It wasn’t too long ago that luxury brands wouldn’t have been caught dead using the term “upcycled,” meaning the reuse of old materials in new ways. But today, brands are increasingly launching new product lines – or even entire businesses – around giving trash a second chance.
Companies across categories are breathing new life into old materials. Cycling brand Velosophy, which makes bike frames from recycled aluminum, Goodfit, a puzzle brand that constructs new puzzles from old cardboard, and hejhej, a maker of closed-loop yoga mats, are just a few examples of brands making their mark through recycled materials.
The average American produces 82 pounds of textile waste per year, much of which ends up in landfills. Synthetic, non-biodegradable fabrics make up an estimated 63% of the material input for textiles production – meaning once they're made, they're here for good. While making garments from recycled materials is no environmental silver bullet (and it doesn't atone for the fashion industry’s other problems), it's a step in the right direction.
When it launched in 2016, Rothy’s kicked off a new era of made-from-recycled fashion with its range of minimalist slip-ons made from recycled water bottles that didn’t scream "eco-chic." Since then, Rothy’s has been joined by other independent brands like Proclaim, which makes underwear using recycled plastic, recycled tights brand Swedish Stockings, and Archivist Studio, which debuted a range of upcycled shirts in collaboration with creative studio Martan.
Since 2019, Amsterdam-based Archivist Studio has taken a novel approach to upcycling, buying up used bed linens to turn into tailored garments. The brand works directly with hotels and linen rental companies (who supply sheets to hotel groups) to source the fabric for its shirts. Cofounder Eugénie Haitsma Mulier says that in the beginning, hotels found the requests for their scruffy bed linens a bit confusing. But, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels have sought other ways to generate revenue, and more have been willing to get on board.
“There is a huge waste problem at hotels. It’s crazy how often they have to renew their sheets – as an average, every year they will renew all of their bedding,” Haitsma Mulier explains. “But there’s an opportunity, because it’s a [huge] amount of really high quality fabric."
While indie brands have found a home in upcycling, major fashion houses are taking note as well. H&M and Burberry released collections made from recycled fabrics last year. During New York Fashion Week in February, designer Christian Siriano sent secondhand clothes down the runway that he sourced from thredUP. And just this past week, sportswear giant Adidas launched a collection of outdoor clothing made from ocean plastic.
With brands finding use for second-hand fabrics in a variety of apparel types – and a more fashion-forward term for the movement to match – don't expect the upcycling trend to come unstitched anytime soon.
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