In response to mounting environmental concerns and consumer preferences for sustainable choices, the European fashion industry has first experienced a shift towards upcycled materials. Repurposing discarded items, as a solution to the wasteful practices of traditional fashion manufacturing, is gaining traction quickly.
Upcycling is popular in European fashion today, but that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the concept of recycling and upcycling began to gain popularity as a sustainable fashion option.
In the early 20th century, there was a growing awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. People began to realize that the fashion industry was a major contributor to pollution and waste. This has led to a search for more sustainable fashion options, and upcycling is emerging as a viable alternative.
However, there was a fight back with the emergence of fast fashion in the 90s. It is quite unfortunate that today fast fashion brands are producing twice the amount of clothes than in the year 2000. This unbridled production rate produces loads of waste throughout the supply chain, from material extraction to production and eventual disposal. For example, wastewater from textile dying is the second largest polluter of water globally. This is why many believe that waste is at the very heart of fashion.
Upcycling has emerged as a viable alternative in the fashion industry**
A dual force has significantly influenced the shift towards upcycling in the European fashion industry: stringent regulations and evolving consumer demands. European regulations, emphasizing sustainability and circular economy principles, have propelled fashion brands to adopt eco-friendly practices, including upcycling. The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, for example, aims to ensure all textile products placed on the EU market are recyclable, to a great extent made of recycled fibers, and free of hazardous substances.
Concurrently, consumers' increasing preference for sustainable, ethically produced fashion has driven a demand for unique, environmentally responsible products. A McKinsey survey showed that more than 65 percent of consumers consider the use of sustainable fashion materials to be an important purchasing factor. This intersection of regulatory pressure and consumer consciousness has catalyzed the integration of upcycled materials, reshaping the industry and steering it toward a more sustainable future.
The industry has witnessed remarkable expansion in recent years: clothing production surged by 100% from 2000 to 2014. And its negative impact on the environment is no longer a debate. The industry contributes to 10% of global carbon emissions, depletes water resources, and contaminates rivers and streams. Alarmingly, 85% of textiles end up in landfills annually, accordjng to a research of UNECE in 2018. Additionally, washing certain garments releases a considerable amount of microplastics into the seas.
And upcycling can serve as an interesting step in the right direction. With upcycling, fashion materials are given new life. The more we upcycle, the less reliant we are on extracting raw materials to make new clothing items. In the same vein, upcycling keeps clothing materials that would have hitherto ended in landfills away from polluting the environment.
According to Forbes, 93% of global consumers expect more of the brands they patronize to support local social and environmental issues. As environmentally conscious consumers seek alternatives to fast fashion, upcycled items align with their preferences.
But environmental benefits are not the only advantage. Each upcycled piece possesses a distinct history, texture, and character, making it inherently unique. This appeals to consumers seeking items that stand out from mass-produced alternatives, driving a market for exclusive, one-of-a-kind creations. Through upcycling, brands can carve out a distinct identity and cater to consumers who value both style and sustainability.
European brands have been at the forefront of championing upcycled materials in the fashion industry, showcasing the potential of sustainable practices to transform the way we create and consume clothing.
Armed Angels is a German fashion brand that takes sustainability seriously. The brand brings back worn-out clothing items into new pieces of clothing. The brand makes it easy for customers to participate in the process. They can turn in their old Armed Angels t-shirts and denim in return for vouchers.
Recycled polyester from discarded textiles. (Source: Armed Angels)
This Portuguese brand is known for its avant-garde designs and its use of upcycled materials. Marques' Almeida uses deadstock textiles and discarded leather to make its clothing, and it has a commitment to using sustainable materials in its production process. The brand has the ReM’Ade line specifically made with upcycled materials.
Anekdot is a sustainable lingerie and swimwear brand that stands out for its innovative approach to fashion, specifically in terms of upcycling. Founded in 2017 by designer Sofie Andersson, Anekdot is based in Berlin, Germany, and focuses on crafting ethically produced, high-quality pieces using discarded materials and surplus fabrics. The brand's core philosophy revolves around reducing waste and promoting responsible consumption in the fashion industry. Anekdot sources its materials from various places, including factory remnants, production offcuts, and vintage textiles.
European fashion's move toward upcycled materials opens boundless opportunities for brands embracing sustainability and innovation. From lowering carbon footprints to satisfying niche markets, upcycling aligns with various economic and environmental goals.
As upcycling pioneers lead the way, brands must seize this potential, integrating discarded resources for a circular fashion ecosystem. It's a call to action for brands to reshape engagement, support local economies, and curate exclusive collections through upcycling, forging a sustainable legacy beyond convention.
💡 Discover innovative suppliers of upcycled materials on tocco’s marketplace here.
Petro, G. (2019, February 8). Upcycling Your Way To Sustainability. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregpetro/2019/02/08/upcycling-your-way-to-sustainability/?sh=1c31a63e58e2
Shukla, N. (2022). Fast Fashion Pollution and Climate Change. Earth.Org. https://earth.org/fast-fashion-pollution-and-climate-change/
Survey: Consumer sentiment on sustainability in fashion. (2020, July 17). McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/survey-consumer-sentiment-on-sustainability-in-fashion
United Nations Environment Programme. (n.d.). Putting the brakes on fast fashion. UNEP. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes-fast-fashion
Upcycled materials for a circular economy in Europe? | tocco. (n.d.).
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