There is a new rage in the fashion world and it doesn’t have anything to do with what’s new from New York or the latest Parisian clothing brands. And yet, everyone seems to want a piece of it. In fact, Vogue called it the biggest trend in fashion for Spring/Summer 2021. So what is it? Here’s a little secret: it’s not a designer and it’s not even a style. Instead, it’s a movement. The movement toward upcycling clothes.
At Vestiaire Collective, we’ve been championing upcycled and pre-loved clothing since 2009. Now, with millions of global members, it’s clear pre-loved clothing is the best way to dress for the future of fashion. Understanding what upcycling is about is an important step in being a Fashion Activist. Are you ready to join us?
The words ‘recycled’ and ‘upcycled’ might sound like interchangeable terms but they’re actually two distinct practices available to create eco friendly clothing. While both have value, upcycling is a more efficient process that ultimately has a lower impact on the environment than recycling. Let’s dive into the nuances.
When an existing piece of clothing is reduced to its raw materials so that it can be reused, that’s recycling. For example, a pair of jeans that is recycled will be shredded and broken down until the cotton is available as yarn to be rewoven into something new. In essence, the value of the pair of jeans is lessened after recycling because now it is simply cotton. Recycling clothing is vastly more beneficial than throwing clothes into a landfill. However, recycling has some drawbacks. The process of recycling still requires energy and resources to break down the clothes, and often the recycled fibres need to be combined with virgin materials to create the new product. Plus, different cities have different legislation around recycling so you need to check with your local municipality to make sure your clothes will be accepted for recycling.
Upcycling, on the other hand, is something you can do at home and with your friends. Upcycling transforms old pieces into something of higher value without needing to use a lot of energy in the process. With upcycling, you don’t need to use extra resources to break down a product completely. Instead, a product is creatively repurposed to make a unique item with a higher value than the original. You know that pair of jeans that you could choose to recycle to extract the raw materials? You could choose to upcycle them instead, like what Stockholm-based Nudie Jeans does. Instead of breaking down the denim by recycling, they upcycle the jeans by turning them into rugs or hats that shoppers love.
When you realise that 32 billion garments are produced every year, and that about 80% of those end up in the landfill or being burned, you know that we have a big problem. Besides being unattractive, landfills contribute to serious environmental issues. When waste in landfill begins breaking down, it releases methane which is super bad for our planet. Upcycling clothes has the potential to take hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing waste out of the landfill system.
The manufacturing of new garments takes a tremendous toll on the environment, as well. New clothes need a lot of raw resources, such as cotton, which in turn demands huge amounts of water and pesticides in order to grow. Extracting these resources creates pollution and waste. The dependency on these practises is why fashion is one of the world’s most polluting industries.
Luckily, there is a better way to consume fashion. Upcycled clothing usually doesn’t require any additional resources. It is one of the least environmentally impactful methods to achieve fresh looks because it doesn’t require the carbon footprint that comes from production and shipping.
While upcycling is a great activity to do with family and friends, the big names in luxury fashion are just as into upcycling. So if you aren’t a DIY-er, you can check out the upcycled collection from your favourite brands, like Gabriela Hearst who has been using deadstock materials in her design for years. Or how about the Spring/Summer 2021 collection of Balenciaga, who released a coat made from upcycled shoelaces? Miu Miu announced in October 2020 that it is launching an entire Upcycled collection of repurposed vintage pieces. And these aren’t the only brands. It seems like every name in fashion is catching onto the wave of upcycling, which is great news for the environment. Check out Vestiaire’s offering of upcycled luxury for an even more sustainable way to shop.
Upcycled fashion is good for the planet, but also good for your wallet. Pre-loved clothing comes with a much friendlier price tag than new designs, and upcycling clothes will give an added value to an item that already exists by repurposing it in a more desirable way.
When cleaning out your closet, you might want to take a closer look at the items that you had written off as old or no longer fashionable. These might just be the perfect candidates to work with during a crafting afternoon to make your very own upcycled pieces. All it takes is a little creativity and your tired, old T-shirt can become something completely unique and useful, like a headscarf or a tote bag.
Also, when cleaning out your closet, you can consider becoming a part of the resale Fashion Activism movement. By selling pre-loved clothing on Vestiaire Collective you help others source great items for their upcycling projects. At the same time, the earnings you make can become your own pre-loved shopping budget!
