Why upcycling clothes is the next big thing in sustainable fashion

Upcycling clothes

Why 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.

What does upcycling clothes mean?

Upcycling clothes is to take old, worn out or damaged clothing and transform it into something new.

Clothing that doesn’t fit any longer, is torn, stained or otherwise damaged, can be refashioned into a new product.

Also referred to as repurposed clothing, reused clothing and recycled clothing, upcycled clothing is becoming increasingly popular in today’s fashion industry.

Designers upcycling clothes

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 fibre is woven into a new fabric.

Chemical recycling is when a fabric is treated with a chemical and then dissolved. The resulting fibre can then be mixed with other fibres 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.

Why bother upcycling clothes?

The current apparel industry model is extremely wasteful and massively polluting.

At the moment, watchdogs 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 litres 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 conveyer 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.

upcycled clothes

Why upcycling clothes is the future

Many companies are now exclusively only dealing in upcycled clothes.

Eileen Fisher

Thanks to its Resewn Collection, Eileen Fisher offers to take back and repurpose the brand’s old garments, with over 1 million pieces recovered since 2009.

The company has two factories, New York and Seattle, where returned Eileen Fisher garments are mended, over-dyed, felted or re-sewn into new skirts, coats, vests, jackets, wall hangings and pillows.


Focusing mainly on denim, vintage brand RE/DONE takes vintage denim apart at the seams and repurposes it into new jeans – all without the use of harsh chemicals.

The company also try to keep the original stitching in place where possible, preserving the years of history and stories stored in every pair of jeans.

Urban Outfitters

The big-name brand have produced their very own upcycling spin-off called Urban Renewal, which uses surplus materials or deadstock (products that companies make but aren’t able to sell) and transforms it into fashionable clothing.


Another big name jumping onto the upcycling train is ASOS with their ASOS Reclaimed line. Influenced by classic shapes, style icons and old-school street brands, Reclaimed Vintage Inspired is where you’ll find fresh ideas with a vintage twist.

We can help with your upcycling clothes business

The trend for upcycling clothes is taking off just in time, but there is still a long way to go. That also means there is a lot of potential room for growth for a new business venture.

Whether you’re currently in the apparel industry and want to branch out into upcycling, or you see a gap in the market you can join, then we can help.

With decades of experience in the industry, we work together with our clients, manufacturers and distributors to ensure a fair and sustainable practice for everyone.

We take sustainability very seriously here and we are acutely aware that the current system isn’t working. Something has to change.

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

Contact us today if you would like to know more about how we can help you and your business make a brighter, greener future.