getting behind a purpose brings a lot of meaning to our actions, which is one of the reasons upcycling is so great. It feels good to do good, you know?

It Saves You Money

For real though, think about it, everything you upcycle is something you didn’t need to buy. By upcycling, you can save on how much you spend on items you use every day.

So not only is it for the environmentally aware, but it’s also for the thrifty. If you enjoy saving money and making things work on a tight budget, upcycling can be a super useful way of doing that.

There are some material costs as you get enough tools to do upcycling consistently. But once you have that set of tools, upcycling can become much more cost effective and even more time efficient to upcycle things instead of buy them.

Helps You Be More Creative

Being creative is a super important (and fun) skill to have. There’s a certain level of satisfaction knowing that you’re designing and making something out of what was considered trash.

There’s a little bit of a creative high that hits when you get an upcycling idea. And the more you upcycle, the more those ideas come, which becomes super fun.

Some people get so good at it that they start companies and eventually make their livelihood through upcycling. That’s an awesome amount of creativity!

And it’s just fun to be creative. It kind of takes us back to being kids–when you just had tons of ideas about everything you saw. Sky was the limit. And now it is again with upcycling.

Social Benefits of Upcycling

Social benefits are often overlooked when it comes to upcycling, but there are a couple I want to talk about.

You Become More Involved With Other People

There’s a pretty big community surrounding upcycling (just search it on Pinterest). There’s always somebody making something useful out of would-be trash. And that community continues to grow.

There are also Facebook groups, YouTube videos, and a bunch of other ways to connect with people that upcycle–especially if you’re obsessed with it.

Maybe you even end up talking to your neighbor who upcycles that you normally wouldn’t otherwise.

If you end up getting really serious and starting a business, you might even come in contact people that want to donate upcycling materials to you. There are just a lot of ways to get connected with people in the space.

You Support Small Businesses

As mentioned previously, there are businesses that exist from doing upcycling. They take old products that people would throw (or even have thrown) away and turn them into products people want to buy.

Maybe you don’t want to upcycle yourself, but you want to be involved. Buying one of these products or donating materials can be really awesome ways to help out without getting your hands super dirty.

You Get Some Pretty Cool Conversation Pieces

Even though upcycling is about creating useful things out of trash, the pieces seldom look like you just bought them from the store. Some people can make them look that way, but most of the time, items have a really unique look to them.

If you wear upcycled clothes or accessories, or if you upcycling projects are used often in your house, people can recognize that and start conversations.

Can You Do Zero Waste Upcycling?


Zero Waste is an extraordinarily lofty goal. And we know that upcycling is a great way to reduce your waste. But can you upcycle your way to Zero Waste?

There is currently no known way to upcycle enough to completely eliminate your waste footprint. So far, the ability to achieve Zero waste is limited by what you can upcycle. There are upcycle projects, however, that leave zero waste for that specific project.

But why can’t we get to Zero Waste through upcycling? Is it worth even trying to upcycle if it’s so limited?

Zero Waste and Upcycling

First of all, as humans, it’s very important we do our best to take care of the planet we live on. And if we can reduce or eliminate any amount of waste we produce, we should do our best to do that.

Just because something is limited in its reach doesn’t mean that reach is unimportant. The more you upcycle (as well as reduce, reuse, and recycle), the smaller your waste footprint on the planet becomes. And that’s a win.

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now. Let’s talk about why it’s still impossible to upcycle your way to complete Zero Waste.

The issue with upcycling your way to Zero Waste is that what and how you upcycle plays a role in how much waste you produce. In other words, some items just can’t really be effectively upcycled and some projects require you to dispose of some of your material.

So no matter how hard you try to use that weird corner of tape that came on that product packaging of the item you order–you just might not be able to. There are some things that are just trash that can’t be redesigned to be something else.

Fortunately that number is small and most things that you end up throwing away can actually be used in some form or fashion for something else.

The other issue is that some upcycle projects still produce waste. Maybe not as much waste, but a little bit. You may have been considering throwing away a pair of jeans, but you find a way to turn it into a handbag instead. Odds are you’ll cut off and dispose of some of the fabric.

Even if you make multiple things out of that pair of jeans, you’ll still have to throw away some frays and unusable rags.

