Sustainable brands like RE/DONE, prAna, and Eileen Fisher are making upcycled and natural sweaters the must-wear items of the season.
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.
Yes and no. Wool is sourced from sheep, which are ruminant animals. They’re leading producers of methane, a greenhouse gas that traps more heat than CO2. So while wool is not synthetic—those materials are often byproducts of the oil industry—calling wool sustainable is misleading given the environmental footprint of raising livestock.
Is wool vegan?
Wool is not vegan. It comes from the thick, oily fur of sheep. And while it can be clipped like hair, without causing pain, most wool is sheared forcefully and quickly, which often leads to injuries. Further, the practice called mulesing shears off the fleshy folds of skin on sheep’s hindquarters in order to prevent flystrike.
Like wool, cashmere and angora also come from animals and are obtained cruelly. A growing number of retailers and brands have banned angora, which comes from rabbits, because of its inherent cruelty.
Demand for cashmere, which comes from goats, has skyrocketed in recent years and is putting pressure on natural resources including threatening the food sources for the elusive snow leopard.
Sweaters can be made from a range of sustainable materials including organic cotton, deadstock scraps, and upcycled ocean plastic turned into polyester yarn. Of course, the most sustainable sweater is the one already in your closet. Wear it until it’s unwearable, and when its time to upgrade, shop sustainably. You can also shop secondhand, by thrifting at your local resale shop, or checking online secondhand platforms that offer a range of products.
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 number 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.
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.
1. Christy Dawn
From LA’s premier eco dressmaker, Christy Dawn delivers on this Cindy Cardigan, too. It is a classic chunky fisherman knit cardigan, featuring a V-neck and cropped length perfect for dressing up or down. Made with a natural cotton and linen blend yarn it’s perfect for those in-between days where you’re not ready for a jacket but need a bit of warmth and style.
With a comfy boxy fit and chunky rib stitch, The Organic Cotton Crew Sweater is a cool-weather layering essential. Made with 100 percent organic cotton, you’ll wear this stylish sweater with everything from denim and yoga pants to your cutest skirts. Layer under a blazer for a really sleek look.
3. Eileen Fisher
For the softest cardigan, this Eileen Fisher is a must. Its cozy high collar and open front (with pockets!) add to the comfort of the fluffy cotton boucle that provides warmth without weight. You’ll be warm and comfortable all season long in this cardigan.
4. Amour Vert
Amour Vert only ever uses organic cotton and it’s one of the reasons this mock neck, drop shoulder sweater is an absolute winter weather must. The cable stitch detailing with pom poms and gold rim deadstock buttons on the back of neck make it a stylish wardrobe essential.
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 — none 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.
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