What Exactly is Upcycling, and Who’s Doing It Well?

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Upcycling’, along with ‘make do and mend’, has become one of the fashion buzz words of sustainability. We’ve all nonchalantly dropped the term into conversation, hoping to convey both cool and concern for the environment in one fell swoop. But what does it actually mean, and which businesses are blazing an environmentally friendly trail?


Who Coined The Term?

Upcycling was coined by McDonough and Michael Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, and is the process of turning materials, be it clothes, plastics or glass, into a product which is of a similar quality, or one that’s better than the original. This contrasts with recycling, or ‘downcycling’ — where the material is converted into something of a lower quality.

In a nutshell? Trash worth keeping.


A Litle About Looptworks

Looptworks, a new company set up in September 2009, spotted the ‘upcycling’ gap in the market and seized their chance to make the world a greener place, while also making pots of cash.

Gary Peck (Looptworks’ co-founder) claims to have created a new way of making clothes, designed to make consumers think afresh about the journey from textile to designer t-shirt:

We have a unique process to create unique products. From concept to your closet, we can assure you that no new materials were used to create our clothing and that each item is as individual as the person who wears it… We hope people start to think about what they buy, where it came from, and what natural resources it required to produce it.

Visionary words, but what of the stats? While the traditional life-cycle for creating and manufacturing a shirt takes 54 weeks, countless waste and 400 gallons of water, at Looptworks it’s only nine weeks, with no new materials used.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that one textile factory alone gets rid of 60,000 pounds of consumer waste each week. With such admirable aims (and a ready market, too) it’d be surprising if Looptworks were the only ones out there. Well, put away your ‘shocked’ face — they’re not.


Some Competition

TerraCycle also make eco-friendly products from waste-materials, though they focus less on fashion. In fact, the company was started as an organic fertilizer producer, but has diversified into… well, almost everything — from picture frames to bags, shower curtains to kites.

So now there’s no excuse not to wear your knowing ‘I’m an upcycler’ smile, along with your sustainable attire, of course!

What do you think? Leave a comment!