What in the World is Upcycling?

Upcycling, recycling, refashioning, repurposing, reu- AHH!!! There are just so many terms?!

We get it. It can be overwhelming to understand the similarities and differences between these processes and we will try to clarify what in the world is upcycling (and why upcycling matters). We’ve rounded up some of the most frequently asked questions around upcycling. If you want to learn more – or even help us learn more! – please do reach out at @RETURELTD on Instagram or send us an email at info@reture.net.

What is upcycling?
To upcycle is to reuse (discarded) garments or materials in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original. By upcycling, you are taking an existing garment and transforming it into a brand new piece. Dress into a handbag? Skirt into shorts? Jacket out of trousers? It’s all possible.

Isn’t upcycling the same repurposing or refashioning?
Yes, upcycling, repurposing, and refashioning can be used interchangeably, however we at RETURE categorise repurposing as a part of upcycling. This is why when you visit our upcycling services, you can see dye, embroidery, embellishments, paint, and creative lining in addition to repurposing. All of these services help create a product of higher quality or value than the original.

Isn’t upcycling the same as recycling?
No, upcycling is not the same as recycling. When you upcycle a garment, you are using whole pieces of existing garments to create something new, while recycling requires materials to be broken down before they can be reused. A great example of recycling is breaking down a PET plastic bottle into polyester*, whilst an example of upcycling is taking that shirt and reviving it into a skirt.

What are the benefits of upcycling?
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions (United Nations Climate Change, 2018) and the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017). By extending the life of a garment by even an extra 9 months, carbon, waste, and water footprints are reduced between 20-30% (WRAP, 2017) which underlines that the most sustainable garment is the one already hanging in your wardrobe.

This means that upcycling clothing that already exists keeps them out of landfills, and uses zero to minimal amounts of raw materials, such as water, chemicals and carbon emissions. And the other good news? Upcycling doesn’t compromise on creativity or the sense of newness – you tell us if there is anything more innovative than a one of a kind garment personalised to you, handcrafted by a mega-talented designer!

How can I get involved with upcycling?
Glad you asked. Our mission is to make upcycling the most desirable choice in modern-day fashion consumption. We want to create a fashion industry thriving on collaboration, craft, and community and would love you to be part of this.

We understand that the practice of upcycling is not the norm for everyone (today), but we encourage you to just give it a go. Start by heading to your wardrobe (or basement or attic) and find some garments you haven’t recently worn and send an upcycling request with a RETURE designer. Those that try upcycling once return again and again as not only do they receive a one of a kind garment with an incredible story, but they directly have made a positive impact, supporting craft and chosen fashion based upon collaboration and community.

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