Are you wondering what to do with those worn out, unused clothes in your closet? Wonder no more because we’ve gathered all kinds of resources, ideas, and inspiration on how to reuse old clothing!

This blog will provide you with comprehensive support to upcycle, repurpose and reuse old clothing in your closet that you just don’t know what to do with!

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Unfortunately, getting rid of old clothes, especially damaged and worn clothing, isn’t straightforward. Our clothing disposal systems are deeply flawed with most pathways leading to landfill. Only 10-20% of our donated items get resold with the remainder getting shipped to overseas markets where they will burden economies and eventually landfills in the Global South. While a majority of clothing has the potential to be recycled, only a small portion of it actually is. And these systems only capture the portion of the population that didn’t just toss their clothes right into the trash to begin with. For a deeper dive into these broken systems, see this post.

This is why finding ways to breathe new life into old pieces and repurpose them is a foundational sustainable practice. When we can directly ensure that we extend the life of an item, we reduce our demand for more new production and limit the environmental impact of waste. 

Figuring out what to actually do that makes old pieces useful again isn’t always easy, But, that’s why we’ve gathered everything you need to know to get started on how to reuse old clothing.

what is upcycling
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What is upcycling?

Upcycling is the practice of taking something of diminished value and modifying it to create something of increased value. Recycling typically breaks down waste to convert it into something new. And downcycling breaks down an item to another useful item, but likely not as valuable in form and function. 

Upcycling can take many different forms. For a clothing item, it can look like reimagining a garment into a new style so that you’ll wear it again. Or it can look like repurposing the item into a new use entirely. The ultimate goal of upcycling is to take something that isn’t reaching its full potential in its current form and modify it into something that can be more useful and valuable, reducing the waste and impact of the item. The most successful upcycling will not only keep an item from landfill, but it will also reduce demand for a new item which will curb the need for excess production. 

What are the benefits of upcycling?

Beyond the obvious benefit of reducing waste, upcycling offers many positive traits like creative exploration, celebrating craftsmanship, and minimizing new resource use. 

Here is what some upcycling designers have to say about the value of reworking old clothes into something new:

“Let’s face it, fast fashion is killing our planet and contributing to atrocious human labor practices. I wholeheartedly believe the world doesn’t need another clothing brand— what we need is more businesses coming up with creative and strategic ways to use what already exists. I use this same philosophy with my sustainable design. I take clothes from the thrift store and transform them into more original and modern day pieces. It’s really a win-win situation because we’re not contributing to the overproduction (or waste) of clothes, the consumer gets a truly unique 1-of-1 garment, and you get to support a self-taught, latina designer!”

“Upcycling allows us to transform secondhand textiles that are no longer desirable and turn them into pieces that feel new and fashion forward, ultimately helping keep clothing in circularity. Rather than thinking of upcycling and sustainability as a limit to creativity, we see it as a chance to be truly inventive. We aim to change the stigma around secondhand goods and show that something old can become something totally unique and special again.”

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How to Reuse Old Clothing: Upcycling Ideas!

Now that we’ve established the value and benefits to getting creative with what we have, let’s explore some ways to upcycle those old clothes. To get started on your first upcycling project, here are some tools that may come in handy:

  • Sewing kit (thread, seam ripper, needles, sewing machine)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Embroidery floss and hoop
  • Fabric paint or dye
  • Pins
  • Tape measure
  • Tailor’s chalk

For further insight on the usefulness of these tools to reuse old clothing, check out this video

Upcycling doesn’t have to be a dramatic garment “flip.” Sometimes, upcycling just means modifying an item in a way that refreshes it and makes you want to wear it again. For those pieces that need a bit of life, here are some ways to reimagine your clothing pieces into stylish new creations:

1. Crop

One of the most straightforward ways to change up a garment is to crop it! Take those scissors to your pant legs or blouses. Jeans can be shorts, a maxi dress can become a mini dress, and tops can be shortened to give pieces new life. Always be cautious to try the piece on, measure, and cut conservatively. You can always keep cropping, so do your diligence not to be too aggressive on the first snip. Try your hand at hemming the garment or leave the edge raw if you want. Just be sure to save the scraps for a future upcycle project.

2. Dye

Changing the color of an item is a great way to refresh an item as your palette preferences may change. Food and plants can provide some really interesting ways to dye your clothes naturally. Take stock of your produce and explore how onions, berries, or spinach can transform the color of your pieces. If you are looking for a more straightforward way to change the color of your clothes, try ready-made dyes or bleach. Or if you have some artistic skill, try painting on your clothes to make some wearable art. 

