Is upcycling the key to the future of sustainable fashion?
We’ve talked many times about the fashion industry and its environmental impact, especially in recent years with the rise of Fast Fashion.
Responsible for almost 100 million tons of textile waste annually, Fast Fashion harms the environment and poses ethical concerns related to labour exploitation and worker safety.
To address these issues, many consumers and designers are turning to upcycling to reduce textile waste and promote sustainability, but will it work?
Is this the key to sustainability in the industry, or is it just more greenwashing by brands?
What is upcycling?
Upcycling is the process of transforming discarded or unused materials into new products with higher value.
It’s often associated with the DIY and craft movements, with people transforming old clothes, furniture and other materials into one-of-a-kind items. In the fashion industry, upcycling involves taking pre-existing garments and transforming them into new, fashionable pieces.
This process can include embellishments, dyeing or reconstructing garments to create something new. This can be done on an individual and industrial scale, with small businesses and fashion designers incorporating the practice into their production processes.
What’s the difference between upcycling and recycling?
While very similar, there is a crucial difference between the two. Recycling involves collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be discarded as waste and converting them into valuable resources for creating new products. On the other hand, upcycling involves using materials that would otherwise be wasted and creating something unique and desirable.
It may sound the same, but the upcycling process typically involves repurposing or altering existing items as they are rather than breaking them down entirely to make something new.
For example, upcycling a piece of furniture may involve sanding it down, painting it or adding something to give it a new look and function. In recycling, the furniture might be pulped to make something else entirely.
In upcycling, the original material is preserved and given a new lease of life, reducing the need for raw materials and stopping waste from ending up in landfills or incinerators. In recycling, the original material is often downgraded in quality or function, and it may require significant energy and resources to process the material into a new product.
The environmental benefits of upcycling
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Textile waste and pollution account for a significant portion of its environmental impact. Upcycling can help reduce this impact in several ways.
Upcycling prevents clothing from ending up in landfills, which is significant as a staggering 85% of clothes in the United States get dumped. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), textiles comprise 5.2% of the total waste generated in the US. These textiles take hundreds of years to decompose, releasing harmful chemicals into the environment as they do so.
Cuts down on new materials
Upcycling can reduce the need for new raw materials like cotton or polyester. The production of these materials requires significant amounts of water, energy and chemicals. Providing these can contribute to deforestation and other environmental issues. Upcycling existing garments can reduce the demand for new materials and help conserve natural resources.
Better for the environment
Lowering carbon miles by not producing new materials can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. The production and transportation of textiles require large amounts of energy – primarily derived from fossil fuels – contributing to greenhouse gases and climate change. Upcycling clothes on a large scale can help lessen the impact of these fuels on the environment.
The social benefits of upcycling clothes
Upcycling not only helps the environment but also has significant social benefits. By repurposing old garments, people can create unique, one-of-a-kind items. These unique garments promote creativity and self-expression that reflect their personal style and values. This promotes individuality and helps counteract the homogenisation often associated with fast fashion. Major fashion houses have seen this potential and jumped on the trend, with Prada launching Re-Nylon, the Upcycled by Miu-Miu and Hermes with Petit H. If enough people do it, it will become fashionable to upcycle rather than buy generic clothes from fast fashion brands.
Upcycling can also promote local businesses and create job opportunities. Many upcycling initiatives are community-based, with small businesses and individuals transforming old garments into new products. This can create job opportunities for people with skills in sewing, design and other related fields. Additionally, it can help support local economies by promoting the sale of locally made products.
The potential of upcycling clothes for a sustainable future
While upcycling alone is not the solution to the fashion industry’s environmental and social issues, it has the potential to promote sustainability.
It can help reduce textile waste, conserve natural resources, and promote conscious consumption and creativity. It can also help support local businesses and create job opportunities. However, it must be done at scale to have any real impact.
Upcycling clothes must be incorporated into the fashion industry’s larger sustainability efforts. This is a problem, of course, because if people are repurposing old clothes, they’re not buying new ones.
It will take a movement from consumers to make upcycling a viable alternative and part of the apparel industry. We can create a more equitable and sustainable future in the fashion industry by incorporating upcycling into our practices and supporting initiatives prioritising sustainability.
We understand that true sustainability goes beyond mere buzzwords and empty promises. It requires a genuine dedication to making a positive impact. That’s why our product offerings embrace the latest innovations in sustainable materials and production practices.
We are unwavering in our commitment to renewable resources, ethical practices, and eco-friendly operations at every level of our company. Our solutions are purposefully designed to promote the planet’s sustainability and preserve its precious resources.
If you’re seeking a global partner that shares your values and is deeply committed to sustainability, talk to us and see how we can support your brand brands towards sustainability.