Confessions of a First Time Fashion Upcycler

Disclaimer: I do not work in fashion nor am I someone ingrained in the sustainability movement – don’t get me wrong, I am engaged and want to do my part in being a responsible citizen but I am certainly no activist. I am really pleased to have learned more about sustainable practice, especially over the past 5 years through social media, and I have become much more conscious about what I consume and my impact on the environment.

Reading more about who made my clothes, where they were made and also the impact we have due to our own choices, my behaviour has changed in small ways such as spending more money on items that last longer – not just because it is more sustainable, but also I don’t like constantly shopping! Just by being more conscious about clothing, I started to realise how the quality of lots of fast fashion items really wasn’t great and wouldn’t bad quality mean we don’t get a lot of use out of them and then just throw away? That didn’t seem right. And also I began questioning prices – how is it that a coffee was more expensive than a pair of jeans?

Upcycling my own garments is not something I was taught – you definitely don’t learn this at school or read in the magazines. I never knew it existed as an option so when I first upcycled my garments through RETURE, there was this mixture of the unknown. We as humans don’t really like change so actually going into my wardrobe – choosing a garment to upcycle, communicating with a designer, sending the garment to the designer was obviously a longer journey than going onto ASOS and clicking “buy now”. Before starting the upcycling process, I questioned if it is even worth it? The dress I chose to upcycle has just been hanging in my wardrobe for years so is it worth transforming?

I chose to work with SABINNA as I loved her designs, especially the patterns she works with. I immediately felt comfortable working with her as she was friendly, positive and gave some great ideas as to what my dress could become. The dress was to be transformed into a shirt and scrunchies. Throughout our conversation I realised, oh wow, I do care about the piece and started to remember the reason why I bought it and the memories associated with it. I realised there is value in it and that realisation only happened by living the upcycling experience.

After sending my dress to Sabinna I started to see it come together thanks to the work in progress imagery and conversations with the designer who gave me lots of reassurance. This experience and relationship developed with another human being made me understand the joy of upcycling as it is not just buying something – but it’s creating something together with someone and preserving your own memories and story in a revived piece. Celebrating the meaning in our clothes! Actually going through the upcycling process and not just reading about “how to upcycle” really made a difference for me and convinced me that it does make sense.

I was so surprised when I saw the final pictures of the former dress – now upcycled into a shirt, scrunchies AND also a bag (total surprise!). The bag which was created even included elements from my favourite pattern of Sabinna’s- it was like she really knew my taste by the end of the process! When receiving the piece, it automatically felt like I was receiving a new garment. I was really excited about opening the eco-friendly packaging, reading the personal message from the team, and trying on a piece that actually did mean something to me.

My partner was very surprised with the result and I received very positive feedback from my family and friends. Even my sister who was skeptical of my initial choice of dress asked to have a scrunchie! They were also impressed by how much the total cost was, which was actually much more cost-efficient than buying new pieces.

Because I went through the upcycling process, I now see its benefits and want to upcycle some of my grandmother’s clothes. Last year, I would have thought, no way I don’t see that happening. But now, hold on, I like the pattern and material – these pieces could very well be something new and tailored to my taste. These pieces are something special to me and to my family, and also the important thing is that the quality of the garments are good so it would be a shame to waste that. I look forward to upcycling again – definitely will work with Sabinna as it was so fun to upcycle with her!

Federica (27) London, UK

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