Downcycling and upcycling: how to build a sustainable wardrobe

    26 Jul 2021

    Let’s get acquainted with Forbes Life’s vision of building a complete, contemporary wardrobe of eco-friendly things to take care of nature.

    Environmental problems and overproduction dictate the trend towards conscious consumption, often called sustainable or slow, in all spheres of human life. Fashion is no exception: the era of weekly updates is becoming a thing of the past. Brands rely on sustainable materials, limited drops, and manufacturability to keep things last longer.

    Basic Recommendations

    In simple terms of sustainable shopping, there are four ways to contribute to sustainable fashion:

    · Choose eco-brands, that is, buy things with the appropriate labeling, keep an eye on the composition of the fabric;

    · Start wearing vintage clothing;

    · Give your clothes a second life: there are upcycling, recycling, downcycling and freecycling for this;

    · Turn to digital fashion if you regularly need fashion content for blogs and social media.

    It is sometimes difficult to always buy things exclusively with eco-friendly labeling, if only for the simple reason that the choice of sustainable clothing is still much less. “If you understand that you cannot yet wear only eco-friendly brands, remember the simple rule of the capsule wardrobe – buy those things that you really wear regularly and that are easy to combine. This will justify the harm from their production. For example, suppose you wear a 100% polyester top covered with sequins all the time. In that case, it is much more sustainable than a recycled organic cotton T-shirt that will hang dejectedly in your closet,” says Oksana Kostiv, Corporate and Social Responsibility Team Leader, Lamoda.

    Slow fashion vocabulary

    The main formula of slow fashion is to buy only what you need, to wear clothes for more than two seasons, to alter old things, or give them away for recycling. If everything is more or less clear with the first points, then a whole vocabulary of concepts has appeared for different types of processing: upcycling, recycling, and downcycling. Many eco-friendly brands implement different recycling approaches in their production or even make them the central part of their unique selling proposition.

    Upcycling is the creative recycling of old things. For example, when a shopping bag, panama, or any other fashionable item in the current season is made from a denim skirt of an outdated style. Or earrings or a bracelet are assembled from fragments of broken dishes, as the Shito-Kryto brand does. Upcycle brands use unsold items, fabric scraps, second-hand clothing, and specialized organizations collecting unwanted clothing as “raw materials.” The upcycling concept underlies the brands Go Authentic, Jeans Revision, DogRose, Ksenia Schnaider (Re-worked line), Zero Waste Daniel, Bentgablenits, Eileen Fisher.

    Recycling is a type of recycling in which unusable items pass through special equipment and become raw materials for a new thing. For example, you can make yarn from recycled plastic bottles. Unlike upcycling, this type of processing cannot last an infinite number of times: sooner or later, the item will still be scrapped. Everyone can contribute to recycling. To do this, you just need to collect garbage separately and properly dispose of unnecessary things. An excellent example of recycling is econil fabric from old fishing nets and other plastic waste. The brands H&M, Kering, Patagonia, GANT, Melissa, Nike, Adidas, and Stella McCartney, use polyester from plastic bottles, coastal debris, and other waste in their collections.

    Downcycling is a type of recycling used for materials that cannot be completely recycled. Usually, they contain different fibers, which are difficult and unprofitable to separate. Such things are shredded and used as stuffing for jackets, furniture, plush toys, insulation materials for repairs. And it is essential to understand that this is a one-way process. It will be impossible to return the T-shirt from the padding. The Second Wind Foundation carries out downcycling. Thanks to his work, textiles and other materials that could take about 200 years to decompose are given new life in fashionable clothes. By the way, the Lamoda marketplace also works with this fund. “For a year and a half of cooperation, we have given a second life to more than 46 tons of things and donated 113,168 units of clothing and footwear to charity,” said Oksana Kostiv.

    The practice of freecycling is also widespread – the use of things that have already been in use. And in the West, vintage fashion is very authoritative (and hunting for that same 1980 Armani suit will add status to you in the eyes of connoisseurs), while in Post-Soviet countries, freecycling is associated exclusively with worn, faded second-hand T-shirts. This stereotype is also played into the hands of the fact that high-quality vintage is the privilege of large cities. Top-notch materials, solid cut, perfect fit, cost like a new mass-market item – why not replenish your wardrobe with a branded item, and even with history? When there is a trend towards rejection of fur and leather, finding a leather bag or raincoat is problematic even among luxury brands. But not in the case of freecycling.

    How to compile an eco-friendly wardrobe

    To meet the demands of the slow fashion, it doesn’t take as much effort as it seems at first glance. The easiest way to look for green products is on marketplace sites that support these initiatives. For example, Farfetch, Lamoda, and Asos.

    Many buyers believe the names “eco-leather” or “eco-fur,” although, actually, it is synthetic.

    For those who consider clothing a reflection of individuality, want to support a domestic manufacturer, and find something unique and unusual, there are small local brands and vintage showrooms. We tell you where to choose things so that they serve for a long time, do not lose their relevance, and do not harm the planet.

    Outerwear: fur coats, jackets, coats and raincoats

    Bad news: followers of the trend towards conscious consumption will have to abandon a luxurious fur coat. Stylish eco-coats with a length, style and color for the most demanding taste are not an option. “Many buyers believe the names “eco-leather” or “eco-fur,” although, in fact, they are synthetics made from refined products: in fact, ordinary plastic that decomposes for hundreds of years,” says designer Olga Skazkina. Only a mink coat from grandma’s bins or a vintage showroom does not count. And the conscience is clear, and the formalities are observed.

    As for eco-friendly down jackets, we did not find such brands from a domestic manufacturer. This is because such things require expensive processing and a significant price increase. Among Western brands, brands like Finisterre, Noize, Katharine Hamnett London, and Ecoalf make sustainable down jackets.

    The basis of the basics: dresses, shirts, skirts, pants

    This segment is most fully represented in the assortment of Russian eco-friendly brands, so Russian magazine journalists had no problems finding decent stylish, and high-quality options.

    Sustainable and recyclable fabrics are now only 10-20% more expensive than conventional fabrics.

    Olga Skazkina has a modern interpretation of classic dresses and suits. The brand offers casual looks, office wear, maternity outfits, and evening and wedding dresses. The brand adheres to sustainable principles and, since 2020, strives to eliminate pollutants from the planet in production completely. “My brand has always been ethical and socially responsible; we have always had the norm to respect human labor, nature, not to use fur and leather, create timeless designs, sew quality things that will last for years, and do charity work. But we still have to work on many things, ”says Olga Skazkina, the brand’s founder. The designer regularly talks in his social networks about the environmental consequences of unconscious consumption in the fashion industry and shows the inside of his business. “In percentage terms, the price of environmentally friendly and recyclable fabrics is now only 10-20% more expensive than conventional fabrics, but these fabrics are produced without harm to the environment. This is a significant factor for me: let the profit be lower, but I will know that my business does not harm nature, ”says Olga.You may read about how upcycling became the leading fashion trend here.

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