Viewed from the outside, the fast-paced fashion industry appears to be all glitz and glam. There’s a new trend to jump on every day, and that means store shelves are constantly being restocked with plenty of tantalizing new looks. Unfortunately, it’s not so shiny behind the scenes. By keeping an eye on what you wear and the environment, learning how to upcycle clothes allows you to showcase your style and keep up with the latest trends without hurting the planet.
Upcycling creatively transforms the products you already own in order to cut down on waste. It’s nothing new, but with global warming threatening the future, there’s no better time to start doing it yourself. Creating a more sustainable closet requires little more than a few pieces of clothing you already own. A cozy old sweater can quickly be updated with a little imagination. Those jeans you haven’t worn in years are just begging to be transformed into a cute pair of shorts or a denim skirt. A smattering of creativity can revive your tired wardrobe.
Plastic and material waste is a problem that plagues a variety of industries—and retail is no exception. More than 75 percent of the plastic produced in 2015 ended up in a landfills and more than 270 million tons pollute the world’s oceans. In the same year, the fashion industry was responsible for 92 million tons of waste sent to landfills. That’s just the beginning of the negative impact it has on the environment, though. Past studies have shown a ridiculous amount of waste is involved specifically with so-called “fast fashion.” A garbage truck’s worth of textiles is discarded every second. Yes, you read that correctly. That’s 86,400 garbage trucks full of trash every day headed straight to the landfills.
Beyond the environmental impact that caused by discarded or unwanted articles of clothing, the process of producing enough clothing to keep up with demand is similarly damaging. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10 percent of global carbon emissions. To put that into perspective, that’s more than the amount produced by all international flights. That wastewater, which can be incredibly toxic, is often dumped right into natural bodies of fresh water, hurting the aquatic life—and the people who depend on that water—due to the high amounts of lead, mercury, and arsenic, according to Sustain Your Style. Basically, when it comes down to it, the fashion industry isn’t pretty.
Upcycling your clothing benefits the Earth and your wallet. Just think about how much money you can save when you DIY your latest style obsessions. Plus, you can’t beat a craft night (to create something chic that doesn’t feel the least bit crafty) when it comes to relieving some pent-up stress, right? When you’re ready to give your closet a makeover, start with these 15 upcycled clothing ideas that are ready to for you to rock.
Upcycle clothes with these 15 genius DIYs
With the return of summer, we’ll gladly welcome off-the-shoulder tops. But instead of splurging on the designer version and draining your bank account in the process, raid your own closet. In this DIY from A Pair & A Spare, all you need is a button-down shirt of your choice. Move around a few buttons, make a snip here and there, and you’ll have a casual look you can pair with high-waisted jeans or your favorite shorts.
Side-stripe pants have been everywhere lately. Luckily, it’s likely that you already own most of what you need to get the look. This DIY from Paper & Stitch teaches you how to create your own version on the cheap at home. Just grab an old pair of jeans, a 1-inch velvet ribbon in your choice of color, and some iron-on adhesive tape. After securing everything together, they’ll look so fresh that everyone will be asking where you got them. (And probably begging you to make them a pair, too.)
If you have an old jacket you’ve been thinking about getting rid of, transform it into an on-trend sherpa jacket using chunky faux fur fabric. In this DIY from The Sorry Girls, you just need to use fabric glue to hold it all together. After making sure everything is secure, you can pair your new jacket with a pair of jeans and a cozy tee for brunch with friends.
Now, this upcycle clothes project is definitely a little more involved than others. But for little to no money at all, you’ll wind up with a new-looking pair of flats that are sure to impress. In the tutorial from Shrimp Salad Circus, you just need a pair of plain shoes, pre-strung seed beads, acrylic paint, waterproof glue, and some tools. Oh, and—her words!—a glass of wine and some Law & Order for a night of craft therapy.
Why spend $70 on a new distressed denim jean skirt when you can just make your own in minutes? In this tutorial from YouTuber MeeraMeera, all it takes is a pair of oversized jeans. After removing the back pockets and cutting up the back of the center seam, then taking in fabric on the sides for a perfect fit, all it takes is some sewing to secure everything back together again. The final result is just like the staple you loved wearing in the ’90s but better. (And, you know, also much cheaper.)