These two issues are currently what stops people from being able to reach complete Zero Waste with just upcycling

Is Zero Waste Possible in the First Place?

From the research I’ve done (and I’ve followed some people that have done their darnedest), no one has been able to 100% Zero Waste. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, necessarily. But I haven’t seen anyone do it.

I’ve see some people and communities come close. I’ve seen 80-90% Zero Waste, but never really 100%.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It is sure difficult now, but with advances in technology, it might not be so difficult in the future. And maybe there are lifestyle changes that can be made now that can make us truly Zero Waste–I just don’t know of any.

It’s More About Reducing than Eliminating

But just because Zero Waste is (or seems) impossible right now, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to get to.

In fact, the whole idea behind Zero Waste is to reduce our waste footprint on the planet. There is so much trash that ends up in landfills that doesn’t need to be there. Each time something is put in a landfill needlessly, something else has to be created with resources to replace it.

In other words, even if we never reached Zero Waste, but we cut our waste by 80%, that’s still a WHOLE lot less that ends up in landfills, and it’s a really good step forward.

So just because it’s tough, or even impossible, it doesn’t mean that we can’t make an impact. And upcycling is an awesome way to make that kind of impact.

An added benefit to upcycling is that it doesn’t need to be processed in a recycling plant, which saves resources from the earth as well.

Zero Waste and Recycling

Some people will say that recycling actually isn’t progress toward Zero Waste, but rather it’s a delay of waste. In this sense, upcycling is (or will be) the only path to Zero Waste.

The reason it’s not considered waste elimination to recycle is that materials can only be recycled a certain amount of times before they themselves need to be discarded because of material decay.

Basically, a plastic bottle can only be recycled a few times before it needs to be discarded like other non-recyclable items.

The point of upcycling, though, is that an item doesn’t end up in the trash can or recycle bin in the first place. Instead, you keep it out of a bucket and make something new with something old.

That truly does become Zero Waste because it creates a new product without having to use resources to break the old one down to a usable material.

So in your quest to reach Zero Waste, always try and upcycle before you recycle. But for sure avoid trash when you can recycle.

Is Upcycling Legal? Make Sure You Know What You’re Doing


So upcycling is an awesome hobby to have, and it can be a lot of fun. But is what you’re doing with upcycling legal?

Upcycling items you own for private use is legal. However, when you alter something with the intention to sell it for profit, you can get in trouble with the law if you don’t use your own brand name for the product or make it unclear whether the product is altered.

Wow! Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s get into it.

Disclaimer

First, it’s important that I start off with a disclaimer. I am not an attorney, nor am I a law expert in any way. All of the information you will read in this blog post came from resources I researched on the internet.

I believe my findings to be true, but I cannot guarantee their accuracy. You should always do your own legal research and consult an attorney before making decisions that could have a legal impact.

Thank you. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive into what you came here to read in the first place.

Use Your Own Brand Name

As mentioned before, it’s legal to upcycle just about anything for your own personal use. You own the item and you can do with it as you please. This allows you to take a glass jar and upcycle it into a candle–or whatever you want to do.

This mentality protects you and your property from Copyright and Trademark owners from coming after you and what you own.

However, the waters can get a little murky when you start to sell items you upcycle for profit. The main question is, is the product your’s or another brand’s? Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you own a Nike sweater, it’s old and has a stain on the sleeve, but most of it is in really good condition. So you turn that sweater into a bag that still has the Nike logo on it.

You like it so much, you think you can sell it. So you set up an eBay account with the brand name “UpcyclePacks,” and you list it online.

Well, is it a Nike backpack or an UpcyclePacks backpack? This is where you can get into legal trouble.

At first thought, you may think it’s best you say it’s Nike’s since they own the logo. But that’s actually not the case.

Once you alter a product you own (through upcycling or otherwise) the product has changed, which makes it YOUR product, not the original brand’s. You just made it with the materials that were available to you.

You can imagine how confusing it would be if you upcycled a product with materials from two brands and tried to credit them both.

The long and the short of it is, if you upcycle a product and then sell it, you must claim the product as your own creation. In fact, before you sell the product, you need to remove any tags that say it belongs to another brand. So if you end up leaving the collar of a shirt intact as you make a new product, you need to remove the collar tag before you sell the new product.

