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5 Ways to Upcycle Your Old Clothes

With new trends popping up every day and stores needing to constantly restock their shelves, it's no wonder that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet. 

According to UNCTAD, the fashion industry uses around 93 billion cubic meters of water every year. The industry also dumps half a million tons of microfibre in the ocean yearly, which is about three million barrels of oil.

But this trend is not irreversible. You can help lessen the detrimental effects of fashion on the environment by upcycling your old clothes, rather than throwing them out and buying new ones. Upcycling does not have to be scary or complicated, and it is both environmentally and economically sustainable. Below are five simple ways you can transform your old wardrobe into new, trendy pieces with no prior sewing or DIY experience.

Crop it!

Cropping any article of clothing is, in my opinion, the easiest way to transform your look. All you have to do is cut a straight line across your garment, and you have turned an old t-shirt into a crop top or a pair of jeans into shorts! (Make sure you research how to do it first, though--don't make the mistake I did!)

Get your hands dirty with tie-dye

Tie-dyeing takes a little bit more work, but it is a very fun activity. All you need is some dye, water, rubber bands and a pair of gloves. There are a bunch of different designs you can do, including spiral, crumple and bull’s eye patterns, so no two pieces of clothing will look the same! You can also use bleach if you want to upcycle clothing with darker colors. This is such a fun activity to do with a group, so grab your friends and get creative!

Hit up Joann's for some fabric paint

You can use fabric paint to spice up essentially any piece of clothing or accessory. To help with executing a specific design, you can use stencils. Or, if you're really confident, you can do some simple freehand doodles. It is completely up to your imagination!

Twist your tank!

I’m not totally sure this is considered upcycling, but this TikTok hack takes one piece from your wardrobe and creates five different looks from it. Start off with a basic tank top (preferably cropped but I don’t think it’s necessary). The first look is a one-shoulder top that is done by crossing one strap over your head so that both straps are resting on the same shoulder. The second look is a halter top created by crossing both straps over your head so they are on opposite sides. Third, with both straps back in their original positions, flip the right side of the shirt inside out to create a knot in the center. For the last two looks, you essentially combine the knot-style shirt with either the one-shoulder strap or the halter neck. This will give your old clothes a new look!

Embroidery

This is probably the most complicated and time-consuming of all the projects on this list, but the results are stunning and long-lasting. For this project, all you need is your old piece of clothing, embroidery thread, a needle and a pair of scissors. You could also use tracing paper or you could create a free-hand design. Not only is embroidery a great way to add some color and personality to an old piece, but you can also use it to cover up small rips in your clothing.

Gabi Kurzer

Northwestern '24

Gabi is a freshman from Miami, FL studying journalism at Northwestern University. She is an amateur fashion designer who loves to design and sew her own clothes. In her free time, Gabi enjoys traveling, watching Netflix, and spending time with her family and friends.
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