Who doesn’t love pom-poms? You can easily give your sweater a fun upgrade with this DIY from Merrick’s Art. Grab some yarn in your color of choice and embroidery thread, then use a fork to create the fluffy accessories quickly and effectively. After you reach the number you’re looking to secure, you can attach them to your sweater. What was once a boring piece of clothing is now a quirky item people spend way too much money on for no reason.
Grab an old T-shirt to create a clever choker T-shirt. After you try this DIY from A Beautiful Mess and realize how flawlessly it can be done with a pair of scissors, piece of craft paper, a pen, curve ruler, and a handful of pins, you’ll wish you would have gone the upcycle clothes route sooner. “I adore the built-in choker on tees as both a softer way to wear a choker (especially if you always feel like “real” chokers are, well, choking you) and a different way to show a little skin like you would with a scoop neck or v-neck tee,” writes Laura Gummerman.
Yep, a pair of oversized pants can turn into a top this cute by taking the time to do it yourself. The wrap style looks great on every body and you can easily recreate this look using Paper Michey‘s tutorial. After cutting the pants into the right pieces, it just takes some pins and basic sewing to transform it into a shirt. “This breezy wrap top pairs perfect with high waisted pants and skirts for a flawless look,” she writes on her blog. “I was never a crop top kinda person until now. With this wrap top, I’m able to control how high or low I chose to wear it, which to me is versatility at it’s finest.”
You know those silky bomber jackets? It turns out all you need is an old oversized blouse to make one. In this tutorial from The Sorry Girls, transforming the piece of clothing involves a few snips, sewing on a zipper, and adding on some elastic cuffs. The final result looks nothing like what it started as. And, you probably saved yourself well over $100 by creating your own version.
Here’s a shirt that certainly makes a statement. Another easy way to upcycle a plain T-shirt is to grab some embroidery thread and channel the beloved brand Read Receipts. After choosing the message you want to convey, use this tutorial from Look What I Made to perfectly stitch it onto your shirt—even if it takes a little practice to make it look how you want it. And don’t worry: If you use a fabric market to trace out what you want before going for it, like this DIY project recommends, it makes it a lot easier to get a final result you adore.
How cute is this pleated dress? What started with an unflattering garment transformed into the ultimate closet staple for girly girls everywhere. There’s quite a bit of sewing in this tutorial from YouTuber Sarah Tyau, but if you start with something that’s already in your size, you can cut out a few steps.
To upcycle clothes with a method that couldn’t be easier, just go to the craft store and grab some iron-on letters. This DIY project from A Pair & A Spare simply involves taking a plain old sweatshirt and making it feel new by ironing on your word of choice, like this French girl-inspired “bonjour.” “Although I love a long, complicated DIY that involves a zillion steps, there’s often something really really satisfying about a simple project that only takes a few moments but completely changes the look of something you already own,” writes Geneva Vanderzeil.
The distressed, ram hem jeans look is so in right now and doing it yourself only takes about five minutes of prep. To upcycle a pair of jeans that’s been hanging out in your drawer, this tutorial from Merrick’s Art involves tracing your desired length, cutting off the bottoms, then running it through the washer and dryer for a natural fray.
There’s really no reason to splurge on an expensive shirt with simple detail on the placket you can replicate yourself. It’s so easy to upcycle something eye-catching from an item you already have on hand. In this DIY from A Beautiful Mess, a simple white button-up just needed a little fabric puff paint for total renewal. “I saw a photo of this really cute button-up shirt that had lashes embroidered over the top of each buttonhole, and I thought it would be such a fun DIY to add to my own shirt,” writes Gummerman.
15. Cross front sweater
Once the weather gets a little warmer, this twisted sweater will become a must-wear. In this DIY from Paper Michey, you need an old baggy option that has a flat knit and is lightweight. After making some cuts and stitching things up, you’ll wind up with a top that looks so good you’ll forget you made it yourself.
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