There are no clothes more sustainable than the ones you already have, but sometimes what you have are low-waisted jeans and a shoulder-padded jacket. That’s when upcycling becomes a suitable option.
Subscribing to the larger concepts of sustainability and circularity, upcycling creates new, old, used, or otherwise discarded materials. It’s a remake; transforming what you already have to make something new and better than the original.
In the fashion industry, upcycling is gaining more and more space in global and local markets. Many designers are now creating whole collections from upcycled clothing, limiting fabric waste, or buying bolt ends from other designers. But why is that?
Finding ways to scale back from fast fashion is not optional in this day and age. We can love fashion all we want, but if we don’t address the pollution it causes we won’t have much time to appreciate it anymore. I would argue that upcycling isn’t a new trend, it is a new necessity. Pushing towards more sustainability and circularity is key to reducing the impact of the climate crisis.
“It is increasingly evident that the current linear economy model (take-make-dispose) has substantial limits and does not appear to be able to attain the sustainable development goals that now dominate the agenda of policy-makers at a global level.[...] In other words, circular fashion aims to minimize waste and keep materials within the production and consumption loop as long as possible,” says Valentina Jacometti in Circular Economy and Waste in the Fashion Industry.
Talking about upcycling is almost impossible without talking about the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Fast fashion is now responsible for 10% of all carbon emissions; is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and it pollutes the oceans with microplastics (Business Insider). From the unsustainable growth of cotton to the piles of garbage those fashion trends are building, it has become a monster of an industry. Upcycling offers an escape from that cycle of pollution by repurposing old garments instead of making them into waste.
It isn’t the only way to save the world, but it is a step toward that goal. The profit-at-all-cost companies mixed with the brainwashed belief that we need the newest disposable trends are the main pieces of a colossal problem. But, like my maman tells me when I feel overwhelmed, “no matter the size of the cake, you gotta eat it one bite at a time”.
If you are hungry for your first bite, upcycling is becoming extremely accessible. A lot of Montreal brands and designers are integrating upcycling initiatives. Upcycling is also an alternative to fast fashion when on a budget; all you need is a small sewing kit, a few YouTube videos, and you too can become an upcycler!
Written by Chloé Mauriello Renaud