In a world where trendy-in-the-moment clothing is mass produced, upcycled fashion pieces can be an anomaly. Yet, it is a growing trend. Upcycling is one of the most sustainable things people can do in fashion as it utilizes already existing material, conserving resources and keeping undesirable items out of the waste stream.
The average American throws away about 65 pounds of clothing per year, and along with other textiles (like sheets and bedding), the total comes out to 14.3 million tons of textile waste, equaling about 126 million cubic yards of landfill space a year.
Space is not the only problem. Textiles and decomposing clothing release methane, and the dyes and chemicals in the fabrics can seep into the soil.
While donating clothes is a good step towards avoiding the landfill, the reality is that 85 percent of all of our discarded textiles are still sent there, and only about 20 to 30 percent of donated clothing is actually re-sold.
Upcycling is the new wave of sustainable fashion.
“Upcycling is a way of processing an item to make it better than the original,” as defined by Triple Pundit. In the context of clothing, it can mean refashioning a wearable product from something that is stained, torn, ill-fitting, or “un-trendy.” Maybe there aren’t any problems with the piece, but you’re looking to change up your style.
Rather than pocketing out $30 extra to buy into the ripped jean obsession, a simple how-to YouTube video will do the trick. After 30 minutes or less, your boring blue jeans can parallel any light-wash distressed pair from the mall. They can even be rainbow, the possibilities are endless!
Upcycling can be done using a combination of pre-consumer or post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste, such as leftover pieces of fabric, is produced while items are being manufactured. Post-consumer waste, such as a T-shirt from five years ago, results from the finished product reaching the end of its useful life for the consumer.
Upcycling efficiently reuses materials that may otherwise add to the ever growing landfill in a creative and innovative way and often produces one-of-a-kind items from pieces that may seem like “a waste of money.”
Everyone’s doing it. Take the local student clothing brand, 1NE CUT by Han Poulsen, for example. 1NE CUT features reconstructed pieces, from cut off jeans to two-in-one-sweatshirts, sometimes with the inclusion of embroidery.
Ordinary non-fashion designer students do it too. It’s not uncommon that the raw hemmed-sweatshirts, cropped tees, and ripped jeans seen on students around campus are do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. It’s a popular trend, especially between girls, to buy oversized tops and outerwear to crop at home.
Upcycling gives new life to worn-out jeans and tattered T-shirts, and adds a touch of originality to your personal style. Even just as everyday apparel, upcycling can challenge cultural codes — questioning what we consider to be trash versus fashion or beautiful versus ugly. It does not hurt that it also benefits our environment.