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What is Upcycling Fashion?


As fashion consumers seek alternatives to fast fashion, upcycling fashion takes place like a quiet revolution, transforming discarded materials into fashion-forward statements. But what exactly is meant by upcycling clothes, and how does it change the way we perceive and consume fashion? 

Read on as we unravel the intricacies of upcycling fashion, explore its principles, and the brands that are reshaping the industry, one upcycled garment at a time.

What Is the Concept of Upcycling?

Upcycling fashion

Upcycling is a sustainable design and creative practice that involves transforming discarded or waste materials into new products of higher quality or value. It focuses on repurposing existing items in such a way that enhances their functionality or aesthetic appeal. 

This way, upcycling offers a creative solution to the negative impacts of clothing production. Its goal is to reduce waste, conserve resources, and minimise the environmental impact of fashion consumption.

Upcycling can be applied to a wide range of materials, including textiles, furniture, glass, plastic, and more. Examples include turning old denim jeans into fashionable bags, transforming wine bottles into decorative lamps, or repurposing shipping pallets into unique furniture.

This concept encourages creative thinking and innovation. Fashion designers and individuals reimagine the potential of discarded materials or find new and unexpected uses for items that might otherwise be considered waste.

In a nutshell, upcycling and the upcycling fashion movement is a creative way to cut down on textile waste. It inspires people and industries to think differently about materials, pushing for a more eco-friendly and circular economy.

What is the Difference Between Recycling and Upcycling?

Recycling and Upcycling fashion

Recycling and upcycling clothes are both sustainable practices within the fashion industry, but they involve different processes and concepts. 

Recycled Clothing

Recycling entails breaking down used textiles into raw materials or fibres. It typically starts with post-consumer or post-industrial waste, which includes old clothes, textiles, or other garments that are no longer in use. These materials are then used to create new fabrics and garments.

The waste materials are subjected to processes like mechanical recycling or chemical recycling to break them down into fibres, yarns, or other forms suitable for creating new textiles. These recycled products are often similar to those produced through conventional garment manufacturing processes.

While recycling reduces the need for virgin materials and lessens the impact on the environment compared to conventional garment manufacturing, it may still involve energy-intensive processes.

Upcycled Clothing

Upcycled clothing involves creatively reusing and transforming already existing garments or textiles, giving them a new purpose or appearance. Unlike recycling, which breaks down materials, upcycling almost always retains the original form of the material. Plus, the resulting upcycled clothes often come with higher quality or value.

Upcycling clothes begins with the selection of existing textile products or materials, often sourced from second-hand stores, thrift shops, or manufacturers with deadstock fabrics or pre-consumer waste. The selected items are then creatively transformed, either through alterations, additions, or combining multiple pieces.

Upcycled clothing is known for its uniqueness and individuality, as each piece is the result of creative expression and craftsmanship. Upcycling generally has a lower environmental impact than recycling, as it often requires less energy and resources. It simply improves existing materials rather than breaking them down entirely.

Both recycling and upcycling align with the growing interest in sustainable fashion and the need for a greener future in the textile industry.

Why Is Upcycling Clothes Trendy?

Upcycling Clothes Trendy

The upcycling fashion trend is catching on for several reasons. One of the primary reasons for this is the growing awareness of environmental issues, particularly in the fashion industry. Fast fashion contributes significantly to textile waste, and upcycling provides a way to reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfills.

With increasing awareness of environmental issues, fashion consumers are looking for more sustainable and eco-friendly fashion choices such as upcycled clothes. The textile industry has been gradually shifting towards sustainability, and upcycling aligns with this broader movement. Some fashion brands incorporate upcycling into their practices and promote its popularity.

Upcycling clothes allows individuals to express their creativity and unique style. Each piece of upcycled clothing is one-of-a-kind, promoting individuality and self-expression in a world often dominated by mass-produced fashion items. People and brands can customise and personalise clothes to their specific tastes and preferences.

And since the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture is popular, upcycling fits into the trend perfectly. Many people enjoy the process of transforming old clothes into something new through their creativity and skills.

