How to Repurpose Old Clothes From Your Own Closet

Reinvent your used apparel with flair!

Mar 6, 2021


Levi’s, DIY
How to Repurpose Old Clothes From Your Own Closet | Reinvent your used apparel with flair!

Fred Rogers used to say that “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” This is the philosophy behind upcycling and the Open source fashion cookbook. It’s a new guide encouraging people to make new clothing from what they already have,  or from what would have otherwise gone to waste. 

This book has an open source, style-sharing perspective. It is led by ADIFF, a New York clothing label dedicated to sustainability and social justice, and it shares upcycling “recipes'' from sustainable fashion designers. According to the DIY projects go from simple add-ons, like an acrylic pocket sewn onto a jacket, to more complex designs, like a hat made out of repurposed umbrellas.

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But what does upcycling mean exactly? As stated on, it is a process in which old stuff expands its lifespan by being repurposed into something new and more valuable. And there is an extra benefit: the idea of using already existing garments or materials as ingredients, contributes to democratizing sustainable fashion, making it accessible for those seeking to consume responsibly. 

And why is upcycling so important? Basically it prevents textile waste from ending up in landfills. According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity promoting the circular economy,  the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second. This is no surprise considering that people bought 60 percent more garments in 2014 than in 2000, but they only kept the clothes for half as long, as the World Economic Forum details.

The reason why upcycling has become so mainstream not only among designers but also among consumers is simple: the easiest way to contribute to the sustainable fashion movement is to make the most of what already exists.

Brands already repurposing pre-consumer and post-consumer waste into new creative products are helping to reduce water, carbon emissions, and divert waste from landfills. Popular brands like H&M are aiming to join the sustainable conversation by encouraging consumers to keep their clothes far away from the trash. At their Stockholm flagship store, customers can acquire garments made out of unwanted old clothing through a process that combines old fibers with new ones, the New York Times details. 

In addition, projects like Fabscrap make it possible to use the leftovers that the fashion industry, as well as other industries, generate. The New-York based charitable organization was created to meet the city’s commercial textile recycling needs. It does this by providing pickup and recycling of fabric scraps, which are made available for reuse. 

From the consumer's perspective, repurposing one’s own clothes seems to be gaining more and more enthusiasts and it is a very accessible way to join the upcycling wave. 

There are countless useful resources that can help you transform almost any garment you can think of. There's even a virtual Upcycled Design School with online courses for those willing to learn upcycled and repurposed design.

Check out these great ideas to transform some of your old garments: 

Old denim: Jeans are one of the most iconic and versatile garments in everyone’s wardrobe. But denim production impacts heavily on the environment. Cotton production is resource-intensive as it uses a lot of water, fertilizers and pesticides. The use of chemical dyes to create a “distressed denim” effect has an environmental cost too. So denim doesn't have the best reputation in the sustainable fashion conversation. 

But upcycling offers a solution. Through their online platform Levi’s, for example, inspires and educates shoppers on clothing customization and repair.

Unworn sweaters: If there are old sweaters in your wardrobe you no longer wear, they can become the source of endless new items. proposes 15 creative ways to repurpose sweaters that include a new pair of mittens, a pillowcase and a cozy headband, among others.

Men’s shirts: Have you ever imagined using oversized men's shirts to create your next new blouse or skirt? presents seven simple ways to creatively transform those shirts into something super trendy! 

Whether by supporting upcycling-based ventures or by creating your own upcycled projects you will be helping build a more sustainable type of fashion and transforming the meaning of what is considered waste. More than ever, some people’s garbage can be other people's treasure. 

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With a love for fashion, technology, self-development, nature and communication, Daiana is a freelance writer. She is the creator of an online community platform dedicated to providing inspiration and information on trends, developments and positive impact initiatives in the world of Sustainable Fashion.