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Unwritten Rules of Upcycling

Hey friends! After chatting with some of my favorite socially-concious babes, I thought that I would write a little bit about my personal "unwritten rules of upcycling".

Each year we generate ~16 million+ tons of textile waste – about 15% of that is recycled, but the other 85% ends up in a landfill. During the pandemic, thrift stores have seen a surge in donations, some struggling to keep up with the incoming inventory. To me, upcycling is the future of fashion. I absolutely believe that we NEED to start upcycling preloved fabric and clothing to help save our planet! But in order to ensure that the impact truly is a positive one, I like to follow a few of my own rules when I’m searching for things to upcycle.

1. Be intentional

There are 2 types of main types of garment upcycling that I like to get into – recycling fabric or reworking a garment. If I’m looking to design something from scratch, I will find a garment with the intent of taking it apart and using the fabric to make something new. If I’m looking to do some reworking, I will keep the majority of the garment intact while making a few adjustments to change the look and style.

When you set out to hit up the thrift and secondhand stores, it’s always good to have a general plan of what you want to achieve – launching a line of face masks? You’ll want to find garments made with great fabrics to recycle and use. Think about exactly what colors, patterns, and types of fabrics you want. Found a new love for tie dye? Look for plain white t-shirts that you can rework. The point here is if you don’t go in with a plan, it’s VERY easy to get overwhelmed and overbuy! I highly suggest doing a few round of “edits” while shopping – stop and take inventory of what you’re planning on buying. Does everything you’ve picked make sense in your plan? If not, put it back for the next shopper to love.

2. Buy it if it needs help

Now, this rule really only applies if you plan on selling upcycled garments – if you are shopping for yourself or a pal, feel free to buy something that you can wear as-is.

One thing I always keep in mind when I’m thrifting...I will only buy something to upcycle if it NEEDS me to upcycle it. If I feel that a garment is clean and stylish enough to be worn as is, I will not purchase it. Unfortunately, this rule can be a little arbitrary, basing my decision on personal preference, but until I come up with a better way this is how I do it. I have and am always willing to give up items in my cart when I see other shoppers eyeing the contents, making sure that I don’t minimize the availability of cute clothes for shoppers who financially cannot shop elsewhere.

People will donate anything, so most thrift stores sort through donations pulling out what is not saleable due to stains, rips, tears, etc. Generally, thrifts cannot afford to wash their donations though (if you’re a germaphobe, wear gloves or have sanitizer handy). While you’re out hunting for your next upcycling project, don’t be completely turned off by small stains and tiny rips. I always try to either remove, repair or rework any imperfection on a garment. Small stains will usually come out when you wash & sanitize your finds. If it is a permanent stain or an unrepairable rip, cut away the damaged fabric – just take this into account when calculating how much recycled fabric you need or how you plan on reworking the style of the garment.

3. Change the style, not the size

There is one exception to this rule – IF you are going to change the size of a garment, go UP!

Size inclusivity is already a struggle for major retailers, leaving the average-size American woman frustrated and trying to figure out what freaking size she should be wearing (I could write a whole blog post about the scam of “standard sizing”). But for low-income shoppers, they rely on the availability of cute, size inclusive clothing at secondhand stores - this is where I always remember rule #2 whenever I’m buying something that is an “XL” or up.

If you do decide to upcycle something that is “XL” or up, make sure to keep the garment at that size or, if possible, make it into something larger! This allows bodies of all sizes to have something fashion-forward to shop.

These are my 3 major rules for myself when I’m shopping to upcycle – but I also have other little “rules” like always round up for charity & bring your own bags! Do you ever shop second hand? How do you think about your impact when thrifting and upcycling? Let me know in the comments below!




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