If you don’t, you can get into legal trouble. And many an upcycler has.

Keep it simple: If you made it, make it yours.

Using the Term “Alter” Instead of “Upcycle”

This is kind of a big deal, and attorneys will probably want you to use this term when listing your product online or in a store. The term “upcycle” is technically not a legal term, which means that if you get in trouble and say “it’s a product I upcycled,” it probably doesn’t mean anything.

Instead, the term to use, especially when selling online is “altered.” You can also use “upcycled,” if you want, you just also have to make it clear that the item is altered from the original state it began in.

In other words, by law, you aren’t upcycling things, you’re altering them. And if you can clearly state that you are or have altered the product in question, you should be safe from any copyright or trademark infringements.

This also makes sense because you don’t want people to think that your upcycled item is actually an item Nike designed. They supplied the fabric, but you altered it to your design. Again, the term “alter” is your legal shield.

After all, you do want to take credit for the product. You made it.

The Goal is to Eliminate Confusion

The reason behind all this legal stuff is really just to eliminate confusion. Brands, both those whose trademarks you use and your own brand, want to maintain brand integrity.

It’s important that Nike makes Nike products so people know they can get a certain kind of quality and style when they see the swoosh. By the same token, you want people to know that the product they’re purchasing from you was made by you. That way you can establish a brand for yourself.

By confusing who made what product, it dilutes both brands. People aren’t sure what they can expect from Nike, and you don’t get the recognition for creating the product.

And it’s this kind of thing that upsets brands. Your small operations might not pose a threat to any one major brand, but there are a lot of upcyclers out there, and you can imagine what kind of impact it could have if there were a bunch of upcycled products being sold on Etsy or eBay under the brand of the materials they were made from instead of the brand that made the end product.

That’s why the laws surrounding this sort of issue are designed to make things as clear as possible to the customer. You remove tags, claim the product as your own, and give other credit where it is due. All of that so the customer knows exactly what they’re getting.

And if you do that, you should be covered.

Gauging the Risk You’re Willing to Take

As stated before, I’m not an attorney, and I’m not even an engaged student of the law. So I’m not the kind of guy you’d want to bet the farm on when it comes to legal advice. I did, however, try and deliver the most accurate content I could.

It all comes down to how much risk you’re willing to take. If you’re really small and you don’t yet have the funds to hire an attorney, maybe you just want to stay away from trademarked products in general.

Or, maybe, because you’re that small, you don’t feel like anything will happen, so you’re willing to take the risk and make the trademarked upcycle products. That’s all a personal decision.

I will mention that it’s expensive for brands to pursue things legally. As in, it costs them money to do it (as well as you). And if you’re a small brand, they might know that even if they win a legal battle, they won’t get much from you.

So brands like to resolve things without legal complications when possible. And it’s likely that if you’re in violation of trademark or copyright law, they will send a cease and desist letter to you before they take any further legal action.

If that happens, I would do what the letter says. It’s up to you, but I wouldn’t want to get in a legal battle with a major brand that owns a trademark I’m using.

Again, this all comes back to the risks of using trademarks for items you sell. There isn’t any risk in items you don’t sell but instead keep yourself.

Resources

Below are the links I used in my research. You can take a look yourself:

http://lawontherunway.com/blog/top-3-legal-concerns-of-upcycle-fashion-labeling/

https://www.artslaw.com.au/article/upcycling-in-fashion-and-staying-legal/

https://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/can-i-legally-upcycle-clothing-and-accessories-by–1906209.html

https://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/it-is-an-infringement-to-upcycle-then-resell-a-pro-528839.html

https://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/does-first-sale-doctrine-apply-if-i-upcycle-clothi-3246687.html

https://www.legaljunkies.com/showthread.php?t=54942

What is Upcycled Fashion?


So you upcycle your plastic bottles, your old wood, and even your furniture. But can you upcycle your clothes? As it turns out, yeah! It’s actually a full industry unto itself.

Upcycled fashion is similar to other upcycle trends in that the goal is to take used materials (in this case, textiles) and turn it into a usable product that people enjoy. Upcycled clothing has been seen on everyday people as well as runway models.

That’s a nice start, but they’re really a lot more to know about upcycled fashion. So let’s dive into it.

What is Upcycled Fashion?

