Upcycling 101

While there are many methods for getting rid of clothing that no longer serves you, one of the most important is upcycling. Upcycling programs repurpose unwanted clothing so they never see a landfill.
upcycling clothing
These organizations allow consumers to donate unwanted clothing items to be broken down into their original form and used as raw materials in clothing manufacturing. These textiles are regenerated into brand new clothing and other consumer goods. By using regenerated materials, manufacturers are able to use far fewer resources than traditionally manufacturing. By donating to upcycling programs, you’re contributing to a circular economy where there is no need to create brand new materials for production. This means cutting down on energy consumption and water usage while helping to prevent additional waste entering landfills coming directly from the fashion industry.
There are many upcycling programs partnered with large brands that use retail store locations as collection sites. In many instances, these retailers will offer a discount in exchange for your donation. Though many of the brands highlighted below house poor sustainability practices in their supply chains, these partnerships are a step in the right direction. Having huge players reducing their impact and stepping up to get consumers involved in minimizing textile waste is crucial to changing the industry. These large corporations can not only make a difference by these relatively small actions, but can also set the tone for important changes that need to be made within the fashion industry as a whole.
Here are a few nationwide clothing collection programs that you can donate to:
  • H&M started one of the first upcycling programs of all large retailers, launching the initiative in 2013. They offer 15% off your next in store purchase for each donation. All donated fabrics are sorted and deemed “Rewearable”, “Reusable” or “Recyclable” and handled accordingly.
  • Levi Strauss offers 20% off your next purchase for denim donations sent via (prepaid) shipping. Levi’s doesn’t currently offer physical drop off locations, but make it simple enough to send in old jeans for a reward. Additionally, $5 is donated to Goodwill for each box that Levi’s donates - win win!
  • Madewell offers $20 off your next Madewell Denim purchase for donations of denim to be recycled into housing insulation for communities in need, partnering with Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green™. This is a great example of a program that doesn't necessarily generate these materials back into clothing, but can still serve another purpose in its new form.
  • & Other Stories offers 10% off in exchange for donations. Similar to sister brand H&M, fabrics are sorted and deemed “Rewearable”, “Reusable” or “Recyclable” and handled accordingly.
  • Zara offers in store donations to be passed along to a non-profit garment management partner in your community. They will soon be offering an online collection option which will allow customers to donate garments from home or locally.
  • Goodwill: While everyone is familiar with Goodwill accepting gently used clothing for resale purposes, what you may not know is that the donation center also has an upcycling program to recycle unusable textiles (mismatched socks, torn or stain clothing, miscellaneous textiles, etc.). Goodwill is everywhere and makes it super easy to donate in bulk, so there is no excuse not to contribute!
NOTE: The above programs accept clothing from all brands and are not specific to the retailer you're dropping clothes at.
These are just a handful of nationwide programs that you can donate to - there are so many organizations doing good at the state and local level that need your support. Bottom line - never throw away clothes! There are so many better ways to rid of clothes that help people and the planet.
Send us your thoughts via email (hello@tillerswim), Instagram (@tillerswim) or in the comments below!
by Kathleen Sheppard | June 6, 2020

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