Why You Should Make Upcycled Fashion Part of your Ethical Wardrobe

On a basic level, most people know what upcycling is. But once you ask them to explain the difference between upcycling and recycling, they get confused. As you may know, recycling is taking waste and making it into something new. Typically, it is to make another product out of the material. An example is recycling your newspaper so they can print more newspaper is recycling.

Upcycling, on the other hand, is taking something old or otherwise unwanted then making something more desirable. It’s almost the same as recycling but has more to do with context and value.

So upcycled fashion is taking materials to make something more fashionable and valuable. 

A small pitcher used as a planter

We’ve always upcycled

But perhaps giving it a name now shows the state of rampant consumerism and constant practice of buying our things new. Strange how so many things we used to do, such as composting and growing our own food, is seen more as counter-culture today.

I can have some hope. There is a growing concern (and panic) about climate change and the devastations of fast fashion that causes people to seek better ways to complete their wardrobes.

In a recent post, I discussed deadstock fabric and how I see it as a symptom of fast fashion rather than a solution to it. I wondered while writing this if upcycling is much the same today in our modern context. With deadstock, you’re taking surplus to avoid it being wasted. The difference, I realized, is that upcycling doesn’t take a surplus of something. It is accomplishing a similar goal: giving materials another day out of the landfill (and oceans).

Not just boho aesthetic

Upcycling does have a subtle bad rap, or, rather, a misconception about it. Many people (including myself before learning more), associated this with patchwork, flowing clothing. It’s an epitome of the boho fashion aesthetic. If that is not your style, worry not. Upcycling does not mean hippie clothes (but again, notice the counter-culture association).

Creative people take to upcycling because it is a chance to innovate. You can find all upcycled clothing and accessories in all kinds of fashion styles. Upcycled fashion is fashion.

Why Shop Upcycled Fashion

Support Artists

I’ll continue on the creatives who make these clothes. These designers need support to continue innovating. Supporting artists mean supporting communities. You want the items you own to be made by the people who passionately wanted to make it and were paid for that labor.

Minimize Harm

Fast fashion is incredibly harmful. It destroys the oceans and land, and pollutes the air with toxins, microbeads, and dyes.

Creating fabric and clothing is resource-intensive: it requires massive amount of water. Most of these fabrics are not biodegradable and we still don’t know the consequences of it for us, let alone the world.

It’s no secret animals are harmed in fast fashion practices. It’s not just that fast fashion has resulted in the incessant killing of baby cows for leather, continual breeding unnatural sheep for wool, and terrible conditions for foxes for fur (quick note, you may not dream of buying a fur coat but the fur industry is alive and well through the fur accents in accessories). The results of continual pollution and deforestation have contributed to the mass endangering and extinction of animals, insects, and marine life.

We cannot forget the people who make our clothes. Fast fashion is infamous for its deplorable treatment of workers. People are forced to work in dangerous, toxic environments and are paid very little. We’ve also heard of the child labor big brands work hard to sweep under the rug and out of the public’s mind.

Wear what’s unique

Upcycled fashion isn’t mass-produced. They’re in limited quantities, have differences between each other, or are totally one of a kind works of art. Wearing something that has been upcycled is not only unique, it’s sentimental to the material’s history, story, and maker. There’s something to be treasured when you have a beautiful piece no one else has. It reminds me of the diamond in my engagement ring- it came from my mother-in-law’s ring. I consider my ring’s most valuable quality to be that sentimental aspect. No other ring or diamond will have that.

Surround yourself with art, sentimentality, and stories. Wear it on your sleeve.

Where to find upcycled fashion

Etsy is a great place to start. ThredUp recently had a collection of upcycled shirts remade into new shirts. I myself create maximalist style hair accessories. I took inspiration from ThredUp and take thrown-away shirts to screen print. Check out my shop and explore Etsy.

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