Upcycling, at it’s core, is about taking something that you might throw away normally and turning it into something you’d prefer to keep. Specifically, the goal is to turn it into something useful.

Upcycling clothing is the same way. When textiles develop holes, stains, tears, or otherwise wear down, our tendency is to throw them away. Who wants an old shirt with a stain on it from dinner?

What people often forget is that just because the whole shirt might be ruined because of the stain (or other cosmetic damage), not all of the fabric is. In fact, there are usually large areas of disposed of clothing that’s totally fine and good to use.

So the purpose of upcycled fashion is to take that still good fabric and give it new life. In fact, that’s often the term that is used when explaining upcycled clothing. Clothing that’s been given “new life.”

The easiest form of upcycled clothing is patchwork clothing, which has kind of made a comeback since the 90’s–so it’s now socially acceptable to wear again. Basically you take bits of old clothing and piece them together to make another large piece of fabric to work with.

But another area of upcycled fashion thinks a little bigger. Why not look at old drapes or curtains, or other large area fabrics that can be used to make articles of clothing from the same material.

This way you don’t end up with a denim and cotton jacket–just a cotton one.

Another upside to this method is that curtains and drapes are often replaced not because of material cosmetic damage, but actually just because they’re updating the look of the room.

People don’t have use for old curtains that don’t match their living room anymore.

With both methods of upcycling clothing, the principle is still the same–taking old fabric and turning it into new clothes.

The hope of upcycling as well is that the end product is better than the first product. So if you have an old t-shirt, the goal is to turn it into something that looks less raggedy and more attractive.

That’s the hope, and I suppose it in large part depends on individual taste.

What Kinds of Upcycled Fashion Are There?

As you could probably guess, upcycled fashion doesn’t just come in one style–just as normal fashion doesn’t come in just one style.

Upcycled fashion has been known to make normal, everyday articles of clothing, but it’s also made its appearance on the runway. In fact, a quick Google search of “upcycle fashion” might pull this latter type first.

I guess it makes sense. There’s something kind of chic about being environmentally conscious.

But for most of us (the non-runway models), there are options as well. Since the goal of upcycling is to try and make a product better than it was before, there are companies out there that are trying to make upcycled clothing that looks normal.

Or at least not distracting.

And you could do the same kind of thing. If you’re a talented seamstress, you might take a stab at creating new clothing out of old yourself. There are a lot of resources online that can help you out.

Upcycle Fashion Companies

As mentioned before, if you’re into helping the planet, but you’re not to handy with a needle, you can buy clothing from companies that specialize in making upcycled articles.

The list below is certainly not exhaustive, and there may be stores in your local area that aren’t on the online map that you should also check out.

Beyond Retro

Beyond Retro specializes in vintage pieces. They’re essentially like a really upscale thrift store. And although they do have a simple “vintage” line, where they just resell old vintage pieces, they also have a “reworked vintage” line, which is made up of upcycled clothing.

Re/Done

Re/Done is all about denim. Specifically, they use Levis (if that’s significant to you). They have an interesting angle because, instead of making one article of clothing another, they just take the jeans apart and put them back together. More or less.

Preloved

Preloved sources products from a number of different locations and areas, but what I think is unique about them is that they use deadstock fabric. That’s fabric that wasn’t used in the original process of making clothes. They turn those fabrics and resources into wonderful pieces of clothing

The Ahimsa Collective

A luxury brand that has no shortage of handbags, Ahimsa is actually unique in that the fabric for their products are made from Pinapple leaves. They call it Piñatex. The upcycle is from leaves that would normally be discarded to useful fabrics. But then, essentially, the bags can be recycled because they’re biodegradable. Crazy.

Christy Dawn

Christy Dawn makes dresses. But not just any dresses. They’re dresses made from leftover materials from major fashion houses. They have really good looking collections. And in addition to the dresses, they have a variety of other clothing items.

Etsy

Okay, Etsy isn’t a brand of upcycled clothing, but it does have upcycled clothing on its site. There are loads of sellers out there who are always making new items and styles. And each piece is unique.

Another thought on Etsy: every purchase supports a small business. These are normal people making extraordinary things. Handmade! That’s pretty incredible. So that’s another benefit.

