´Upcycling´- a trend against consumerism and climate change?


In light of the bushfires across Australia in January and the global climate strike movement, many of us will have resolved to take more action regarding the climate. There are numerous ways of contributing to the efforts made around the world. An idea that however definitely deserves more attention here is so-called ´upcycling´. This term denotes the re-purposing of existing ´old´ items and creating something new out of them. Upcycling can be applied to anything from an old bike to a broken tea cup, yet it is in the textile and clothing industry that it should become more widely used.

On an individual level, it can reduce our personal ecological footprint and represent a boycott of the so-called ´fast fashion´ industry and of the extreme consumerism that marks capitalist society. The organisation enviroclothes – which also has a branch in Durham – estimates that in the UK alone, 350,000 tonnes of clothes are thrown away every year – clothes that could have still been worn or repaired. The average person doesn´t wear 30 % of the items in their wardrobe, because they are old, have gone out of fashion or are simply not interesting anymore, enviroclothes furthermore finds.

Donating or re-selling these clothes is an option, upcycling another one. With very little means, it is possible to create something new and exciting out of these seemingly unwearable items, and one doesn’t need to know how a sewing machine works in order to achieve this. Old becomes new, we save money (and the environment) and consume less – it could be called a win-win situation.

However, as is the case with all our individual measures that attempt to combat CO2 emissions and climate change, their impact is sadly limited on a global scale. This is by no means to say that these efforts are therefore pointless. On the contrary: we should only encourage each other to save water and energy, to participate in climate strikes. Yet what we really need is action coming from big companies and governments. According to the Austrian political journal profil, the fashion industry is more harmful to the climate than air travel and shipping combined. Individuals can raise awareness for this, yet the responsibility lies with the companies, from luxury brands to the omni-present H&M, to do something against this.

The scraps and faulty products created during the production of textiles, vintage pieces and the leftover clothes from the latest collection – this plethora of ´waste´ can be used to design new fashion that can be modelled on catwalks across the globe. This is an opportunity for designers and well-known brands to make a climate-positive statement and to commit to more sustainability and ecological awareness.

ASOS Reclaimed Vintage, for instance, upcycles fabrics, leather or denim, although these creations are for now only available in limited collections. The American textile-developer Polartec makes use of plastic bottles, which are used to spin polyester yarn for fleeces like those sold by Patagonia. Upcycling in the fashion industry is thus very much possible – now it only needs to become a global trend.

Image Credit: Christine Chagia via Flickr

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