Upcycling – Rethinking Waste Through Creativity

By Emily Hart

Following on from our discussion on Upcycling during Fashion Revolution Week we thought we would take a closer look at what this term means, the benefits for the environment and how this movement is gaining popularity and inspiring us to create one of a kind pieces.

As a society we have developed a mindset where we no longer see the value in things which are not outwardly perfect and are quick to discard anything that doesn’t meet this level of perfection. You can see this in all areas of our lives, from the vegetables that supermarkets won’t sell because they’re not the ideal shape or colour, through to brands burning products that haven’t met quality control standards. Upcycling offers an alternative view to challenge this and creates a real cultural shift in how we view waste.

Upcycling extends the life of fabrics and garments by transforming and adding value to existing or by-products that might be unwanted. This process promotes the concept of a circular economy where clothing and fabric has multiple life cycles.

Findings from Greenpeace show that we can reduce the carbon emissions of a garment by 24% if we keep it in our wardrobe for two years instead of one. We all have the power to make an impact on the fashion system by looking to increase the lifespan of our clothing, whether that be through repairing, upcycling or buying second hand.

Using pre-consumer waste refers to fabric offcuts or end of line rolls that are yet to be made into garments. Post-consumer refers to using finished products that a consumer might no longer want. Garments can be upcycled by adding and embellishing or by taking them apart for their raw materials to reform a new product. For example, this could be unravelling a jumper for the yarn or cutting up jeans to patchwork them. Both these processes remove material that would otherwise have ended up in landfill and reduce the environmental impact of producing new virgin fibres from scratch.

Although the term upcycling is fairly modern, the concept is nothing new. If you look to past eras such as the 1940’s Make Do and Mend culture and the popularity of patchwork in the 1960’s, people were much more inclined to adapt their clothing. Orsola de Castro has been a pioneer of revitalizing the idea of modern upcycling, founding brand ‘From Somewhere’ in 1997 which upcycled vintage and second hand clothing. The brand also utilised surplus and left overs from luxury fabrics in Italy. Orsola later co-founded Fashion Revolution.

“Upcycling is a weapon for this generation, not just a response to an aesthetic that seems to be liked, but also because it visualised the fact that we are treating our resources mindlessly and inefficiently.” Orsola De Castro

Designers like Phoebe English have increased the amount of waste fabric they use in their collections with her goal being 100% for AW2020. The nature of using waste fabric means ranges will be limited edition - an appealing characteristic for those consumers looking for individuality. Using reclaimed fabric from industrial materials is also a key source for designers. For example, designer Patrick McDowell used vintage hoses, belts and garments from the London Fire brigade in his recent collection. For smaller brands upcycling and using dead stock can also have an economic benefit allowing for experimentation without the limitations of minimum orders and excess costs of developing new fabrics.

Upcycling doesn’t have to compromise on style - if anything it creates more interesting pieces with the vintage aesthetic having a broad appeal. Often you find that you unleash creativity when you challenge people to use what they have and the results can be more considered, minimising waste in the process. The new generation of designers are important in inspiring change. Programmes like the Redress Design Awards educate designers on how to approach design in order to drive sustainable growth towards a circular fashion system and giving them a platform to experiment and implement their ideas in industry.

“We are trained designers, and we have become lazy. It is our job and our responsibility to not only design garments but design systems that create positive clothes,” Patrick McDowell

At Fanfare, upcycling and encouraging our customers to repair their own wardrobes is a key part of our brand DNA in our mission to reduce environmental impact. Take a look at our upcycled and vintage range where we experiment with embroidery and trims to create one of a kind pieces. You can shop from our range or work with us to create your own unique item.

The Fashion Revolution mantra ’Loved Clothes Last’ has gained importance in a time of crisis when we consider what we really need. Taking the time to mend, upcycle or make our own clothes gives us a closer connection to them, meaning we are much more likely to both love and keep them. We have seen a resurgence of craft during the COVID-19 pandemic with people both discovering new skills and taking the time to develop existing processes, so we hope upcycling will only grow in impact. Rethinking consumption and taking steps to transform production to a circular economy is one of the greatest challenges we face in this generation, but by educating consumers we believe positive creative change can happen.

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