Fashion / Luxury

What’s Old is New Again: Upcycling in the Fashion Industry

As the fashion industry seeks out ways to infuse circularity in their collections, upcycling has risen through the ranks of circular fashion strategies.

In doing so, it secured itself as a key component of the contemporary zeitgeist. Upcycling feeds both appetites for conscious consuming and the growing desire for one-of-a-kind garments. This should not be looked at as a fleeting trend. Rather as an avenue that’s still only beginning to uncover the new opportunities it holds. 

Upcycling: How’d we get here?

While upcycling as a practice has been around for millennia, it’s just starting to gain traction in the fashion world.
What caused it to become the phenomena that’s taken over catwalks and tiktok alike?
Like most things happening recently, we can look to the pandemic to see the budding of upcycling in mainstream culture. 

Amid the saga of global lockdowns, Gen Z turned towards DIY (Do It Yourself) and handicraft projects to get through the isolation. For the young generation who equally values individuality and ethical concerns, upcycling was a natural fit. TikTok and Instagram became havens for learning about not only how to upcycle, but also as a place to share processes, and sell their creations.

It didn’t take long for brands to catch-on. Looking for ways to connect with the generation of new creators, brands like A-Cold-Wall and Dickies started selling or giving away deadstock fabric. Alexander McQueen, Dior and Ganni turned to Instagram, launching tutorials and challenges that promoted at-home creations. 

For some individuals, this became more than a hobby, but a full fledged career. Nicole McLaughlin (@nicolemclaughlin) a designer out of Brooklyn New York quickly gained attention, amassing 786k followers on instagram by transforming everyday objects into streetwear. She now works with brands to transform their old products into a one of a kind object to raise awareness around waste and sustainability in fashion. 

Upcycling’s Pioneers in Luxury Past + Present

Today the traditional luxury brands aren’t only partnering with creators like McLaughlin, but are infusing the upcycling ethos into their offerings. It seems like every fashion house is looking for a way to tap into the rising zeitgeist.
Prada launched their Re-Nylon collection, Recicla an upcycled collection from Maison Margiela, Miu Miu’s Upcycled and so forth. 

Other brands, however, have had upcycling in their DNA for decades. Eileen Fisher is notably a pioneer of upcycling. The brand has been asking their customers for unwanted garments for over 10 years. Using the fabrics to make textile art and wall hangings. 

Today being conscious of what you’re creating is a must, and we see that in the reflection of who’s had success as newcomers to the luxury world. Bode who produces one of a kind, handcrafted clothing. Cut from antique fabrics, Victorian quilts, grain sacks, and bed linens. Quickly rose to success after winning the CFDA Fashion Award for Emerging Designers in 2019. Her upcycled creations have been worn by Bella Hadid, Harry Styles and Dua Lipa. 

How can brands continue to tap into the upcycling craze, without allowing it to become mundane? A fashion startup out of Italy might hold the key to a surprisingly new experience with upcycled garments. 

A Surprising Upcycling Experience: Meet Menabòh 

Menabòh is a completely new way of shopping that takes cues from the personal styling box services, but with a sustainable twist. Shoppers select one “Star” item that will be in their box, these items are from a range of emerging designers all of which have sustainability practices infused in their DNA. Then the remaining items for the box are curated around the star by a stylist, creating a total look. Rather than just new articles from the emerging brands, the box is filled with unique vintage or upcycled pieces, filling the desire for unique one of a kind looks. 

Upcycling became a part of the young company’s ethos when they started to collect vintage pieces. The founder, Gaia Rialti noticed that while the garments she found were of incredible quality, the style didn’t exactly fit with contemporary tastes. Rather than deeming the clothing un-usable, she partnered with a designer to transform the garments into one of a kind pieces. 

Now you can find a low-waisted pair of flair-jeans, reconstructed with a contrasting denim waistline that makes them a mid-rise.

Everything is one of a kind, unique and fitting within the style trends of today. The entire experience truly hits the zeitgeist of today, by providing a surprising experience that allows for discovery, while staying conscious.  

Moving Forward

As we look forward into the fashion industry’s future, we can expect that upcycling will continue to cement its place as a conscious and circular business practice. With it hitting critical mass and becoming a standard, brands will need to diversify their approach in order to keep the “wow” factor. Taking notes from up and coming companies like Menabòh that hit not only on upcycling but an experience that cannot be matched elsewhere is key to winning the loyalty of the conscious younger generations. 

1 Comment

  • Yancy
    June 13, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    Greattttttt article, Gabrielle! Can I recommend a company called RE.STATEMENT ( that only sells upcycled clothing made by distinct small business brands?


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