Reuse, Repurpose, Revalue: Discover Luxury Upcycled Pieces

By Caroline L Hamar, Contributor

In 2019 Vogue Business published an article about “Fashion’s Growing Interest in Recycling Clothes”. However, a year on it’s more like “Fashion’s love affair with Recycling Clothes.” It’s become a necessity for the environment but also, the ultimate style choice.  

However, it’s not about thrift shops nor “second hand” items - phrases that were used to make recycling clothes seem ‘gross’ or ‘cheap’ - even the idea of ‘recycling’ has been, well, recycled. The process has become an artistic one. ‘Up cycling’ and ‘repurposing’ have become the new buzz words of sustainable fashion. ‘Up cycling’ is taking a garment or discarded material and turning it into something that has the same use, but with a higher quality or aesthetic. This can be achieved through paint, embroidery, upholstery, embellishments… Any type of artistic expression. Whilst ‘repurposing’ is taking an object or garment and using it as something else. It’s much bigger than just wearing second-hand clothes.

A recent study by Retail Industry Leaders Association, which was printed in Forbes concluded that “93% of global consumers expect more of the brands they use to support local social and environmental issues.” Also, Element Three and SMARI concluded that “sustainability was a product attribute that 87% of US Millennial internet users would be willing to pay more for.” Today, being a consumer can sometimes come with guilt; we are more aware than ever before of fashion’s impact on the environment. This is one reason for the new interest we’ve been seeing in up cycling and repurposing. However, the main reason comes from the initiative of new brands, people often forget about pre-consumer waste; “around 440,000 tonnes of supply chain waste arises during preparation of fibres to make yarn and during garment production.” Also, when a garment is cut out for pattern, 15% of the fabric is most likely wasted. It can be daunting for new designers who want to create fashion however, don’t want to add to this overflowing pile of waste. So, they have chosen to use this industry waste and turn it into one-of-a-kind garments.

Fanfare is a fashion label that believes in the circularity of up cycling. Founded by Esther Knight and with Anna Pabissi as creative director, they are a British fashion brand that “sets out to create powerful, positive change in the fashion industry” with repurposed and reused materials. We all love denim, in fact, PR Newswire, concluded that “jeans is the leading product in the global market, that generated more than $40 billion in 2016.” They have become the most popular fashion garment. With that much denim being produced each year there must be an incredible amount of denim on the earth already - do we need to keep making more? Fanfare agrees, and with a pair of jeans taking 1,800 gallons of water to produces, they give us our much loved denim without compromising the environment. Their denim jackets and jeans are all garment that were heading to landfills, however Fanfare gives them a second life, and the consumer a completely unique garment, with added wool panelling and detailing. Fanfare also have an option to “Design Your Own Up cycled Jeans” to get consumers fully embracing the idea of re-using clothes.

Asime Clothing is also taking control when it comes to denim. Founded out of “frustration” with the fashion industry, Jen Harkness and Georgie Wordley work with Aunty’s Fashion Home in Ghana to produce fashion that helps the local community by donating profits to Dream Big Ghana NGO. Their Denim Cargo Trouser is our favourite, created from both repurposed jeans and jackets which create an interesting geometric design amongst the stitching together of these items. 

The London based brand, Yoroshiku 4649, which translates as “nice to meet you” in Japanese, creates classic streetwear with a hint of Japanese playfulness. Their reclaimed hoodies and jacket have been customised with vintage and repurposed kimono fabric - passed down through families for generations. They are showing us that “new” is not always better, in fact, reusing fabrics and repurposing garments can connect us to heritage and culture.

But, it’s not just about using the industry’s waste. Manimekala is a London based brand, founded by, Manimekala Fuller, who uses embroidery and digital technology to create stunning effects across her clothing. The brand up cycles any fabric waste to create one-off pieces such as a mini bucket bag, a belt bag, eye masks and scrunchies. Every brand can implement up cycling their own materials to make sure waste is reduced or cut out completely.

One Green Planet explained it best; “reusing and repurposing are both a step back and the way forward. In times when resources were valued and energy didn’t come as easily, items were made to be reused again and again. “Disposable” is a plastic-age term… For those of us looking to care for the planet, we need to get back to reusing. And, when items can’t be reused, we need to find ways to repurpose them.” These independent brands are showing the industry that there is a market and profit in operating this way. But we as consumers need to change our habits as well, the industry cannot take all the blame; according to Wrap, The Waste Charity, more than 300,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year, which causes 5 per cent of the UK's total annual carbon and water footprint to come from clothing consumption. We need to have a more circular view of our clothes; clothes don’t expire and they do not run out of worth. The main reason for our attitude is the importance of ‘trends’ which literally render a garment or style ‘out of season’ after a few years.

These brands are not only working to reduce the environmental harm the fashion industry causes, but also change our perception on what fashion means. Upcycling and repurposing isn’t a trend you can take part in as just a consumer. When you assess your wardrobe and find clothes old, boring or worn out, consider instead what these brands are achieving, there is no need to throw away your clothes but rather donate them. There are many charities, organisations and even fashion brands that would never see your clothes as ‘waste.’

Another great way to make a change is by educating yourself. Recently Beeco has launched the ultimate guide to understanding the sustainability of different raw materials. Make sure to check it out here. At the end of the guide, you'll find a shortlist of clothes made from some of the most sustainable fabrics so that your shopping experience can be even more eco-friendly!

Shop the Brands

When exploring our up cycled collections also explore some ideas of how to start seeing the endless possibilities your ‘used’ clothes have, here are some organisations that will help you...

For donating bras to help fund charities, give underwear to girls and women in need, or to have the fabric broken down and recycled: 

To help women and men who need smart, work attire for job interviews or for their current job: 

For young girls who can’t afford prom or formal dresses:

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