The upcycling challenge: Who is doing what?



The harm fast fashion is doing to our planet is (thankfully) becoming more and more known to the general public. With this awareness, people are resulting to buying less clothing and being mindful of their closets piling up. However, what about the fact that the making of clothing provides jobs? And is a space where creators can use their skills to make beautiful art? Upcycling may be the solution we are looking for in order to keep these careers alive, as well as being conscious of our planet’s well-being.


Recent research reveals that this is all a matter we should be proactive about, as consumers it is our responsibility. Surveys reveal that as of March 2017, only 21 percent of respondents stated that they regularly upcycled used materials. According to the U.S. EPA, in 2014, over 16 million tons of textile waste was generated. Of this amount, 2.62 million tons were recycled, 3.14 million tons were combusted for energy recovery, and 10.46 million tons were sent to the landfill. An average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person. On average, nationally, it costs cities $45 per ton to dispose of old clothing. The study shows that consumers are regarded as the main culprit for throwing away their used clothing as only 15 percent of consumer used clothing is recycled, where more than 75 percent of pre-use clothing is recycled by the manufacturers.

According to The Council for Textile Recycling, the amount of textile waste has doubled over the past 20 years. Also reporting that only about 15 percent of textile waste gets recycled, even though nearly 100 percent of textiles and clothing items are recyclable.

However, the United States textile recycling industry removes approximately 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textiles each year from the waste stream and the industry creates more than 17,000 jobs. There are more than 500 garments recycling companies in the USA and majority of these companies are owned and operated by small businesses.

So... what?

What is upcycling fashion? It’s exactly what one may expect, it’s recycling clothing by giving old pieces new life. We had the pleasure of speaking with a representative of Redress in order to look into what is known as “the upcycling challenge,” one of the most well-known upcycling competitions worldwide.

“Redress is an environmental NGO working to reduce textile waste and promote environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. Through our dynamic programmes we work to promote innovative models and drive growth towards a new circular economy for fashion. We believe that up-cycling has so much potential to reinvent the estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually from the fashion industry and that’s one of the reasons it has been a strong focus for us over the last 11 years,” Hannah of Redress shared.

Redress has created a major program known as the Redress Design Award and is now on its 9th cycle. The program requires fashion designers to submit a collection concept designed using the zero-waste, up-cycling and/or reconstruction design techniques, as well as must use textile waste. Redress provides many resources for the designers to learn about these skills, including up-cycling. You yourself can explore these skills too here

The following designers are a few of the best out there nowadays that are giving a good example of this mindful practice.


Germanier. “For me, sustainable fashion is one way of expressing myself. It feels amazing to be able to create clothes and at the same time to protect the planet. As a young and passionate designer, it is very important for me to feel useful. Sustainable fashion challenges me and since I love solving problems, it matches my personality perfectly. I think sustainable fashion is only at the beginning of its real potential and I want to be a sustainable fashion designer in order to experiment, discover and share its unique aspects with others around the world - says Kévin Germanier.  Kevin won the Redress competition in the 2014/15 cycle and is now stocked in MachesMashion and appearing in media all over the world.

Angus Tsui. “Choosing to design sustainably or not is a decision that affects our own future and also the next generation’s living conditions. I hope that sustainable fashion will help to influence the community’s awareness about protecting the environment so as ultimately to make a ‘gift’ for our children.” – says Angus Tsui. She is big on zero-waste and up-cycling, and is very successful in HK. One of Angus Tsui’s career highlights is winning the public vote for the Redress Design Award Hong Kong 2012 cycle People’s Award.

Pat Guzik. Pat Guzik is another rising star. She just showed at Berlin Fashion Week and is off to do a show at Vancouver Fashion week in March. She up-cycles damaged and remnant fabrics working with an illustrator to transform them.“To me sustainable fashion means living in balance. We need to slow down consumption and stop creating new, new, new. We need to change our thinking around clothes and more designers need to show consumers that we are able to make beautiful clothes using old clothes and damaged textiles.” - she says.

Redress has featured numerous designers making a difference through upcycling and other sustainable practices. 


The Hong Kong Design Institute is known for its collaboration with Redress and has a large population in support of the upcycling movement. This has a lot to do with the fact that workshops are being taught there by Orsola de Castro, also known as the “Queen of Upcycle.” Once she instructed her first upcycling workshop there, majority of the Hong Kong Design Institute students quickly became passionate about upcycling. There is now a large interest in Hong Kong and it’s spreading quickly as students are putting towards an effort in getting the awareness out there. As for Orsola de Castro, she is the designer behind the famous label From Somewhere, known as one of the first upcycling labels that turned upcycling into a real trend. The label was born in 1997 and was the first in the fashion industry to take on the issues of recycling reproducibility and pre-consumer waste. From Somewhere won the fashion category at the Observer Ethical Awards, a worldwide competition. De Castro is also the co-founder of the not-for-profit global movement Fashion Revolution. Therefore, she is an expert when it comes to eco-friendly fashion and is one to thank for upcycling being a big part of the industry today.  


Tips to become an upcycling fan

You can easily become more educated on this topic and learn how to participate in upcycling practices in your daily life. The below are some books and films to help understand how upcycling can make a difference in the fashion industry, as well as the every day.

  • ReFashioned: Cutting-Edge Clothing from Upcycled Materials by Sass Brown.
  • Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.
  • Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys by Kate Fletcher.
  • Fashion Manifesto: The Guide for the Style-Savvy by Sofia Hedstrӧm.
  • Frontline Fashion, available to watch on itunes.
  • The True Cost, available to watch on Netflix.

+ Words: Megan Sauers

Megan Sauers is a freelance writer with a growing appreciation for sustainable ways of living. She worked in the fashion industry straight out of college, where she learned how much of a need there is for sustainable clothing creation and consumption. She hopes to raise awareness of this as well as inspire others by how cool slow fashion is!  

Instagram: @megansauers