The Trick (Make It Look Good)

If you’re going to go it alone, there is a trick. And that’s to make whatever you do look good.

There’s a fine line between the look of “I’m environmentally conscious and I did this on purpose,” and “We have 12 kids in our family and this is the patchwork we did on a hand-me-down.”

So if you plan on upcycling clothing yourself. Look for help (unless you’re a pro, in which case, you do you). There are a lot of patterns and how-tos on Pinterest and YouTube. And there are a lot of upcycling groups on Facebook that are super involved.

It’s awesome to make upcycled items, but if they don’t get used because it wasn’t as good as you hoped–it kind of defeats the purpose. So get your bearings right, and then go for it! Make the world a little healthier!

The Bigger Problem (Too Much Clothing!)

Speaking of making the world healthier, according to ReMake, in the US alone, 21 billion tons of clothing and textiles end up in the landfill ever year. To say that’s a ton of clothing would be a clear understatement.

The fashion and clothing industry is one of the heaviest polluting industries on the planet. The fact that clothing doesn’t last forever means that a lot of it can end up in the trash.

Even when you donate it, only so much is sold, and then only so much of what isn’t sold is actually donated. In other words, donating isn’t even a fully sustainable way of taking care of old textiles.

This poses a bit of a problem–but a problem upcycling clothing brands are working to fix. The wave of upcycle fashion is one that helps the the environment out a lot.

So the next time you’re looking to purchase some clothes, think about going upcycled. Both in what you do with your old clothes as well as how you get your new clothes.

Where to Get Upcycling Materials (12 Ways to Get Stuff)


Okay, so you’re on board with upcycling. That’s great! But where do you get your materials? You don’t have EVERYTHING in your house. How do you find upcycling materials?

There are a lot of different ways and opportunities to get free or cheap things. Most of these things are possible to upcycle. It mostly comes down to having an eye for it. But there are some places you can look that typically have a good selection.

In this article, I’m going to outline several places you can go to get free (or cheap) materials to upcycle. Not all areas will have all of the options available, but this can give you a good idea of what you can look for.

Free Classifieds

Almost every community has a form of local classifieds. These are areas where people near you are selling their old stuff they don’t want. This is a gold mine for finding upcycling materials.

The awesome benefit of looking at the classifieds in your area is that they live near you! They 100% are in a geographical location that makes sense for you to find materials.

Plus, they usually (almost always) have a “FREE” section in the classifieds. That’s awesome!

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace is like your local classifieds on steroids. There are over 2.3 BILLION Facebook users. THAT’S A THIRD OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION! You’re bound to find something on there that will help your upcycle search.

A nice thing about using the Facebook Marketplace is that they have a communication function already built into it. So when you’re interested in something, you can just click “message seller” and you’ve started the negotiation.

Oh yeah. And they ALSO have a FREE section. Bonus.

Craigslist

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “Not another classifieds!” But for real, although Craigslist is kind of dying down because of Facebook Marketplace, it’s still the longest and largest running classified ads platform on the internet. So there’s still a big bank of people on there looking to get rid of their stuff.

Also, it’s a great place to get junk, if you’re into taking trash and turning it into treasure.

And they ALSO have a FREE section. So another bonus there.

Junkyard

This is a little more niche, but you can find some real gems at junkyards. Old car parts can be upcycled into a lot of different things. And there are people who will get rid of their car because the engine goes out, but the interior is in great condition.

You can find fabric, foam, metals, glass–all kinds of things if you take a look hard enough, and most of it can be upcycled in a lot of different ways. So the next time you have a project, think “can I make it out of an old car?”

eBay

EBay’s not quite as cheap as it once was. It used to be used for getting rid of junk, and now it’s used primarily for collector’s items and other things that are in really good shape.

But occasionally you can find a real gem on there if you’re willing to look. And hey, I’ve seen some things I would certainly deem junk on there before.

The main reason I bring it up is that on eBay, you can usually find items in really good condition. Most of the other resources fall a little bit short on the quality. But eBay has a lot of really high-quality items.

New Neighborhood Developments

This is an awesome place. When I was a little kid, my family lived in a developing neighborhood, which meant there was a lot of wasted wood and materials.

My friends and I would make ramps for bikes and scooters and swords to fight each other, it was a dream. But I digress.

