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How To: Upcycle Old Clothing

Fast fashion uses 20% of the earth’s groundwater and produces 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. Clothes are a necessity, but the speed at which we buy and replace them needs to change if we are to successfully reduce our environmental impact.

Part of the reason we replace our clothes so often is because of how often fashion trends change. We’re used to getting bored of clothes after wearing them for a year or so, and so we end up throwing them away.

But what if there was a way to switch up our styles and stay on top of the latest trends, without getting rid of those clothes altogether? Read on for some ideas to help your clothes go further and last longer.

Sustainable Clothing

Fix up your wardrobe

When something wears out or gets a hole in, as so often happens, it’s often our first instinct to simply discard it and throw it away. However, with some basic sewing and patchwork skills, it’s often easy to repair even larger holes.

For example, jeans that wear out in the knees can be repaired and even improved with a patch sewn onto the knee. You’d never know that there’s a hole underneath, plus it adds an extra retro flair to your look.

Sewing Machine

Swap clothes with friends and locals

If you’re truly bored of your older pieces, but there’s nothing technically wrong with them, you could always organise a clothing swap. It’s as simple as it sounds: you bring along all your unwanted clothes, your friends or neighbours bring along theirs, and you can all take away something new.

Any leftovers can be donated to homeless shelters or charity shops. There’s nearly always a home to be found for old clothes – and you might find some more secondhand treasures to buy while you’re there. Secondhand clothing is always a preferable option to buying new, as it keeps items within the circular economy.

Clothing Swaps

Add a splash to old favourites

If you’re getting tired of a plain number, like a dull pair of jeans, or a basic T-shirt, why not jazz it up a bit? You can get spray-on fabric paint at most craft stores, create your own stencils out of some old cardboard, and then add a vibrant new pattern. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even create your own natural dyes from fruit and vegetables. Beetroot is particularly useful for a long-lasting red! 

Embroidery is another way to revitalise old, plainer items. Small additions, like pastel flowers or initials, can add a personal touch to treasured old items that need a breath of fresh air added to them.

Clothing Dye

Repurpose clothes into new items

Some items, unfortunately, are a lost cause. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line for them. Cutting up old and useless clothes into scraps of fabric can make them useful in whole new ways. You can turn strips of clothing into scrunchies and scarves. 

For thicker fabrics, you can also stuff them into pillow cushion covers to make new cushions, or restuff sofa cushions. Not only does this enable you to keep using those old fabrics, but it also makes furnishing your home that little bit more cost-effective. Another practical use is turning T-shirts or other cotton fabrics into household cleaning towels, which you can re-use again and again by washing them after using.

Embroidered Shirt

There are some fantastic businesses and individuals focused on the world of sustainable business – get inspired by their work by coming along to the Zero Waste Berlin Festival. 

Tickets are currently available to buy here, so make sure you secure your space alongside like-minded professionals, entrepreneurs, and activists on September 17-19. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!


  • Rachael Davies

    Rachael Davies is a freelance writer and journalist based in Edinburgh, with work in National Geographic, Huffington Post, and TechRadar. You can find her on Twitter @rachdaviesetc or via her website.