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Upcycled Clothing Ideas for a Zero Waste Lifestyle


Last Updated on March 28, 2022

It’s not a secret that the fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to global waste. The average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing every year! Clothing made from common synthetic materials in our clothes like polyester and nylon are especially harmful to the environment because they don’t biodegrade.

In response to this, I’ve studied and written about fast fashion, the shoe industry, swimsuits, jeans, and fabrics like modal, hemp, and bamboo. I’ve also looked at the best thrift store options and ethical and sustainable clothing brands. Now I’d like to give a shout out to our new bestie- “upcycling.” 

stack of clothing to be upcycled

what is upcycled fashion?

Upcycling is the process of taking old or discarded materials and turning them into something new and more valuable than the original. There are many ways to upcycle clothing, from cutting and sewing to darning and patching. You can also dye or paint old clothes to give them a new look.

So why isn’t it just called “recycling”? The point of upcycling is to take that old thing and make it more valuable. Is this really possible? Yes. Seriously. People do it and make money from it. Just check out Etsy

Whether you’re the type that can make a business out of this or not, upcycled clothing keeps garments out of landfills and gives them a new life, and it’s definitely cheaper than buying new clothes. It just takes a little creativity.

“But I’m not creative!” I totally get it. No worries. You don’t have to be creative to upcycle. Copycats save the planet too. Ha! Many other people have already created cute projects and are willing to share what they do.  

I’m for upcycling because it’s a way to turn old fashion into new again. And honestly guys, it’s fascinating to just scroll through all of the ideas people have for ways to make beautiful new fashion out of old. 

If you’re looking for ideas on how to get started, here are a few upcycled fashion projects to inspire you.

upcycled clothing ideas


This is a simple project that can be done in a few minutes and one of my favorite upcycled clothing ideas. Cut the bottom off a T-shirt and tie the straps around your neck. Voilà! You’ve got a new halter top.

This is a great project for summertime. Cut the sleeves and the bottom off an old T-shirt and tie the straps around your waist. You’ve got a new crop top!

If you have an old shirt that you don’t wear anymore, cut it into an apron shape and tie the straps around your waist.

  • transform a t-shirt into a skirt

This is a great project for beginners. Cut the T-shirt along the seams, then tie the straps around your waist to create a skirt. You can also hem the edges for a more polished look.

Bags are a great way to tote your stuff around, and they can be made from all kinds of materials. If you have an old shirt that you don’t wear anymore, cut it into a bag shape and sew the seams closed. You can also add pockets for extra storage.

stack of jeans to be upcycled


Who says no to denim? This tote bag is a great way to recycle jeans that are no longer wearable. You can also add a lining for extra protection.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with color! If you have a pair of jeans that you don’t wear anymore, dye them a new color. You can use store-bought dye or create your own using natural ingredients.

If you have a few fabric scraps lying around, this is a great project for you. Cut the fabric into small pieces and sew them onto the jeans to cover up any holes or tears. You can also create holes intentionally for a distressed look.


Cut the waistband off an old skirt and tie it around your head to create a new headband.

This is a simple project that can be done in a few minutes. Cut the skirt into thin strips and tie them together to create a new scarf and….poof and upcycled clothing project complete!


This is a great way to use an old belt that you don’t wear anymore. Cut the belt into a headband shape and sew the seams closed. You can also add a buckle for extra flair.

This is a fun project for using up old bandanas. Measure the bandana around your head and cut it to size if needed. Tie into your hair for a new stylish look!

upcycled bandana into headband

upcycled meaningful items or heirloom pieces

Upcycling can work for old clothing, and it can also work for those meaningful items or heirloom pieces that won’t be worn or used again otherwise. 

For example, I’ve seen many people transform special pieces with sentimental value like Grandma’s wedding dress, into a new garment or a new item like a quilt. I am personally having my dad’s old bomber jacket remade into a new piece. Upcycled clothing can actually become a very thoughtful gift idea too!

If you are into something like this but don’t know how to sew or recreate, there are companies that specialize in reworking these items, like Gown Upside Down that I highly recommend. 

vintage wedding dress to be upcycled


I don’t know how to sew. Can I still upcycle clothes?

Yes! There are many ways to upcycle clothes without sewing. You can cut and sew, dye or paint, or use fabric scraps to patch up holes. There are also many online tutorials to help you get started.

I don’t have any old clothes lying around. Can I still participate in upcycling?

Yes! You can ask your friends or family members if they have any clothes that they don’t wear anymore. You can also visit thrift stores or garage sales to find cheap materials to work with.

I’m not very creative. Can I still participate in upcycling?

There are many online tutorials that can help you get started. You can also find inspiration from other people’s projects. With a little experimentation, you’ll be able to create something amazing.

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