Up cycling in fashion

is up-cycling an effective way of tackling excessive clothing waste – does it make up for the need for fast fashion?

You have to use scholarly sources to defend your answer and you have to defend both sides. And I agree that up cycling is a must to tackle excessive wasted in fashion.




Up cycling in Fashion


Now more than ever, people are shopping for clothes that match the latest styles, trends and designs. Fast fashion has become part and parcel of our everyday life. The fashion industry is rapidly producing cheap and poor quality clothes to meet the growing demand for catwalk designs. As a result, generating voluminous fabric waste which ends up toppled in incinerators and landfills. These fabric wastes sit in the Earth for decades and start producing green gases which are harmful to the climate, water and air. With the continuous growth of the fashion industry and the advent of fast fashion, excessive clothing waste will continue to impose intrinsic dangers to the environment. Therefore it is of paramount importance to devise a clear incentive to turn these discarded wastes into useful raw materials. Upcycling is an approach to help accomplish this. Upcycling is the process of converting excessive waste into new products of equal value or higher value than the original. A significant percentage of fabric released from fashion Industries can be shredded and blended with other fibres to create new apparel. A cycling system reverts the value and quality of the discarded waste, thus creates a more useful material. Through up cycling, fashion designers and manufacturers adopt new and unique designs that alleviate fast fashion trends and reduce the disposal of clothing waste.

Up cycling in Fashion

In the wake of the fast fashion trends, textile companies are producing clothes in large masses to meet the growing demand for catwalk designs. Production of clothes in quantities generates voluminous textile waste that ends up in landfills and incinerators. Statistical data shows that fashion brands in the US release approximately 12.7 million tons of fabric waste into landfills annually. Discarded waste has a high environmental, socially and economic imprint; therefore, there is a need for urgent intervention to reduce the amount of waste released into landfills. To curb this ecological and resource crisis, the fashion Industries should adopt an cycling model as it transforms clothing waste to use textiles that can re-spurned into new trendy garments thus reducing the disposal of fabric waste into landfills and incinerators.

Energy conservation

Up cycling is the transformation of clothing waste into new textiles, materials and or products of equal or higher value than the original. This process aims to prevent the use of new by redeeming the value of existing ones. This system reduces the consumption of new textile materials when creating new clothes; thus reducing energy usage air and water pollution and even the carbon footprint in the environment. Although there is minimal research, fashions Industries are estimated to waste 10% to 40% of the garment used for creating clothes (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2019). Therefore creating an upcycling system in the fashion Industries alleviates the existing textile waste problem as well the booming fast fashion trends.

Designers and manufacturers can use this method to bring new designs to life and meet current fashion. This process helps save raw materials and reduces tons of waste into the environment. However, research shows that only an upcycling system can only recycle 1%  of fabric waste which is made up of single fibres only. This illustrates the structural and technical imitations of an up cycling system as 99% of textile waste is cotton polyester blended items not to mention clothing implements such as buttons and zips. Nevertheless, amidst the rallying call to curb mass production and mass consumption, up cycling is still a  viable option to tackle excessive clothing waste. Not only does up-cycling reduce land degradation it offers a dynamic and unique look into the manufacturing and design of a product. Also, the whole process creates a conducive environment for sustainable operations and creativity among designers and manufacturers

