Why is upcycling important in fashion?

Upcycling clothes that already exist is one way to ensure sustainability, because it promotes the idea of circular fashion. To ‘upcycle’ is to take something already made and then improve upon it, or turn it into a fresh item, meaning that you’re not seeking out new, raw materials to start from scratch.

Upcycling decreases textile waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, the practice of upcycling clothes lowers the demand for new clothing production, which is extremely wasteful and destructive for the planet. Upcycling is often used for old clothes that cannot be recycled.  The pandemic has seen many fashion giants come up with innovative ways to deal with their un-sold garments. Keep reading to find how upcycling helps not only deal with huge amounts of waste but also gives trendy and quirky clothes and accessories.

Upcycling clothing is extremely Important for the environment because it is one of the best ways to discard them without harming it. It has many environmental benefits such as less waste, lower pollution, water, and energy savings. The overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing cause a lot of harm to the planet, people, and animals living on it. The textile and apparel industry is one of the largest polluters globally.

It’s responsible for huge amounts of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions. The way we consume and discard clothes today has catastrophic consequences.  The fashion industry accounts for more than 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally each year. If the trend continues, that number will increase by 50% by 2030.

The amount of used textile waste created annually in the United States has doubled over the last 20 years. The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year 16.9 million tons of used textiles were discarded in 2018.

If you are decluttering your closet or moving out to a new place, you may wonder what to do with pieces of clothing you don’t wear anymore. Donating, selling, recycling or upcycling are great options. Upcycling clothes is one of the best ways to discard them without harming the environment. It has many environmental benefits such as less waste, lower pollution, water, and energy savings.

We have to take massive action and get rid of used clothing responsibly. We can buy fewer clothes of higher quality, take better care of the garments we already own, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle, and upcycle used clothing. More conscious consumers and key players in the fashion industry are getting interested in upcycling clothes. It’s a great way to be more sustainable with our wardrobe.

Upcycling clothes is the next big thing in sustainable fashion

Fast Fashion has been the catalyst for a problem which has been brewing for a long time in the textile industry.

In the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled, driven by a growing middle-class population across the globe and increased per capita sales in mature economies. The apparel industry is second only to the oil industry when it comes to pollution, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by today’s more environmentally conscious generation. Where once using old, hand-me-down, or second-hand clothes was considered “cheap”, now it is seen as a dedication to sustainability. One way in which people are being more “green” is by upcycling clothes, and it’s becoming so popular, it’s now an industry by itself.

The current apparel industry model is extremely wasteful and massively polluting. At the moment, watch dogs estimate that the textile industry contributes around 10% of global emissions – more than shipping and flights combined. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that it takes 20,000 liters of freshwater to make one kilogram of cotton; enough for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt! And with farming accounting for 70% of all freshwater use, we can expect to see dramatic changes to the industry in the next 10-20 years.

The industry is basically a conveyor belt that takes enormous amounts of resources and creates clothes which are only worn for a fleeting time before being dumped in landfills. Upcycling clothes is a way to break the repetition of waste and environmental damage.

The difference between upcycling and recycling.

It should be noted that upcycling is different from recycling.

Upcycling is reusing the same fabric and turning it into something else.

Recycling entails breaking down materials before they are reconstituted into something else. This is usually done in two ways; mechanically and chemically.

Mechanical recycling is when a fabric, such as cotton or wool, is shredded. Then the resulting fiber is woven into a new fabric. Chemical recycling is when a fabric is treated with a chemical and then dissolved. The resulting fiber can then be mixed with other fibers to make a new fabric.

Recycling uses a lot of resources and – in the case of chemical recycling – utilizes harmful substances to create something new. Upcycling isn’t as damaging to the environment and uses no other natural resources.

Just to confuse things, there is also downcycling which is to take old clothes and, instead of making them into something better, turn them into rags for cleaning.

Luxury Fashion Brands + Upcycling

In the past, luxury brands would burn or throw away unsold products in order to protect their worth, a practice that has now been banned in France. With the rise in sustainable choices by consumers and general mindfulness towards the environment, brands have grown more conscious of their wasteful behavior, and upcycling has significantly become a prominent solution to fixing the garment backlog sustainably.