What’s more, social media platforms, especially Instagram and Pinterest, showcase numerous upcycling projects by influencers and individuals. This exposure has contributed to the trend by inspiring others to try their hand at upcycling. People share their projects, tips, and ideas on how to upcycle clothes, creating a supportive environment for those interested in sustainable fashion.

Economically, upcycling can be a cost-effective way to update one’s wardrobe. Instead of buying new clothes, individuals can repurpose existing items, saving money while still staying on-trend. So, this fresh take on clothing appeals to budget-conscious consumers looking for sustainable alternatives.

This trend reflects a changing consumer mindset that values creativity, individuality, and environmental responsibility in the choices we make regarding fashion.

What Are the Benefits of Upcycling Fashion?

As the fashion industry continues to grapple with the impacts of its practices, upcycling provides a pathway toward a more sustainable and responsible future. This sustainable practice offers numerous benefits that contribute to environmental, social, and economic well-being. Let’s break down some of these key benefits:

Environmental Impact

Upcycling Fashion - Environmental Impact

Reduces Waste

Upcycling helps reduce the amount of textile waste ending up in landfills. The fashion industry is notorious for generating massive amounts of waste, and upcycling provides a solution by giving new life to discarded materials. By creating new garments from the same fabric, the textile industry reduces the amount of textile waste material.

Preserves Resources

By reusing existing materials, upcycling conserves the resources that would otherwise be used to produce new fabrics. This includes water, which the World Wildlife Fund estimates as 2,700 litres of water needed to produce a single cotton t-shirt, enough to sustain one person for 900 days.

Saves Energy

Creating new textiles from scratch often requires substantial energy inputs. Upcycling clothing typically requires less energy compared to the mass production of virgin materials, contributing to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Reduces Chemical Use

Traditional textile manufacturing involves the use of various chemicals whilst upcycling often requires fewer chemical processes.  These minimise the use and disposal of substances and the negative environmental and health effects associated with the garment production process.

Social Benefits

Upcycling Fashion - Social benefits

Encourages Creativity and Innovation

Upcycling encourages designers to think creatively and produce unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. This not only adds value to the fashion industry by promoting individuality but also challenges the conventional norms of mass-produced fashion.

Creates Jobs

Upcycling can contribute to the growth of local economies by supporting small businesses and artisans who specialise in repurposing materials. This production model can help create more jobs and revitalise the local communities.

Promotes Conscious Fashion Consumption

Upcycled clothing and fashion items often come with a story, emphasising the importance of mindful consumption. This can lead to increased awareness among consumers about the environmental and social impact of their choices, encouraging them to make more sustainable decisions.

Business Advantage

Upcycling fashion - Business Advantage

Produces More Durable Products

Upcycled garments often have a longer lifespan compared to fast fashion items. The process of upcycling clothes typically involves reinforcing or repairing materials, resulting in products that are more durable and resistant to wear and tear.

Efficient Use of Waste Stream

Upcycling taps into the existing waste stream, repurposing materials that would otherwise be discarded. This resourceful approach contributes to a more efficient use of available resources and helps address the challenges associated with waste management.

Saves on Raw Materials

Also, the use of sustainable materials such as reclaimed fabrics, vintage fabrics, and deadstock fabrics in upcycling contributes to a circular fashion economy, where materials are reused, reducing the need for new resources and minimising the industry’s reliance on the oil industry. 

What Clothes Can Be Upcycled?

Upcycled Clothes

When upcycling clothes, the possibilities are vast, limited only by creativity and imagination. Various types of clothes and materials can be upcycled and offer a sustainable and creative approach to fashion, including:

Denim Jeans

Old denim jeans can be upcycled into a variety of new items such as shorts, skirts, bags, or even jackets. The durable nature of denim makes it suitable for repurposing.


T-shirts are versatile and can be upcycled into other tops like tank tops, crop tops, bags, or even scarves. Cotton t-shirts are a popular material for upcycling thanks to their soft and breathable nature.

Sweaters and Knitwear

Unwanted sweaters can be unravelled and reused for knitting or crocheting new items. Also, old sweaters can be transformed into hats, mittens, or even cushion covers.

Men’s Dress Shirts

Men’s dress shirts can be upcycled into women’s blouses, dresses, or even children’s clothing. The button-up design and the variety of patterns are perfect for creative reuse and transformations.

