Upcycle Your Style: Fab Fashion from Recycled Threads

By Bianca Alexander

With the rise of cheap, disposable fashion, the average person has four times the clothes in their closet than they did in 1980. Unfortunately, most people throw away the same amount of clothing each year, keeping our landfills brimming with perfectly reusable clothing. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the textile recycling industry recycles approximately 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste each year.  This accounts for only 15% of all post-consumer recycled textile waste, leaving a whopping 85% in our landfills.

Instead of dumping your old clothes in the trash and replacing them with new duds each season, be a conscious fashionista and reduce, reuse and recycle your way to a fresh new style. Here’s how:

1. Shop your closet. The most eco-conscious purchase is the one you never have to make, so before buying yet another top, dress or pair of jeans, shop your closet to see if you already have a similar item. For an honest perspective on your wardrobe inventory, organize garments according to color, then by style. Place any duplicate items on a “do not buy” list, which will help reduce your shopping habit when you’re in the mood to add new acquisitions to the line-up.

2. Recycle. If you’re like me, most of us wear the same ten outfits per season, so it’s best to bite the bullet and donate any item that no longer fits or you haven’t worn in a year – even if it still has tags. Drop off clean, dry clothes at thrift stores like Goodwill, Value Village, Crossroads and Buffalo Trading Co. (then shop after!), and in certified non-profit drop boxes like Planet Aid, which recycle millions of pounds of clothing each year. Or, schedule a pick up at your home from Amvet or Purple Heart. If you’re challenged by giving things away, try these easy tips for clearing the clutter and letting go of “stuff” you don’t need.

3. Thrift Fabulous: Vintage, retro-inspired fashion is all the rage these days as it’s an easy way to stand out from the crowd without spending a fortune. Bonus: vintage clothes are more likely to last longer than their “fast fashion” contemporaries, as they were made to last a lifetime. When purchasing, look for items with good structure and strong seams. Shop off-season for the best selection, and care for your garment by washing, green dry cleaning or getting it altered to ensure a tailored fit.

4. Swap ‘til You Drop. If you can’t get to a thrift store, or treasure hunting isn’t your thing, host or attend a seasonal clothing swap party with fashionista friends close to your dress size. Or, swap online with  swapping website and mobile app Swapdom, a circle-swap service that facilitates no-cost, no-hassle exchanges with thousands of fashionistas around the world (you just pay for shipping).

5. Refashion with Upcycled Threads. Join the slow fashion revolution movement and rock couture, hand-made designs designed from scratch with upcycled textiles like these dresses, coats, and tops made from recycled thrift store textiles by Brenda Abdullah. With each one of a kind piece individually conceived and crafted by hand, there’s no wonder the upcycled fashion movement is taking the world by storm. For more great looks that will make you want to step out in repurposed duds, read Refashioned by eco-fashion pioneer Sass Brown, Acting Assistant Dean for the School of Art and Design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. The book showcases 46 international designers who work with recycled materials and discarded garments, reinvigorating them with new life and value.

More interesting facts:
Each year in the U.S., we generate about 82 million pounds of textile waste per year, amounting to about 82 pounds per person annually. Guess how much ends up in a landfill? The answer is staggering.


Wonder where your clothes end up after they’ve been donated? Check out the infographic below.

Clothing Life Cycle

Infographics provided by the Council for Textile Recycling, a non-profit with a goal of eliminating all textile waste by the year 2037.

For more inspiration on creating fresh looks from recycled textiles, visit Conscious Living TV’s style page.


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