What Upcycled Fashion Production is and How it can Save the Planet

What Upcycled Fashion Production is and How it can Save the Planet

Today, sustainable textile production is more important than ever. To understand why, we first need to examine fast fashion, its rise and its impact. 

Fast fashion is a term used to describe a business model in which catwalk fashions are recreated in low-cost mass production. The practice is highly profitable because it often involves exploiting workers with inhumane conditions and low wages. Fast fashion rose in the late 90s and early 2000s with the inexpensive production of new materials like nylon and polyester after a couple decades of the industry becoming global with manufacturing of apparel products moving to developing countries that offer artificially low wages.  

There are more than 75 million garment workers worldwide, and according to www.garmentworkercetner.org, 85% of garment workers don't make minimum wage being paid between 2-6 cents per piece. 1 in 6 workers in the world is employed by the fashion industry. 

The impact of fast fashion is vast and in need of change. The industry creates an average of 92 million tons of waste each year, most of which ends up in landfills in developing countries. Recent reports from Chile detail a sobering scene in the Atacama Desert, where 39,000 tons of unsold clothing from the U.S. and Europe are dumped each year. 

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if the fast fashion industry continues to operate as it does today, the carbon emissions it produces could increase by 26% in the next 30 years. 

So what can be done? While people often conflate recycling and upcycling, both offer systemic solutions to a global problem. Recycling breaks down materials into their raw form to be produced into entirely new products, like using chemicals to break down fabrics into fibers and weave fibers into thread. Upcycling is the practice of transforming existing materials as it is, into new products. Upcycled fashion involves cutting and sewing surplus, scrap and deadstock textiles that were going to be thrown away, into new garments or goods.

 As the impact of fast fashion becomes more evident, so does the fact that upcycled, circular production is the solution. 

  • Upcycled production diverts textiles from landfills by extending the life of existing material.

  • It saves natural, finite resources by using what has already been produced first before making more.

  • Upcycling drastically reduces greenhouse gases by consuming less energy and reducing your carbon footprint. 

  • It reduces the demand for new materials, reduces air pollution, water pollution and chemical outputs.

  • It supports local businesses and industries by supporting a circular economy.

With upcycled fashion production, consumers get high-quality, dynamic goods that have a stronger value chain. Designers work with material that is available, so unlike mass-produced fashion, pieces are often one-of-a-kind or made in small batches. 

In a recent study on the environmental impact and rise of upcycled production titled, Making Fashion Sustainable: Waste and Collective Responsibility, authors noted, "Historically, sustainable brands were sought by a smaller consumer base and were typically part of the stereotype 'hippy' style. But in recent years, sustainable fashion has become more mainstream among both designers and consumers, and the aesthetic appeal has evolved to become more desirable to a wider audience."

At Public Thread, we are proud to be able to source a variety of materials from our partners and collaborators - from furniture, automotive, billboards, shoes, leather and 3D knit material, we create bold, upcycled luxury goods for a variety of industries. To date, we have diverted more than 100,000 pounds of textiles from landfills. We are proud to be a brand creatively disrupting the status quo and creating a sustainable, business model for textile upcycling and cut & sew manufacturing in the Midwest, United States. 

For more information on sustainable fashion and textile production, we recommend following Slow Factory, Fashion Revolution and Garment Worker Center. 


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