We have all grown accustomed to the notion of "recycling" yet the term "upcycling" is relatively new with its first recorded use in 1994. Recycling is generally used to describe how materials or products are converted into lesser value products. On the contrary, upcycling transforms waste into new products of better quality or higher environmental value.
When applied to fashion, upcycling creates clothes from diverse sources including discarded products (such as plastic bottles or wood cuttings), waste from the textile or post consumer waste.
Turning discarded products into fabrics is probably the most surprising application of upcycling. Polar fleece is probably one of the most popular upscaled textile. While non-recycled fleece is made from petroleum derivatives, polar fleece can be made from recycled PET bottles. Light and warm, fleece is often seen as an alternative to wool. Easy to wash it is a great fabric for outerwear.
Lyocell fabric has recently gained popularity. Made from wood Lyocell is manufactured by dissolving the wood pulp with solvents to extract the cellulose fiber. Lyocell fabric is soft and silky yet very strong and easy to care for. The manufacturing process is similar to Bamboo fabric but more environmentally friendly as latest developments in the manufacturing of Lyocell include closed loop production where solvents and by-products are recycled. Lyocell is also known under the brand name Tencel. Its high breathability makes lyocell ideal for sportswear and underwear
Using leftover fabrics is also a great way to bring value, reduce waste and lower the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Overall textile waste (from consumers and fashion industry) is estimated at more than 1 million tonnes a year. Waste takes the form of off-cuts, leftover fabrics or discarded consumer clothes. A few eco designers specialize in re-using those fabrics and turning them into new clothes. Because of the limited supply of each individual fabric, those clothes are generally made in small batches or even one-offs. This is of course to consumers looking for some exclusivity outside high street fashion.
Over the past decade, upcycling has become more and more popular due to the higher value of the end product, the lowered cost of reused materials and the environmental benefits of re-using waste. The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Aside from the chemicals used for growing conventional cotton, dye fabrics has a huge environmental impact. Upcycling helps minimize this problem as fabrics are used "as is" without the need to be "grown" or dried again. By reducing the use of new raw materials upcycling helps reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions generated by conventional manufacturing.
Reducing waste is one of our civilization challenge. Yet there is no point in recycling or upcycling if consumers steer clear of their end products. Next time you are looking for clothes look out for upscaled labels. They might just surprise you.
5 upcycled fashion brands to look out for:
Who Made Your Pants
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