Meet the sustainable brands upcycling old sweaters into new one-of-a-kind pieces.
It’s officially sweater weather season—a time for migrating birds, gold and crimson leaves, and pumpkin spice everything. But before you embark on a shopping excursion to buy a new, cozy knit pullover, consider opting for an upcycled sweater instead. (We’ve got some of the best brands to shop ahead!) Plus, not sure what to do with your old, stretched, tattered sweaters? We’ve got tips for how to upcycle those, too.
How to upcycle old sweaters
But first… what exactly is upcycling? Unlike recycling—which destroys an item so that it can be used to make something new—upcycling involves transforming a used item into something new from its current state.
Although upcycling and recycling both help to reduce the amount of used products that wind up in landfills, upcycling is a more eco-friendly option for tackling waste.
The process of upcycling requires fewer resources, namely energy and water. Plus, in terms of clothing, it’s a more favorable option because many garments like embellished clothing and blended fabrics can’t be recycled.
Have a few old sweaters lying around? The good news is that you don’t have to say goodbye to them altogether. You can upcycle them into something new! Repurpose your shabby jumpers and frayed cardigans into a beanie and mitten set. Or turn them into pillowcases or a comfy patchwork blanket. The options are endless.
Upcycled sweaters to shop
Not into DIY? There are a number of sustainable companies on the market that are turning old sweaters into high-quality, one-of-a-kind pieces. Here are some of the best brands to shop for upcycled sweaters.
What started as an eco-friendly denim brand, RE/DONE is now bridging the divide between luxury fashion and sustainability. Co-founders Sean Barron and Jamie Mazur launched the Los Angeles-based label in 2014 “with the simple idea of taking the old and making it new again.”
“When we started, we just wanted to take vintage Levi’s, take them apart and create new fits with them,” Barron told Vogue. Now, you can find just about any upcycled garment of your fancy at RE/DONE, from upcycled cargo pants made from vintage cotton military pants to cropped hoodies made from deadstock sweatshirts. The company also carries a variety of upcycled sweaters, including a half zip sweater that’s reconstructed from vintage sweaters.
As of 2021, the company has diverted more than 230,000 garments from landfills and has upcycled more than 163,000 pairs of vintage Levi’s denim jeans.
Through its renewed apparel program, Prana is tackling the sheer amount of clothing waste—one garbage truck full every second—that winds up in landfills. From 2016 to 2021, it diverted more than 56,000 pounds of garment waste from landfills. Using circular manufacturing methods, the brand is able to extend the life of its clothing.
For an upcycled piece, shop the autumnal Desert Road Sweater. Fair Trade Certified, it features Refibra, a fabric made of upcycled cotton scraps.
This direct-to-consumer fashion and lifestyle brand’s sustainability mantra is “progress, not perfection.” “When it comes to sustainability efforts, there is no clear finish line,” explained Jamie Schisler, UpWest’s CEO and Chief Comfort Officer. “Working for a more sustainable future continually evolves with the introduction of new technologies and ways of working within our supply chain.”
Some of the company’s sustainability initiatives include using more eco-friendly materials like Tencel Lyocell fibers, which are derived from sustainable wood pulp, and recycled fabrics. It also partnered with circular fashion company Recircled to curate a collection of upcycled pieces, including the UpCycled Sweater Blanket made from UpWest’s recycled sweaters.
Although this company falls short on eco-friendly brand rating site Good On You’s sustainability standards (it scored a “not good enough” rating), the company does have a wide variety of upcycled fashion staples to shop, from upcycled vests and bucket hats to tote bags and skirts.
For upcycled winter pieces, shop the Carleen Upcycled Blanket Liner Jacket made from upcycled vintage wool blankets. The Madewell x Rentrayage Upcycled Ruffle-Collar Sweatshirt is another fall-approved option. The limited-edition piece is made from unsold Madewell clothing and fabric remnants.
5. Paloma Lira
Founded in 2012, this luxury brand doesn’t let any scraps go to waste. It upcycled fabrics leftover from previous seasons into new, high-quality pieces, from pants made from upcycled cardigans and sweaters to upcycled patchwork denim coats.
For a fun top that’s as sustainable as it is unique, shop the Upcycled Sweater Top, which features a patchwork of knitted fabrics from previous collections.
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