Did you ever play dress-up as a kid, reimagining your towel as a magical cape? Or maybe you saved your popsicle sticks, using them to create a log cabin. Many of us had vivid imaginations as children, and as it turns out, we’ve still got plenty of magic left in us.
Today, our creativity is expressed a little differently: It’s seen through our fashion choices. How? Through upcycling. The tag #upcycledclothing has over 668,000 posts on Instagram, and on TikTok, #upcycledfashion has over 427 million views. Needless to say, a lot of people are interested in how to turn their clothes into something totally new. And many people are also interested in the sustainability perspective of upcycling.
According to a 2021 study from First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, about three-quarters of Gen Z consumers consider sustainability to be more important than brand names when shopping. The data also confirms what we’ve been thinking all along: The sustainability space is driven by conscious consumers.
As mentioned, one way the world is getting involved with the upcycled clothing trend is through social media. When scrolling through your TikTok For You page, you’re bound to come across an upcycling fashion tutorial.
User @wandythemaker, for instance, is known for turning thrift finds and quilts into new-and-improved pieces. His video about upcycled pants currently has over 1.4 million views. And TikTok user @rrrye is also making waves in the name of upcycling. He upcycled a satin nightgown found at a local thrift store, turning it into a dress for his girlfriend. The video has over 1.3 million likes.
Other popular TikTok users participating in this trend—and even making businesses around it—are Erin Robertson (@an_erin) and Kelsey Reese (@reese.cycled). And we understand why creators are getting into upcycling. Not only is it fun, but it provides a solution for consumers who are looking for more sustainable fashion choices.
Plus, upcycling supports a circular economy, which in turn reduces landfill waste and the need for sourcing unsustainable materials. Thus, upcycling fashion could be one of the solutions to the fashion industry’s massive carbon footprint. That’s why we’re seeing both the average consumer and major retailers getting on board.
Fashion brands are listening to consumers. That means we’re seeing more and more companies upcycling to create entire fashion lines. In Korea, RE;CODE is taking deadstock from car fabric—think excess material from seats, headrests, airbags—and making trendy streetwear. Swiss watch company Zenith has also been working toward a more sustainable wristwatch since 2017, with the latest line made from upcycled deadstock from the fashion industry.
In Kenya, Suave is taking sustainable African fashion to a whole new level. The brand, inspired by local flea markets, upcycles already-made clothing that would otherwise end up in landfills and turns them into trendy backpacks, tote bags, laptop sleeves, and wallets.
Patagonia’s ReCrafted program is another example of a big brand participating in upcycling. The clothes in this line are made from post-consumer Patagonia products, reclaimed through the company’s Worn Wear Program. Plus, Patagonia’s website is full of DIY repair tutorial tips and tricks, so you can save your clothes from winding up in landfills.
Even Levi’s is a participant: Customers can bring in damaged jeans and have the company turn them into something new. Or customers can try their own hand at DIY—Levi’s website offers some unique tutorials.
With more creators and more big brands hopping on this trend, we’re expecting to see a lot more products made from upcycled materials on the market this year.
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