Builders get rid of SO many materials, it’s insane. Because everything they use has to be cut to the correct dimensions, they have no need for massive amounts of wood. So in new neighborhoods, there are usually a lot of really big dumpsters just full of excellent materials waiting to be hauled to the trash.

If you ask the builder kindly, they’re likely to let you take whatever you want from their dumpsters. They have to pay to haul it away anyway, so you end up saving them money.

Or you could go after construction hours are over and just take it. But shh…I didn’t tell you that.

Salvage Yards

Salvage yards are different than junkyards. Junkyards are usually for cars only (sometimes for scrap metal as well), and the car owner gives the car up.

Salvage yards are usually for demolition projects and the salvage yard company requests to go and take pieces away during the demolition. So you can usually find really awesome pieces like doors, signs, furniture, knick-knacks, and trinkets.

Really you can find anything. I’ve even seen a fair amount of vending machines. It’s a hoarder’s dream. *Cough* I mean upcycler’s dream.

Roadsides

Have you ever been driving down the highway and thought “who on earth would put a couch there?” It’s true, so many people end up leaving their stuff on the side of the road.

Sometimes it’s on accident–fell out of their truck while driving or whatnot. But a lot of the times it’s on purpose and it’s up for grabs.

A lot of neighborhoods in the US have a “bulk” waste pickup day, which means your neighbors leave their big items out on the road for the pickup to come by. Just ask your neighbor if you can have it instead.

Dumpsters

I wouldn’t exactly dive into McDonald’s dumpster. That would be gross. But a hardware shop’s maybe. A lot of stores have some pretty awesome stuff they throw away if you’re willing to take the dive.

Or if you prefer to be civil (and like a normal human being), you can just ask the store manager if they are throwing away the item you’re looking for.

Or just ask them if you can take some of their trash off their hands. It might be hit or miss with their response, but you could score gold.

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores are like the brick and mortar version of eBay. In fact, you’re usually not allowed to donate anything to thrift stores unless it’s in good working condition.

This is a huge one for upcycled clothing. Most articles of clothing there will be in decent condition, which means you’re likely to have a good project.

Another thing that’s nice about thrift stores is that they sell everyday items, so you already have a pretty good idea of what you can get out of them.

Lumber Yards

Lumber yards are different from salvage yards AND junkyards. These places have specific dimensions they’re supposed to sell lumber in, and if they can’t cut a piece of wood into those dimensions, they scrap it.

This could be a wash. You may find that the wood scraps they have really are not that great. Or it may be awesome, and it’s just the piece you’re looking for. You really never know until you go and see.

ISO on Social Media

This might seem a little weird, but it’s totally worth it. How many of us have things we’re probably never going to use and we just haven’t gotten around to listing it in the classifieds or throwing it away?

Well you probably have a million friends with a million items sitting in their garage, waiting to be thrown out. And by putting out an ISO on Facebook, you bring it to the top of their minds and they might be willing to just let you come and take it.

Facebook Groups

Buy and sell groups. Sometimes people don’t even post to Facebook Marketplace. They go straight to a buy and sell groups to list their stuff.

You can find buy and sell groups in your specific area, or for specific categories. So you can filter by area or by item

There are also groups for people who just like collecting things, and you could put an ISO out on those groups as well to find out if they have the item you’re looking for.

There are really a million different ways to find materials for upcycling, you just need to be willing to keep your eye out and look in unusual places.

Wear Proper Gear for Your Salvaging

When you go salvaging, most things you touch aren’t clean, polished, or soft. That means it might be a good idea to wear protective gear.

Gloves, eye protection, and long sleeve shirts and pants are a good idea. These items especially make sense for the dumpster diving activities and yards to find materials.

Proper gear might also mean you find a truck to use so you can haul the materials away without them falling out of your car. Just make sure you’re prepared when you go looking for materials.

Resources for UK

As I did the research for this article, I found a lot of additional resources in the UK. Specifically, there were two resources I found that had a lot of places to get upcycled materials.

The first is this article from UpcycleThat.com, where they talked about EnviroMate. A company that salvages unused items in construction. You can find that article here.

Another resource I found was a YouTube video by Charis Williams (Salvage Sister) on where to find materials. You can find her video here.

Who knew the UK was so upcycle savvy?