Culture Change

Adoption of an up cycling system in fashion Industry creates a culture of recycling, thus eliminating potential disposal of discarded fabrics into the waste stream. This method propagates for an efficient system where the surplus is addressed long before it becomes waste. Availability of productions lines ready to churn fibre back to fabric enhances sustainable fashion. Through well-incorporated designs and business models, fashion designers and manufacturers can maximize on reverting excessive waste into the production chains to give the garment a second life and higher functionality.  Despite the vast benefits of upcycling the process is encompassed by many limitations. Although fashion designers are taking the lead in shifting from small scale cycling to working with Industrial waste stream, there is still a huge gap in the structural design layout of an up cycling system.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency found that fashion houses churned out approximately32.44 billion pounds of fabrics into the waste stream. An cycling system can only handle 15% of these fabric waste  (Morgan, 2014). However, this should not deter upcycling is capable of handling excessive regardless of its capacity, and there is tangible evidence to show this. Fashion designers taking the lead for sustainable fashion have upcycled as a creative way to reduce fast fashion as well as manufacturers seeking to conserve energy reuse discarded materials to create new clothes rather than producing virgin textiles. Up cycling is the single most practical way of shifting the mindset of the consumers about the value of clothes and the essence of buying clothes made of reusable fibres. By doing this, consumers change their purchasing patterns and trends and devise ways to repair, reuse the clothes they already own. As a result, this reduces these saves voluminous amount of water, regulates the use of new materials to create new garments and keeps tons of clothing out of the waste stream. Upcycling teaches people the fundamental basics of a circular economy through problem-solving efficiency, common sense and creativity. Reconstructing and deconstructing textile waste to give life to a new product can give people a renewed sense of pride and encourage them to pursue this technique further.

On the other hand, many consumers barriers are hindering the purchase of upcycled clothes. If the upcycled clothes do not meet the needs of the consumers, then there is little to no change in the mass production of fashion which burdens landfills with enormous green gases. According to Gail (2014), women between 25 and  65 years reported that they consider the price and value of clothes more than its environmental impact which purchasing clothes. This report draws an alarming picture of the limited public knowledge on the effects the fashion industry has on the planet. Additionally, the upcycled clothes are shrouded with much criticism because of uncertainty about sanitation and higher price value compared to garments from virgin textiles (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2019). However, more visionary fashion designers are embracing a transparent and inclusive customer approach by labelling upcycled clothes with credible information about the genealogy and chemical composition of these apparels.

New design and styles

Up cycling in the fashion Industry upcycling is the backbone to the creation and design of exemplary designs and styles. There is a renewed sense of aestheticism in transforming unwanted material and giving it new life. Implementation of an upcycling system in fashion industry taps into the creativity of designers and invigorates new viable alternatives for the waste. The book shaping a sustainable future defines up cycling as the designers’ ability to determine the value of fabric waste through the reconstruction and deconstruction phase (Gwilt & Rissanen, 2011). Fashion designers engaging in take-back programs to create eco-friendly fashion become heavily invested in the upcycling process give life to aesthetic designs and styles that outdo the current trend.  In as much as upcycled clothes are unique, trendy and rocking the fashion runways at the moment, upcycled clothes cannot meet the growing demand as most fashion Industries, and manufacturers produce sustainable textile in small scale(Stockholm Environment Institute, 2019). Today in the US, it is estimated that a significant proportion of the population is open to purchasing up cycled clothes. Although the repurposing process is not a holistic way of production, it follows a genealogical process of discovery, collection and reintroduction into fashion through creativity and manual abilities. This process reduces environmental pollution, a much-pitted topic between fashion Industries and environmentalists.

Circular economy for fashion

With the advent of fast fashion, upcycling is critical in achieving a circular economy for style. Fast fashion trends upgrade into fresh designs as soon as new models hit the fashion runways, which offers little hope for sustainable fashion. This trend provides luxury and pleasure of experiencing the latest style and fashion at a relatively low price but lacks emphasis on design. These clothes are of poor quality; therefore, consumers dispose of them off quickly into the waste stream. Fashion Industries can reabsorb these clothes for recycling which offers a wide range of opportunities to test, develop and create new designs. Through upcycling, it is possible to focus on a specific model that is from its pre-existence to its afterlife while reduces the fabric waste channelled into incinerators and landfills. The closed-loop system of upcycling saves water, energy and resources that could otherwise be used in the production of raw materials, thus reducing the carbon footprint in the environment  (Henninger, 2017). Upcycling is not only an effective method to solve the environmental and fast fashion crisis but also a cost-effective way of production. Usually, an upcycling model is expensive in the preliminary stages of construction and operation after which the fashion Industries starts accumulating profits.

