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 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 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 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
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 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.
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.