Leather Jackets

Old leather jackets or garments can be upcycled into bags, wallets, or accessories. The durability of leather allows for the creation of long-lasting and stylish items.

Saris and Scarves

Scarves and shawls can be repurposed into smaller accessories like headbands, or they can be combined to create patchwork garments.

Bed Linens and Curtains

Bed linens, curtains, or tablecloths can be upcycled into clothing items like skirts, blouses, or dresses. The lightweight and often patterned fabrics provide interesting design possibilities.


Unwanted socks can be upcycled into various items, including puppets, and draft stoppers, or even transformed into cosy mittens.

Children’s Clothes

Outgrown or worn-out children’s clothing can be transformed into new garments for younger siblings or other children. For example, a child’s dress could become a unique top or a pair of shorts for a younger child.

What Are the Examples of Upcycling in the Fashion Industry?

How to Upcycle

Upcycling in fashion encourages innovation, resourcefulness, and sustainability. With that, designers often combine multiple techniques to create one-of-a-kind pieces through different upcycling techniques:


Patchwork involves combining different fabric scraps or pieces to create a new garment or accessory. Old clothes or fabric scraps are cut into various shapes and sizes and then sewn together to form a new design. This technique allows designers to showcase a variety of colours, textures, and patterns in a single piece.

Embroidery and Embellishments

Embroidery and embellishments are used to enhance the aesthetic appeal of old garments. The designer can sew or attach embellishments onto the fabric to create intricate patterns or designs. This technique involves adding decorative elements such as beads, sequins, or embroidery to revitalise worn-out clothing.

Dyeing and Printing

Dyeing or printing is a technique to transform the colour or pattern of existing garments. Fabric can be dyed using natural or eco-friendly dyes, or printing techniques like block printing can be employed to add new patterns. This can be done to cover stains or faded areas and give the clothing a fresh, new look.

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

Deconstruction involves taking apart existing garments and reconstructing them into new designs. Garments are carefully disassembled, and different parts are rearranged or combined to create entirely new pieces. This technique allows designers to repurpose various elements of clothing, such as buttons, zippers, or pockets.


Refashioning one’s own clothes means altering the design or structure of an old garment to give it a modern and updated appearance. This can include resizing, reshaping, or changing the style of the garment. Old garments are modified through cutting, sewing, or adding/removing elements to create a contemporary and stylish look.

Mixed Media Collage

Mixed media collage combines various materials, not limited to fabric, to create a visually interesting and unique piece of clothing or accessory. For example, fabric, paper, leather, or even unconventional items like buttons or bottle caps are assembled to form a cohesive design.

What Brands Are Into Upcycled Fashion?

Upcycling Fashion Brands

As more people embrace upcycling, many fashion brands including luxury fashion houses are stepping up. These upcycling brands and luxury houses are challenging the usual fast fashion brands and encouraging a more thoughtful and sustainable way of buying clothes.


RE/DONE collaborates with Levi’s to make upcycled denim clothing.


Patagonia’s Recrafted Collection gives new life to old clothes through their Worn Wear program.

Urban Outfitters

Urban Renewal, Urban Outfitters‘ upcycling line, turns surplus or deadstock materials into stylish clothes.


Luxury brands like Prada and its campaign Re-Nylon revisit vintage looks and recycle waste materials.


Ahluwalia works with deadstock fabrics to add value and support the environment with upcycled fashion as its main thing.

Final Note

Upcycling in fashion is a new trend that fits well with the values of an environmentally conscious generation. By using creative and innovative design methods, the fashion industry can help reduce waste, support sustainability, and have a positive effect on the environment.

Upcycling challenges how the fashion industry usually works and provides a practical solution to its environmental issues. We can then start to explore upcycle clothing options, support sustainable fashion brands, and share the importance of conscious consumer choices with others.

Ellora Sharma

Ellora Sharma is a 26-year-old fashionmonger from Leeds. She discovered her love for fashion through the many intricate and flashy designs found in the Bollywood films she religiously watched when she was younger (and continues to watch to this day). She has since developed an affinity for colourful and distinctive clothing, and loves to experiment with her style on the daily. She wants to help others find the same kind of joy and fun in clothing as she has.

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