What is Upcycling?

September 20, 2013

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What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is similar to recycling in that you use something old to make something new, yet upcycling fashion implies that its new incarnation will somehow be “better” than its last.

Upcycling has been called one of the hottest trends of 2013, and in this age of global environmental degradation, it’s inspiring that fashion designers worldwide are taking the initiative to reduce the amount of waste in the creation of their lines.

I always struggled with the leftover scraps from a sewing project, but was never clever enough to imagine them into anything better until a friend introduced me to the concept of upcycling. When I was designing the Wizard Boots, I began cutting up old clothes to make the first prototypes, and eventually made the entire first batch out of upcycled yoga pants. My original idea was to make them out of old socks, but even Value Village had a paltry selection! I guess used socks are not such a hot item… 😉

The challenges of upcycling

Upcycling is easy to do on a small scale, but challenging when producing larger quantities.  It’s one thing to sit at home with a pair a scissors lovingly cutting up old clothes, but turning this into an efficient and large-scale process will have most manufacturers turning their noses up at you. It’s not that they don’t want to reduce waste themselves, but traditional manufacturing involves layering up to 20 giant swaths of cloth to be cut at once, which is hard to do if the clothes are all different types, textures, and sizes. Being eco-friendly becomes a labour of love in this case.

The other challenge with upcycling is finding a steady supply of materials. When I first began making the Wizard Boots, I was buying old yoga pants at Value Village, which meant that my product was dependent on whatever supply they had in stock. This can work to a designer’s advantage if all their pieces are originals, but for the Wizard Boots, taking this approach meant I would never be able to have a consistent fabric content, colour scheme, or quality of materials.

Upcycling for prototyping

Upcycling for me remains a great technique for prototyping and small-scale limited edition products. Perhaps as the Wizard Boots business grows, the fashion industry will evolve to incorporate more streamlined waste-reduction practices into their productions. Until then, I am committed to keeping the Wizard Boots environmentally friendly by producing them with high-quality sustainable fabrics.

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