What is fashion upcycling ?

So before learning why we should upcycle fashion, let’s first understand the verb ‘upcycling’. Very simply put, upcycling is the process of adding value to an object, which would otherwise end up as waste. This value addition is generally done by repurposing it for a new use. In the process, we end up extending the life cycle of the object. Similarly, the main idea behind fashion upcycling is to use old textiles in an innovative manner and to create new items of greater value using minimum resources and aiming for generating zero waste.

This article highlights the need and benefits of fashion upcycling. We will also briefly discuss how we helped people during the Covid19 pandemic by upcycling fashion.


Why do we need to upcycle fashion?

Well, in the words of Robert Swan, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” It is no secret that the trillion-dollar fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters of the environment. Our habits are the one fueling it through overconsumption and fast fashion. This, as you might know, is leading to climate change among other social and environmental concerns. Surprised? Well, read on then.

The current state of fashion is unsustainable

The fashion industry offers something new every day. To keep up with it, we want the trendiest items at the cheapest price, and we want them RIGHT NOW!

As a result, the industry produces 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. It employs 300 million people worldwide, but don’t let the numbers fool you; many of these employees are women working in sub-par factories for less than 13 cents per hour, working up to 16 hours a day!
But, that’s not all! Producing 1 kilogram of fabric generates 23 kilograms of greenhouse gases.

In 2015, the fashion and textile industry was responsible for the emission of 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This is more than all international and maritime shipping combined.

Yet, we, as consumers, discard 73% of the clothes. Those clothes in turn generate 53 million tonnes of landfills every year. We make fashion one of the most polluting industries in the world, second only to oil and gases.

In about 30 years, at this pace, the clothing sales will reach 160 million tonnes – more than three times today’s amount. These numbers show a direct impact on the environment.

Hence there’s an urgent need to change the way we consume fashion. We need to stop choosing the quantity over quality. Rather, we have to invest in developing a mindset of taking care of things and repairing them instead of use and throw approach. Voila, that would be the path to upcycling!

What is the benefit of fashion Upcycling?

Well, obviously, upcycling is overall a very good step towards developing a sustainable fashion industry that is environmentally friendly and socially responsible. However, if you spend some time to evaluate, you may discover that the benefits of upcycling fashion are multi-folds, some of those are as follows:

  • The Ecological Benefit

The industry relies majorly on nonrenewable resources of energy including oil to produce synthetic fibers, fertilizer to grow cotton, etc, using unto 98 million tonnes of resources in total per year. We recycle less than 1% of textile material into new clothing, accounting for the loss of materials worth $100 billion. Well, the reasoning lies in the fact that resources are limited yet we have enough if we all use them intelligently, without greed. If everyone takes only what they need responsibly and replenishes as much as they can then our home- our planet would not need saving because it wouldn’t be in danger. 

One may argue that recycling is a practice already in existence. Yet we recycle less than 1% of textile material into new clothing. This accounts for the loss of materials worth $100  billions. Hence, by adopting an approach to upcycle, we can keep a check on fast-depleting natural resources and hence the climate change.

  • The Social Benefit

In the race to offer the best price an be the fastest, often the industry puts huge pressure on its laborer workforce. They have low wages and long hours, and work in hard conditions which are sometimes modern-day slavery and child labor. In the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, more than 1,000 factory workers were killed. Incidents like these are raising concerns and consumers are demanding more transparency and are growing more conscious of their choice. Upcycling, along with recycling, is a great way to challenge the fast fashion model. Consequently it is a good step against the poor practices endured by factory workers, especially women. 

  • The Cultural Benefit

Starting as early as the oldest civilisations, the textile cottage industry lasted until the first half of the 18th century. Textiles and products were hand-made, mostly by women and later adapted by men as well. The knowledge and craft passed from one generation to another.

However, the start of the era of fast fashion and overconsumption marked the downfall of the traditional handloom and handicraft. It replaced the indigenous cottage industries and layed down the foundation of excessive use and wastage of natural resources. However, with a more minimalistic and sustainable approach, these handicrafts could be revived through the upcycling of fashion and textile products.

what is fashion upcycling
  • The Economical Benefit

This point is self-explanatory. If we prefer quality over quantity, in the end we save more money. In addition to this, it’s always cool to be able to use something already existing than keep collecting stuff which neither brings much value nor great returns

How did we tackle the Covid 19 pandemic through fashion upcycling?

Well, born amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, Fix That Shirt-Paris at its very core stands for environmentally friendly and socially responsible fashion. Hence we launched our project ‘Make Masks, Save Lives’ where we were upcycling our wardrobes to make free masks for people. The whole idea started as an experiment to understand why the reusable barrier masks were marketed and sold as an item of fashion rather than a precautionary safety measure? 

Yet another question was if it was ethical to play the monopoly card and focus on making money. Could we profit at a time when the global economy is challenged and the world is fighting a pandemic ? Sell the masks with everyday thousands of seniors losing the battle to Corona? So to answer that question we developed our prototype using an old cotton shirt. 

What is fashion upcycling
The very first mask created by Fix that Shirt on 5th April, 2020

How it started

Eventually, a few shirts and hours of study later, we created Fix That Shirt with a single solidarity objective : create and provide good quality handmade masks made by upcycling textiles to people who could not afford to buy the ones available in the market. And for 1.5 months, from mid April to early June, we donated over 2,700 masks across France. Some of them went to remote countryside while others were donated to organizations working for immigrants .

None of our mask was sold. Rather we invested monetarily to cover the cost of distribution of masks amidst the lockdown. The uniqueness of our masks lies in the material, none of which were bought but were mostly donated. Hence, in our attempt to combat Covid19 we remained determined to not create more waste rather use the potential ‘waste’ to help people feel safer.

What is fashion upcycling
Old bedsheets and shirts cut by Fix That Shirt to make barrier masks
what is fashion upcycling
Barrier masks made by Fix That Shirt by upcycling fashion

And if you’re wondering that we’re super rich or something then you couldn’t be more wrong. We’re a diverse group of fashion students, some of us are unemployed and few young executives, based in Paris, and we’re very determined to not let the world get buried under the stuff that people don’t need. Check out the project here.

 Like this article? Join us in creating a more ethical fashion ecosystem by spreading the word!  

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. N. Islam

    A very good article guiding about making fashion eco-friendly through reclamation of waste fashions and recycling earth dumps.

  2. Saba Alvi

    Thank you for the appreciation. 🙂

Comments are closed.

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