Why the Upcycling Fashion Industry Will Play an Essential Role in the Future of Fashion
In 2018, the fashion industry was responsible for 4% of the world’s total waste. That’s a whopping 92 million tons of waste, a statistic that puts the industry neck and neck with sectors like cement production, responsible for 5% of the world’s total waste production, and livestock and manure, which accounts for 5.4%.
Some of the world’s biggest names in fashion have been caught in controversy for contributing in major ways to this excessive waste production:
- British luxury giant Burberry burned $36.5 million worth of unsold stock in 2017.
- Nike was caught slashing and trashing unsold shoes, rendering them unwearable in case people managed to find the discarded goods.
- Fast fashion retailer H&M was accused of annually sending 12 tons of unused, unsold garments up in flames.
After facing major backlash around the world, fashion companies have stepped up to the plate and promised to do better. One way they are attempting to reduce waste and increase sustainability is by harnessing the power of upcycling.
What Is Upcycling?
Upcycling is the reuse and repurposing of discarded materials to create products of higher value than the originals. For example:
- In 2018, Burberry teamed up with sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse to upcycle 120 tons of leather offcuts into brand new products — a process that was far more useful and environmentally friendly than setting the goods on fire.
- In 2019, Nike teamed up with MINIWIZ to design and build the groundbreaking Nike Kicks Lounge X Xinyi A11, a Nike store constructed from over 250 pairs of used sneakers. The project recycled 12,000 PET bottles into the lounge’s Air Brick wall and transformed the soles and insoles of discarded shoes into carpets and various other furnishings.
What About Recycling?
At this point, you might ask: Why bother with upcycling? Why not just recycle old clothing? And what on earth is the difference between recycling and upcycling anyway?
Recycling is a process in which discarded goods are broken down into their raw materials for the purpose of producing new goods. For example, plastic water bottles can be broken down into new plastic, which can then be used to manufacture T-shirts, carpeting, or more bottles.
Upcycling is all about taking apart a discarded good and repurposing its constituent parts to craft new products. The process preserves the integrity and many characteristics of the original materials.
But the question remains: Why bother upcycling, say, a bunch of unsold scarves and handkerchiefs into a new line of T-shirts?
The statistics around recycled clothing are pretty bleak. According to Greenpeace, a whopping 73% of recycled and donated clothes are shipped off to the landfill or the incinerator every year. Given the high costs of processing recycled textiles, clothing manufacturers prefer to keep things cheap and work with virgin fibers. Recycling also takes a major toll on fabrics, which means that the vast majority of fabrics can only be recycled one time before being dumped or burned.
The bottom line: Recycling clothing simply isn’t netting the economic or environmental results we hope for. Upcycling is a fresher and more productive solution to cutting down on industrial waste and promoting more sustainable business.
Benefits of the Upcycling Fashion Industry
Upcycling promises to transform the economy in ways that benefit companies, consumers, and the environment alike.
Instead of defaulting to the “take-make-waste” economic model, upcycling helps to support the development of a circular economy. With a circular economy, materials that are already in circulation get continually re-used and repurposed, helping to reduce manufacturing costs and preserve precious environmental resources.
Brands and businesses can launch take-back programs, which are initiatives that allow customers to return used clothing in exchange for gift cards or other benefits and rewards. Barely worn clothing can be refreshed and resold, while lightly used or damaged clothing can be upcycled to create new clothing. Companies can, of course, also upcycle unsold stock in lieu of sending it to the incinerator or the landfills.
- Take-back programs can help companies acquire more customers, since having the option to return used clothing in exchange for rewards will encourage people to appear again and again as repeat customers.
- Upcycling clothing lets companies profit from products that aren’t selling or profit more than once from old products.
- Repurposing existing materials enables manufacturers to skip over several stages of traditional processing and thereby reduce production costs.
In today’s day and age, consumers across the globe are educating themselves and becoming increasingly environmentally conscientious. They expect major corporations to do their part in preserving natural resources, curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing waste.
According to Forbes, 93% of consumers expect the companies behind their favorite products to support pertinent social and environmental issues.
- Purchasing upcycled clothing will allow conscientious consumers to shop with confidence, knowing that the products they buy do not contribute to global waste production or other environmental issues.
- The upcycling fashion industry can produce clothing that is trendier and more unique than traditionally manufactured clothing, increasing variety and offering consumers fresh, new styles to love and enjoy.
For the Environment
Any discussion of upcycling would be incomplete without touching on the benefits to the environment:
- Repurposing existing goods and materials means that we preserve natural resources. For example, by upcycling lightly used clothing, we avoid using the 2,700 liters of water that it takes to manufacture the cotton required to produce just one T-shirt!
- By cutting down on several stages of the textiles manufacturing process, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions and chemical waste production.
- Upcycling keeps unnecessary waste out of landfills. This prevents soil degradation from waste materials, limits the impact of dangerous chemicals, and reduces air pollution from waste burning.
When done right, upcycling helps both the environment and your company’s bottom line. Launch a take-back program today or work with your favorite sustainability experts to craft new, innovative solutions and take your brand to the next level.
Interested in an upcycling solution for your business? You can learn more about MINIWIZ’s work here.
Related article: 13 Fashion Brands Who Show That Upcycling Can Be Fabulous