Can Upcycling Be Fashionable? by Eve Mooallem, 9


New York, NY—  A couple years ago, I was at A.P.C, a clothing store on West 4th Street, that has a bring back your own jeans program. I saw my dad bring a pair of jeans up to the front counter of the clothing store. I remember thinking at the time “Why is he bringing his old jeans up to the counter?” It turns out, he was upcycling them! Upcycling means taking an old object that has already been used or thrown away and giving it a new purpose. A.P.C. takes old jeans that are broken in or torn, fixes them, and resells them.

A.P.C.’s bring back your old jeans program, called the Butler program, is part of this new trend that has become big with many clothing companies. Buying used jeans has started to become a big trend because people tend to like the rustic look of rips, stains, and vintage styles. RE/DONE is a clothing company that does a lot of collaborations by upcycling old Levi’s jeans, which they turn into new denim products. But this year, many fashion companies had to create their new clothes for their Spring 2021 Collections using old materials because they had trouble getting new materials because of the coronavirus, which causes a lot of manufacturers who make fabrics to shut down. Many brands, such as Levi’s, Patagonia and Ikea, have started “bring back your old clothes or furniture” programs and made upcycling part of how they work because it helps reduce waste and is good for the environment.

“I’m not trying to make the next coolest thing,” said Mallorie Dunn, owner of ethical fashion company, SmartGlamor, which is based in New York. Dunn buys fabrics from local stores and with her company, she supports slow fashion, which means that Dunn does not make new clothing every week. She makes new styles seasonally or monthly. Slow fashion is a really great way to help the environment because it means that you will be making less waste rather than making a ton of waste by producing more clothing weekly, like fast fashion companies like H&M or Zara do. Making clothing takes lots of work, energy, and material, and fast fashion companies produce their clothing in factories, which often create a lot of waste and cause pollution. 

Furthermore, products that are made in factories that are really far away and have to be transported by barges and planes and trucks create even more pollution and waste. Another way to create less waste is to shop locally and buy products that are locally made. 

Jenny Cooper is the founder of IVX coffee, a coffee shop and store in Brooklyn that is a great example of how to start a business around upcycling and shopping locally. Cooper used to work for J Crew. While Cooper was working at J Crew, she noticed how much waste J Crew was creating because of the enormous amount of clothes they were producing and how much they couldn’t sell. Cooper wanted to support being better to the environment so she started IVX coffee, which focuses on sustainability. When Cooper shops for products that she would want to sell at her coffee shop, she looks at all the labels to make sure the product is made and sourced locally. Cooper not only sells coffee and eco-friendly products, but she also sells block-printed clothing and accessories. The materials that she uses for her blocks prints are from used clothing. 

Tiffany Toh, an upcycling YouTuber, uses only thrifted/used clothing for the clothes she designs and makes herself. As it says on her YouTube channel she is a “lover of all things DIY.” Toh’s inspiration mostly comes from big fashion brands that make outfits that might cost over $300. But she can easily make a similar style for $8, thanks to her fabulous sewing skills and thrifted clothing! Toh often uses the quote “I take old forgotten things and give them new life!”            

Now that you know that there are lots of ways that upcycling works in fashion and so many businesses that upcycle to buy from, you can start supporting the environment by upcycling in your own life! Instead of buying that new pair of jeans with fake rips and tears why don’t you just buy a used pair of jeans that are unique with real rips and tears— all of that coolness you were looking for? Little things like that can make a big difference in helping to protect the environment and our planet.


  1. Wow!!! Eve I love this article. I have always been a big fan of up cycling. I find beautiful fabrics and workmanship that I don’t see in newer mass production. When you see something that is well made ! Indulge

    What goes around comes around!

  2. Eve, I learned so much from your article. Your granny sent it to me. I really liked the variety of examples of how this works. I also liked the background information. I think you did a fantastic job. I hope that you will someday show me some of these shops it would be a thrill for me. Love you, Aunt Berta

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