Upcycling is a growing business. Particularly in fashion, brands, designers, and consumers are now expressing a regained interest for upcycled clothing. It has many social and environmental benefits.
The process of upcycling means transforming used items into something new and more valuable. It offers old garments a new life, extends the time they are being used, instead of letting them go to waste.
Read up my article on what does upcycled clothing mean to find out more about this practice in the textile and apparel industry.
The green movement is booming in the clothing industry. Conscious consumers are asking for more eco-friendly products. Upcycling is part of the sustainable fashion movement that looks for solutions to the social and environmental issues within the industry.
The rise of fast fashion over the last 20 years lead to the overproduction and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing. The apparel and footwear industry is now the second-largest polluter globally.
It's responsible for huge amounts of pollution, waste, and carbon emissions. The way we produce and consume clothes today has negative consequences on the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
With upcycling, it's possible to minimize the impact of fashion on the environment. It's a great way to be more sustainable with clothes and even better than recycling.
Check out my comparison between upcycling and recycling to understand the many differences between them.
Here are 6 social and environmental benefits of upcycling clothing.
1. Less energy consumption
Upcycling has a positive impact on the environment. It requires much less energy than recycling. It saves natural resources and reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
Slicing and stitching old clothes and other textiles to create new clothing is more manageable than breaking down old garments entirely. It's a lot more efficient and responsible.
Instead of throwing old clothes away, we can create items of higher quality and utility by upcycling. It's possible to start upcycling right at home without extra machinery using Do-It-Yourself (DIY) techniques.
2. Reducing textile waste
Globally, about 80% of all clothes end up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated. Americans alone generate 16.9 million tons of used textile waste each year.
The practice of upcycling is very beneficial to the planet as a whole. By adding value to waste materials, it saves large amounts of resources and prevents more waste creation.
It gives old textiles an extended life when their value would have been very low otherwise. Instead of letting clothing waste piling up in landfills, upcycling uses it to creates new pieces.
3. Preventing pollution
Reusing and repurposing old clothes is the way forward. It helps the second-hand clothing market grow, independently from the main market. Overall, upcycling reduces the demand for new clothing production.
Garment manufacturing has a negative environmental impact. It creates a lot of pollution due to toxic chemicals used in pesticides and fertilizers for farming raw materials such as cotton.
The washing, bleaching, dyeing, and treatment of textiles used in clothing production are chemical-intensive processes. They pollute the air, soil, and water when released untreated into the nearby environment.
4. Creativity boost
"Upcycle means to process used goods or waste materials to produce something that is often better than the original. For example, recycling a worn t-shirt could mean you use them as dust rags. An upcycled garment is typically one of a kind. This requires a considerable amount of creativity and vision in addition to environmental consciousness."
- Judi Townsend, Mannequin Madness owner
Upcycling clothing is repurposing old items into new pieces that beautiful, stylish, and unique. It takes used clothes in our closet to create something extraordinary.
Instead of creating multiple garments with the same pattern in various sizes and colors, fashion designers that upcycle often produce items that are very different.
5. Local community support
We are on the brink of a global human and environmental crisis. Reducing the impact of our wardrobe is a priority. It requires better sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and waste management, as well as supporting local communities.
Upcycling is a superb strategy to be more efficient with the clothes we buy and wear, just like a few decades ago. Fashion used to be slow and local before the industrial revolution. Upcycling was very common to preserve old textiles.
It's a great idea to upcycle today to participate in the local economy. Shop for upcycled clothing at town markets, fashion fairs, shows, auctions, local sales, flea markets, and farmer's markets. Upcycling also supports local businesses involved in the collection, sorting, and distribution of old items.
6. Encouraging sustainable practices
"In a world still churning out trendy throw-away fashion pieces at breakneck speed, the idea of upcycled or refashioned apparel can be an anomaly. But it is a continuously growing trend and is one of the most sustainable things people can do in fashion. As upcycling makes use of already existing pieces, it often uses few resources in its creation and keeps ‘unwanted’ items out of the waste stream."
- Beth Stewart, co-founder and Executive Director at Redress
Instead of supporting the throwaway culture, upcycling encourages buyers to purchase fewer clothes and higher quality. It's one of the best ways to be more sustainable with clothes.
Upcycling raises awareness around the social and environmental issues within the apparel industry. It promotes ethical fashion and a more conscious approach to consuming clothing.
Do you buy upcycled clothing or upcycle yourself at home? I would love to learn about your experience with upcycling. Let me know in the comment section below.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.