Fashion brands focused on upcycling pre-consumer textiles into new clothing are promoting a more circular economy. While it's great that more brands are downcycling trash such as plastic bottles into new fibers, that process still has an environmental impact. Upcycling—transforming waste materials or unwanted products into desired goods—has little to no environmental impact.
Ideally, there shouldn't be textile waste at all, but unfortunately, about a garbage truck's worth ends up on landfill sites every second. That figure is expected to grow every year.
I've rounded up 9 upcycling fashion brands creating beautiful garments with textiles rescued from landfills, "trashion" that makes sustainability cool.
I'm very impressed by Tonlé's zero waste efforts in every step of their production. In Phnom Penh's markets, the team sifts through leftover fabrics from large garment factors to choose the best textiles to work with. The larger pieces of fabric are made into new clothes. The smaller scraps left over from making them are cut and spun into yarn, which is then handwoven or knitted into news designs as well. Even the leftover fabric waste from yarn making is then mixed with used paper from Tonlé's office to make their own handmade paper, which is then used to make more items such as these recycled paper cards.
They also have a circular fashion resale program, Open Closet, where you can trade in your preloved Tonlé pieces for store credit. Tonlé works with an ethical Cambodia factory of around 25 employees. Their workshop is set up like a sewing circle rather than an assembly line. Screen printing, cutting, fabric processing are all done in house. Tonlé's online store is US based, and you can also find their clothing in retail stores in the US, Canada, and Australia.
Hong Kong-based brand Heritage ReFashioned makes luxury handbags with upcycled vintage textiles from China, Japan, and South East Asia. Their mission is to turn forgotten textiles, such as Japanese Kimono silk, into something that we would treasure. Everything is hand made in Hong Kong, in limited quantities depending on the amount of fabric available. Each piece will have a story to tell; they come with cards explaining where the textile originates and what the pattern or symbol on it means.
Vincci, the founder and designer, reached out to me a while back to gift me a piece. I chose the Kimono silk kisslock clutch (picture on me on the right). I can attest that the clutch is gorgeous in real life. I like that it comes with a detachable strap so it can be worn day or night. Definitely an item I'll cherish and pass down.
In 2016, Daniel Silverstein said goodbye to working in fashion after learning firsthand how much fabric was being thrown out by traditional brands. He branched out on his own with Zero Waste Daniel. His collections are made by his Brooklyn team, using fabric scraps from other designers that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Daniel's ReRoll technique makes art of out literal garbage, and you can even request a custom mosaic. Similar to Tonlé, they have a Buy-Back Program, where you can trade in your old ZWD pieces for store credit.
For over 25 years, Preloved has been making clothes from vintage and deadstock materials in Toronto. Designing, manufacturing, shooting, and shipping are all done in house. Preloved clothing can be purchased online or in retail stores across Canada. If you have an old item, send it to Preloved and they can make it into a custom piece.
RE/DONE is an online luxury label that collaborates with Levi's and Hanes for contemporary takes on classic wardrobe staples. Their Upcycled collection features limited edition pieces made with reconstructed vintage sweaters, sweatshirts, and denim. I especially like their one-of-a-kind 90s Upcycled oversized Cardigans and 60s upcycled Western Shirts. Also check out their Marketplace for curated luxury vintage.
Urban Outfitters is not exactly known for being ethical, so their extensive vintage/upcycled collection is a refreshing surprise. This section looks expanded from the last time I checked it out, so there must be a lot of demand. They refresh vintage clothing with tie-dye or remake them into contemporary designs.
Based in Austin, Texas, Psychic Outlaw's small team creates happy, handmade clothing using vintage and antique textiles. To get their signature quilt jacket, you can either supply your own quilt or buy one of theirs. Same for the bandana dress.
If you're tired of wearing the same workout clothes as everyone else at the gym, JJ Vintage's recontructed activewear will surely turn heads. Each item is one of a kind, handmade using recycled scraps of knitwear and t-shirt fabric.
Girl of the Earth makes effortless upcycled womenswear and accessories with vintage fabric from 1930 to 1999. Each piece is made in limited runs (on average, three of a kind) in NYC, featuring a lot of '60s and '70s silhouettes.
Do you have a cool zero waste/upcycled brand to recommend? Let us know in the comments below.