Even fashion designers like Gabriela Hearst admit that there are financial incentives to using deadstock materials. Especially during the last year, when major fabric factories were shut down due to the pandemic, becoming creative with upcycling was sometimes the only option for designers. Reflecting how upcycling can create something beautiful out of what seemed to be waste, Hearst launched a label called Retrofit which is made completely of upcycled pieces.
When we as consumers, and increasingly, when designers want to prolong and even increase the value of our garments, upcycling is an integral step to a circular fashion economy.
Upcycled clothes are so popular even princesses are doing it. England’s Princess Beatrice got married in 2020 and chose to pay tribute to her family by getting married in an upcycled wedding gown that was originally designed in 1962 for her grandmother, the Queen of England. A princess wearing a second-hand dress shouldn’t sound so surprising. These days everyone is getting used to the idea that mindful consumption of fashion is the only way forward. We love that upcycling can be a way of repurposing precious family heirlooms.
Upcycling gives you the freedom to customise an existing piece to modern sensibilities and your own personal taste. For example, Princess Beatrice added puff sleeves to her wedding dress and she altered the hemline to suit the modern era. These aren’t terribly hard fixes to do and soon an old dress will glow with new life. Soon, you will start seeing possibilities in every used piece you — and your grandmother — own.
Shopping on Vestiaire Collective gives you access to a treasure chest of amazing vintage finds that you can customise and upcycle to your heart’s content. Soon you’ll be so good at upcycling clothes that you might wonder if you should go into sustainable fashion design. We say, why not?
Upcycling respects the past while caring about the planet’s future. Needless to say, we’re big fans.
One of our favourite things about upcycled fashion is how unique it is. No one wants to be wearing the same clothes as the person next to them, but when shopping mass-produced fast fashion, that’s exactly what happens. With upcycled clothes, that’s not going to be an issue. When you upcycle, your wardrobe is both stylish and special. Exclusivity is a major factor in upcycling’s appeal and it adds value to each piece. When you upcycle your own clothing, it immediately becomes a one-of-a-kind look that is sure to start conversations. Once all your friends start asking you about your bespoke creations, you can encourage them to have an upcycling party with you. It’s a really fun way to spend an evening with friends, playing around with your creativity, promoting sustainability, and creating great new pieces from what you already have.
Evergreen vintage clothing with old-school craftsmanship that has and will last for generations are great pieces to upcycle. This kind of piece has charm and personality because it has a pre-loved story to tell. When you choose to extend a piece’s lifespan by upcycling it, you add to that story while making an environmentally conscious shopping choice.
These days, upcycling doesn’t just happen in your own craft room. If you aren’t creatively inclined or don’t have the time, you can purchase upcycled pieces from leading designers. Fashion houses have been known to literally burn their leftover inventory at the end of the season — a shocking act of waste that has since been banned in France. Nowadays, more and more designers are choosing to eschew waste and repurpose unused inventory into beautiful new collections. Because these pieces are made from deadstock material and repurposing existing tiles, each style is extremely rare. You can find upcycled and repurposed collections from designers like Re/done, Christy Dawn and, of course, Gabriela Hearst.
Upcycling fashion is poised to become the new normal as more and more consumers and designers recognise the impact of the fashion industry’s wasteful practises. Whether it’s a cashmere dress repurposed as a tunic, or the scarf in your closet that you’ve turned into patches to customise your denim jacket, upcycled clothing is the funnest way to participate in thoughtful fashion.
Vestiaire Collective can help you become a more conscious consumer by connecting you with a powerful and growing global network of Fashion Activists. Together, we can all inspire each other to show the world the benefits of choosing pre-loved and upcycled clothing over new as a way to end the linear fashion model, and bring in a new era of circular fashion. By becoming a Fashion Activist, you will still be able to dress in the clothes you love, just with a smaller impact on the planet. Your friends and family will see that you aren’t sacrificing one bit of style by upcycling. In fact, you’ll be creating amazing new styles and we’re sure they’ll want to join the ranks of Fashion Activism.
Changing the future of fashion requires a complete overhaul of the existing system. But you can make small, impactful steps in your own closet and community by upcycling and choosing pre-loved pieces from Vestiaire Collective.