3. Embroider

Adding creative stitching is a fun way to add personal touches to your pieces. It can also be a resourceful way to cover up damage. Mend holes and cover stains by strategically stitching designs into your clothes.

4. Patch - Visible Mending

Patching is another great way to creatively address damaged pieces. Use your cropping scraps or fun thrifted fabrics to add personality to an old piece.

5. Reconstruct

This one is for the bold! If your sewing skills are a bit more advanced, try your hand at reconstructing a garment into a new one. Dresses and long tops can be converted into skirt and shirt sets. Maxi skirts can be cut apart and styled into dresses. Turn an old blouse into a bustier. The possibilities are endless when you can combine imagination with a bit of sewing skills! If sewing isn’t your strong suit, some tailors or specialists can work with you to reimagine old pieces for you!

How to Reuse Old Clothing: Repurpose them!

Upcycling doesn’t just have to be reimagining clothing into different styles. It can also look like repurposing items altogether. Sometimes that’s a project you can take on and sometimes there are outlets that will repurpose your clothes for you. Reusing your old clothing never looked so cute!

How to make beeswax wraps from old clothes

Who knew beeswax wrap making was so easy? Can easily make this vegan as well!

This is on my to do list ASAP – it looks so simple and stunning. All around a great way to reuse old clothing!

Repurpose unwanted clothing into a gorgeous tote bag!

No need to buy anymore tote bags if you have old unwanted clothes lying around!

Repurpose your old t-shirts into delicate hair scrunchies

Our community raves about this one – it’s perfect for delicate hair too!

DIY Produce Bag from Old T-shirts!

I truly believe we can never have enough produce bags because if we do, we can gift it to loved ones!

Repurposing old denim into a super handy zipper pouch

Such a wonderful idea and also a great learning experience to get acquainted with denim mending!

Pillow cases made out of unwanted clothing

Another must try on my list – I could always use more pillow cases and this looks so fun!

Turn your old clothing into a new plant hanger!

Stop spending your hard earned money on plant hangers when you can make your own out of old tees!

Reusing Old Clothes For Pet Bedding!

This is one of my personal favorite uses for old unwanted clothing : animal bedding!

Turning Old Tees into Cleaning Rags

Another favorite of ours and our community – super simple and hella convenient to reuse unwanted clothing!

DIY T-shirt Blanket

How to repurpose your old t-shirts into an amazing DIY t-shirt blanket!

DIY Canvas Art

This one really impressed us – how about turning your old unwanted clothing into amazing DIY Canvas art?!

Upcycled Reusable Cotton Rounds

Full tutorial on how to turn old unwanted clothing into reusable cotton facial rounds.

Repurpose Clothing Into A Rug!

In need of a new rug? Why not try to make one out of all those heaps of clothing lying around!

This was your guide on how to reuse old clothing

I hope this offers some inspiration to get creative with those old pieces and reuse old clothing with intention. The possibilities are endless. Old and damaged clothing doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) trash. Next time you clean out your closet or come across an unworn, unwanted clothing item, take a moment to imagine what you can do with it. Consider all the items made of fabric (or the items that could be made from fabric) and get creative in how you can transform those old garments. Don’t forget about the resources at your disposal, including the amazing creators who can inspire you and teach you.

Let’s end this amazing breakdown of how to reuse old clothing with a quote from an amazing upcycling designer,

Kathy of @AntiClothingSupply

“For me, upcycling is at the center of all my design decisions. It’s the clothing pieces that had a previous life that was perhaps cut short too early by the trend cycle, a stain or tear, or someone growing out of it that I feel a pulling desire to honor by not letting it go to waste. 

Personally, I think my work would be boring if I didn’t have the challenge of working within the confines of upcycling secondhand clothes. 

 

I could’ve decided to design with ethically sourced raw material, and although I do have respect for any brand doing that— it’s not for me. Secondhand clothing is the number one source of inspiration when thinking of a new item to design— I see what’s trending and I think, How can I make this timeless, yet unique and special by pulling from the old clothes? It just logically makes sense to me. This planet is overflowing with clothes nobody wants, yet we, as a society, are always craving something “new.” It seems the only answer is to make the new with the old. It takes up more time to source old clothes, deconstruct, and hand make every piece, yet it saves them from landfills and saves energy and resources used to make fabric. It’s worth it. It creates something more special than a new piece of clothing— it’s a statement, it’s one-of-a-kind, and it still looks super cute.”

Whatever upcycling project you consider, remember that the important task is to create something usable and extend the life of that piece. 

Gather those tools and get creating!

If you liked this guide on how to reuse old clothing, you’ll definitely want to check out these other sustainable guides from SKL:

Like it? Help support our work by sharing!

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