Gvasalia, of course, spent time earlier in his career at Maison Margiela, where that kind of material innovation has always been core. During the label’s early days, Martin Margiela used found materials to create entirely new garments—a butcher’s apron transformed into a dress, for example. Creative director John Galliano continued to build on that legacy this season with his Recicla refurbished vintage pieces, which include lovingly restored wicker bags, lace tops, and tango pumps. At Coach, executive creative director Stuart Vevers personalized archival bags from the brand’s 1960s Bonnie Cashin–era with stitched monikers, and added butterfly embroideries and rhinestones to Levi’s 501 jeans. He named his spring collection “Coach Forever,” to underline that it’s an amalgam of past, present, and future.

Other brands made investments in higher-tech upcycling methods, like creating fabric from regenerated fibers. Prada’s Re-Nylon project—a collection of the label’s signature nylon bags crafted from nylon fabric made from recycled textiles and ocean plastic—expanded to ready-to-wear. Some of the season’s coveted clutch capes are made from Re-Nylon, literally turning trash into treasure. “With Re-Nylon, we can create products without using new resources, highlighting our continued efforts toward promoting responsible retail,” says Mrs. Prada’s son Lorenzo Bertelli, who is also the Prada Group’s Head of Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility. “We are on track concerning the conversion of the entire virgin nylon production into regenerated nylon by the end of 2021.”

The Pandemic Forced Designers to Embrace Upcycled Fashion

But will it change the high-fashion game for good?

Upcycling is a small, but important, step towards that change.

The Rise of Upcycling: Four Brands Leading the Way


Part of Apoldist, the first e-commerce that is based on the buy-back of clothes that encourages customers through discounts in exchange for used or vintage clothes, which then enters an upcycling process.

A universe of creativity open to all who identify with the recycling process. For the time being, Jacqueline Barth and Mira Postolache have joined us in the project and it remains open to all similar initiatives. Hooldra, a seductive creature of the forest that hosts us today in its mystical territory, is supported by the Humane Society International, one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world. For almost 30 years, Humane Society International has wanted to promote the connection between humans and animals, protect stray animals, increase animal welfare, stop wildlife abuse, eliminate animal testing, help with natural disasters. and to combat cruelty to animals in all its forms. For a more sustainable future and a better world.

Patrick McDowell

British designer Patrick McDowell uses vintage hoses, belts and garments upcycled from the London Fire Brigade for one of his collections. Vintage fire brigade buttons have been added to Burberry shirting samples while vintage fire brigade belts have been repurposed along with fingerless fire brigade gloves. In fact all of this emerging designer’s garments are crafted from reclaimed fabrics and ethically produced materials and are designed and made in England.

Simon Cracker

Crack is the fundamental concept of my brand. It means destruction: cracking something useless and giving it new life.

‘’What my grandpa taught me was to look at things from a different perspective before throwing them away. Each season is inspired by my memories, my family and personal events. Good and bad. The books I’ve read, the paintings, the movies I’ve watched, but also the music I used to listen to since I was 2 or 3 years old with my headphones… They all create a frame. They determine the styles and the influences of each collection. Every time I show a new concept, I’m doing something very therapeutic, it makes me feel liberated. And since I’m a very calm person, apparently, it’s through my performances that I protest and shout to the world what really upsets me, like discrimination of any kind.’’

Theraphy + Exorcise Berlin

Therapy Recycle and Exorcise is a gender-free, season-free and trends-free upcycling fashion project based in Berlin, Germany and Córdoba, Argentina, ran since 2012 by two sisters separated by the Atlantic Ocean and re-united by this passion, Paula and Mariángeles Aguirre. The brand has a playful and inclusive approach to fashion through DIY (Do It Yourself) upcycling techniques. The co-founders say conscious fashion can also be experimental, daring and playful. Alternative fashion can be conscious and care for the planet.

​‘’We introduced the sustainability issue where few others were talking about it. We are already a recognizable player in the alternative and club fashion scene. We bring sustainability together with styles that don’t follow the trends but are bold and very visual. Our aesthetic is eclectic, but there are certain aspects at the core of our work they never change. It reflects our intention to tear down the walls that contain and oppress us. It is a mixture of underground urban-alternative subcultures and unconventional lifestyles like BDSM. Because human creativity is strongly sexually-driven. It is driven by our fantasies, our desires, our fears, our love and our anger. Our aesthetic is also determined by the materials we find. Our process so far has been experimenting and working with all kinds of materials, always of course preloved, discarded or vintage materials. We also work with dead stocks and pre-consumer waste.’’​

Written by Mira Postolache

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