Most Importantly, Industries harbour profits while saving the planet (Hayes, 2014). However, fashion Industries investing face much competition from businesses that are reluctant to go green due to the huge initial investment required to build an upcycling model. These businesses are focused on reducing the costs of production to maximizing profits regardless of the socio-economic impact. This is an ill feted way of operation as all postconsumer goods should be cultivated and reproduced throughout their life cycle.

Sustainable fashion

Up cycling in fashion is no longer façade but a topic that is becoming of increasing importance in the modern history of fashion. With more fashion designers and manufacturing companies acknowledging the high energy consumption and the myriad impacts, the fashion industry has on the environment. It is time for the fashion industry to adopt upcycling to reduce its wasteful ways. An upcycling should be formed based on principled activities about fashion and products (Gail, 2014). In the contemporary world of “ throw-away society” implementing a comprehensive, up cycling system could alleviate fast fashion trends and form the basis of a sustainable fashion. Collecting, repurposing of discarded clothes provided a sustainable garment supply chain that holds all entities responsible for its waste. Incorporating the whole supply chain in this approach is mandatory in achieving maximum success. A comprehensive approach involves channelling leftovers from the farmers and any other viable waste back to the production lines.  Therefore there will no waste discarded into or a scenario where brand owners burn dormant stock. Even the smallest fabric waste will find a way back into the system to and re-spurned into yarn that creates new textiles for clothes and other garments (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2019). The manufactures, designer and fabric producers,  play an integral role in the making, production and cultivation of the second life of the garment. Collaboration between these three entities ensures that no leftovers are discarded into the waste stream through this fashion Industries grow responsibly and sustainably. A key challenge whatsoever is that while brands and fashion industries praise manufactures for sustainable textile production, they offer little to no funding for the upcycling processes. This needs to change. On the one hand, consumers can alleviate the manufacturers’ financial burden by purchasing upcycled products while fashion Industries can create a long term working relationships with manufacturers.


A well-integrated up cycling system encourages communication between the consumers and the brands. Purchase of second clothes closes the loop of upcycling. Therefore if there is no consumption, there upcycling is does not attain its relevance (Gail, 2014). Upcycling provides an proper channel to raise awareness of any problems in the design and manufacturing of the clothes. This is crucial in the visibility of the brand a selling upcycled clothes does not equate to mega sales. Beyond the eco-awareness, the brand needs to build an image of its role in a sustainable fashion. As for most consumers, there needs to for an ethical reason for purchasing the product. Historically, most consumers of upcycled products, seem concerned about the upcycling process than rather than the health risks of upcycled clothes. For others, purchases take place based on the implication on value, price and convenience of the brand. It is becoming increasingly crucial for the fashion industry to become accustomed to consumer preferences, perception and media highlights about their products. Therefore increased communication between fashion designers and the consumers allows the fashion Industries to create eco-friendly garments while keeping the needs of the needs of the customers first. Incorporation of an up cycling system in the fashion Industry will shift the mindset of consumers, brands and manufacturers on the value of discarded waste. As a result, there will be limited fabric waste channelled into landfills and incinerators, thus tackling excessive clothing waste.



Gwilt, A., & Rissanen, T. (2011). Shaping Sustainable Fashion. New York: Taylor& Francis.

Hayes, A. (2014). Upcycling: Save the planet for future generations. Retrieved December 3, 2019, from Michigan State University: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/upcycling_save_the_planet_for_future_generations

Henninger, A. G. (2017). Sustainability in Fashion: A Cradle to Upcycle Approach. New York: Springer.

Morgan, O. (2014). The Monster in our Closer: Fast Fashion&Textile Waste on the Rise. Retrieved December 3, 2019, from CENTER FOR ECO TECHNOLOGY: https://www.centerforecotechnology.org/fast-fashion-textile-waste/

Stockholm Environment Institute. (2019). UPMADE-toward a circular fashion Industry. Retrieved December 3, 2019, from Stockholm Environment Institute: ei.org/featured/upmade-circular-fashion-industry/



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