Upcycling fashion for circular economy

27 June 2022

Giving unsold clothes and deadstock a new life.

With over 74% of discarded clothes ending up in landfills, fashion waste is a growing concern among brands and consumers alike. In an effort to keep garments in use for longer, upcycling has become an increasingly popular avenue for many upcoming designers looking to marry their love for fashion and the environment. Shifting towards a circular economy is crucial for fashion brands to minimise their impacts, reduce waste and keep materials in circulation for longer. Upcycling is one way to do so.

Recycling vs Upcycling

Recycling converts waste material into something of roughly the same value, while upcycling looks at transforming unwanted products and textile waste into something of higher value. According to the Ellen Mcarthur foundation less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new clothing, most textile waste gets downcycled meaning it’s turned into something of lower value such as padding, sound insulation or wiping cloths.

The challenges of recycling

The low rates of textile recycling are due to different factors, firstly the linear system, or take-make-dispose model that is still prevalent in our economy and doesn’t incentivise companies to take responsibility for their waste. The other issue is logistical; collecting, sorting and recycling clothes is costly and the technology and infrastructure is often lacking especially considering the challenges that come with recycling blended fibres.

The benefits of upcycling

Turning the old into new is at the heart of the circular economy and upcycling is a perfect example of how that can be done. Upcycled items can be made from post-consumer waste (items that have been purchased, worn, and discarded) or deadstock (leftover stock). In essence it means using something that already exists and turning it into a new item, meaning no new raw materials are needed, instead older clothes are kept in circulation instead of going to landfills. The benefits of shifting towards a circular economy are becoming more and more recognised not only from an environmental point of view but also considering the uniqueness and originality that distinguish upcycled garments.

Image source: Florania

Learning from circular brands

At SBP we are huge supporters of small independent brands embracing the circular economy and turning waste into treasure, from excess fabrics to fashionable pieces, the power of upcycling is endless. Four brands from the SBP community that use upcycling for their collections will share their secrets, explaining the importance of this practice and how they combine style with sustainability in their pieces.

Florania’s values

Florania embraces the circular economy by upcycling its own pieces. The brand handcrafts its pieces in Milan, Italy with a progressive vision of fashion that combines ecology with creativity. The garments are one of a kind creations designed using materials from old clothes alongside sustainably made fabrics such as organic cotton, algae and bamboo. Upcycling to Florania means “converting [waste] matter into objects of desire”. The brand uses upcycling techniques that derive from haute couture and focus on artisanship to create valuable, unique pieces.

Image source: Florania

"We have too much stuff and it's limiting us"

Flora Rabitti, founder of Florania

Creativity, collaboration and circularity

The founder of Florania, Flora Rabitti, wants to get rid of waste by preventing materials from going to landfill but also by minimising waste in the production. For the manufacture of its pieces, the brand collaborates with social ateliers in northern Italy that give work to migrants and unemployed women who are victims of abuse. Florania’s main focus is zero waste, through upcycling and ethical labour by helping people with difficulties in finding employment. “We give worth to the matter around us and it’s liberating” added Flora. Circular fashion doesn’t mean compromising on creativity.

Modero’s upcycling approach

For Modero Studio, upcycling means giving a second life to garments that still have a lot to offer by reworking their style, even just adding a few small details, using different techniques. When upcycling their pieces, mostly men’s clothes, Modero doesn’t overturn the aesthetics of the garments; the aim is to give them a new style.

Image source: Modero studio

“Upcycling means rebirth and creativity”

Federica Rao, founder of Modero Studio

Against overconsumption

Modero’s motto is “not producing, recreating new stories”. By avoiding consumption and promoting recycling, Modero has a positive impact on the planet as it only uses materials that already exist. In its view, consumers are becoming more conscious of sustainability and seeking uniqueness in their style, slowing down consumption.

OH CARLA's unique pieces

OH CARLA is an artisanal upcycling brand that works mainly with vintage fabrics and dead stock textiles. Every one of its pieces is unique, completely hand-made and made-to-measure. To combat mass-production and fashion waste OH CARLA sources materials that are considered waste, unusable and unsellable and turns them into unique pieces, giving the original material a new life and a new value. The materials are not necessarily sustainable in terms of composition, but because they already exist they don’t require new resources to be produced, thanks to OH CARLA they’re recovered, kept in circulation and diverted from landfills.

Image source: OH CARLA

"Everything can become something else"

Carlotta Bodracchi, founder of OH CARLA

Everything can become something else

OH CARLA offers zero-waste collections often made by reworking other brands’ archives and sample pieces, offering a customisation service with signature embroidery and decorations. They recently created a gown made of more than 200 pairs of tights, most of them sourced from defective products. OH CARLA’s goal is to collaborate with more brands to source their fabrics, helping them reuse materials they don’t need, allowing them to experiment with different fabrics and create new unique stories out of them.

Bennu: Upcycling for a better planet

Bennu was founded with a precise idea: to recover from the past to protect the future. The founder, Niccolò Chiuppesi, believes that “upcycling is a way of re-generating value in something that has been left over the years, or forgotten somewhere in warehouses. It is one of the best ways to give a clear message to the whole fashion world: we can do fashion, we have to make and create, but we can create by using something that already exists. Because we are surrounded by garments, fabrics, and leftovers. Everywhere.” The philosophy of buying and disposing is drowning our planet.

Image source: BENNU

"By reshaping the past, the already existing, we can let our planet breathe again, protecting our future"

Niccolò Chiuppesi, founder of BENNU

Closing the loop

The brand is trying its best to be circular throughout the whole supply chain, since circularity matches Bennu’s vision of the world, which is combining a passion for fashion with the needs of the planet. Creating a collection using no new production can be the first step towards this goal. The goal for Bennu is to be fully circular by finding solutions for the end of life of the garment, closing the loop. The aim is to also give people something back, in terms of all the stakeholders involved and supporting the brand. Circularity must include the human side of fashion.

The future is circular

The world of upcycling is full of opportunities, of endless possibilities for brands to be more responsible. Taking the old and turning it into something new, preowned garments that can be loved again, discarded fabrics that can be valuable again. At SBP we are big supporters of the circular economy, reducing waste and closing the loop. We can help brands in progressing in their sustainability journey, trace their supply chain and find solutions to minimise their social and environmental impacts. To join us in this journey towards a better fashion industry, get in touch here.

Find an overview of all our services here.
Keep learning from brands of the SBP community, follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Suggested Articles


28 February 2023

If you don’t already audit your supply chain, it’s time to start.


18 January 2023

What fashion brands can do to prepare for 2023 legislations.


07 November 2022

Measuring environmental sustainability in fashion.

Back to top