From purses and crossbody bags to backpacks and tote bags, these upcycled bags are made from repurposed waste.
When it comes to being a conscious fashion consumer, you don’t have to give up your handbag addiction altogether. Case in point: upcycled bags.
The renowned late designer Vivienne Westwood said it best: “Buy less, choose well, and make it last.” So the next time you want to add a new bag to your wardrobe, treat yourself—just do it sustainably with upcycled bags.
What are upcycled bags?
Shopping vintage or at secondhand shops is an easy, often affordable, and responsible way to eschew fast fashion while still snagging a Carrie Bradshaw-approved statement piece. You can also reduce your closet’s environmental impact by rounding out your sustainable outfit with a purse made from repurposed waste.
Through the process of upcycling, brands are giving worn clothing, accessories, or other items — which would otherwise go to waste — a second chance by revamping them into fresh, new products. Call it “re-styling,” if you will.
A fundamental design principle for circular fashion, upcycling helps to ensure the garment or accessory is used for as long as possible — reducing the amount of fashion waste that winds up in landfills and the number of unsustainable materials needed to make new fashion pieces.
There are no regulations on the term “upcycled” and brands can and often do include upcycled materials alongside other sustainable, and sometimes virgin, materials.
Upcycling goes viral
The act of turning used wares into new pieces has been around for decades.
Upcycling was depicted in the 1939 historical romance film Gone with the Wind. The protagonist Scarlett O’Hara (who is in dire need of money) rips green drapes from the wall to make a couture, hoop-skirted dress. And during World War II, the British resorted to upcycling after clothing rationing was implemented in 1941.
Although upcycling is nothing new, it certainly got a boost amid the pandemic. As fabric mills were shuttered amid lockdown measures, designers around the world like Alexander McQueen, Proenza Schouler, and Dolce & Gabbana turned to deadstock, or leftover fabrics, to create their new collections.
“The lockdown reminded us that we could creatively reuse what we had by transforming it and that everything can last forever,” Stefano Gabbana told Bazaar.
During the pandemic, upcycling also became a viral fashion trend on e-commerce sites like Etsy and social media apps like TikTok. A quick search for the hashtag “upcycling” on the latter — a platform that’s largely used by Gen Z, a generation that’s spearheading sustainability in fashion — returns a myriad of innovative videos (which have garnered more than 7.6 billion views) on how to turn used fashion pieces into new pieces.
The best upcycled bags to shop
Out with the old and in with the new. Well, sort of. Let’s call it the new to you. From purses and crossbody bags to backpacks and tote bags, carry your love for the planet around with these upcycled bags made from repurposed waste like seatbelts, fire hoses, and sails.
1. Parks Projects
Help preserve parklands with an upcycled tote bag made from windbreaker jackets and cotton canvas. The colorful bag is perfect for carrying all of your day-to-day essentials.
Seatbelts turned crossbody bags? We’ll take two of each. Based in sunny Southern California, this company has been turning seatbelt scraps into the likes of clutches and totes since 1997. Featuring a classic woven pattern and plenty of pockets, the Plaza Tote is sure to make any outfit pop.
3. Sea Bags
Founded in 1999, this company upcycles sailcloth from the waterfront in Portland, Maine into totes, handbags, duffel bags, diaper bags, wine bags, and more. For a classic beach bag, snag the Wharf Tote or the Yellow Pier Tote, which feature hand-spliced hemp rope handles.
4. Mother Erth
For upcycled purses, handbags, clutches, and totes, shop Mother Erth. The brand is 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free and uses upcycled plastic that’s handwoven by artisans to make a one-of-a-kind bag.
5. Oxgut Hose Co.
Pack all of your getaway essentials in the Weekender Tote. Hand-sewn in California, the sustainable bag features reclaimed fire hose and a cotton lining. Oxgut Hose Co. also carries clutches, dopp kits, wine carriers, mats, and more—all made from upcycled fire hose.
Whether you want to use them to carry groceries or pack for an overnighter, Looptworks upcycled bags are perfect for any occasion. Made from excess denim coffee bags from Chameleon Cold Brew, shop the brand’s Classic Denim Tote Bag, which saves more than 1,601 gallons of water.
7. IOAN x Mafia Bags
The love child of sustainable brands Industry of All Nations and Mafia Bags, shop eco-friendly bags, which feature upcycled boating sails and salvaged climbing rope. And for all of your outdoor adventures, be sure to check out the latter company’s array of bags made from upcycled spinnaker and kite sails, repurposed wetsuit and drysuit material, and salvaged climbing ropes from Yosemite.
8. Nixon’s Repreve Our Oceans Collection
Nixon is the first U.S. brand to use Repreve Our Ocean’s fibers made from ocean-bound plastic bottles. Each bag uses up as many as 20 plastic bottles intercepted before they can make it to the oceans. The new range includes totes, daypacks, travel bags, convertible duffels—perfect for road trips, school, beach outings, the gym or yoga, and more.
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