There is such a wonderfully diverse range of textiles to work with.

Fashion has been changing. In the past twenty years it’s moved into “fast fashion”. This is a concept dominated by consumption and fast-changing trends. Clothes are low-quality and cheap, so consumers buy more, and throw them away after a short time.

The throwaway pattern of fast fashion has made fabric waste a problem for the fashion industry. But the industry has not taken on the challenge of finding ways to make practical use of the waste in the production process.

Upcycling tackles the problem directly. It reduces the waste, and also reduces the amount of new replacement items that are bought. It takes pre-existing material and raises it into something of a greater value.

In contrast to reusing or recycling, upcycling uses existing materials to improve upon the original ones.

Upcycling can be done with either the production waste from the fashion industry or the used clothes from consumers. The production waste originates in various ways in the process of manufacturing garments. There are trimmings, proofs, leftover fabric, off-cuts, and ends of rolls. The used clothes are discarded for so many reasons – they may not fit so well, they may look too familiar, or the wardrobe may just have got too full.

The fashions of upcycling shift focus beyond industrial production, and open up opportunities to people outside the fashion system, the once “passive” consumers.

There’s a human transformation as well as a fabrics one. Instead of being just one more customer for a designer label, you become your own designer, putting together the colours and textures that you feel best express what you want to wear. You change from passively accepting the standard designs and styles promoted for a season to taking steps, small though be to start with, to shape the clothes that define your life.

You also share the process with friends and family. Some may gather items for you, some may share their own experience, some may join you in learning a new technique. But each step is one to give you an active role in shaping a part of your life.

This is what people did in the past, when clothes didn’t come out of the factory in thousands but had each to be slowly made. Each item of clothing really mattered, and it was used for a long time, and then reused or reshaped, and everything was valued, and nothing was wasted. Their handmade objects built up over time a wealth of stories and memories and experience of the lives they lived.

In contract, the goods of today are faceless, and often with us for such a short time that within a week we have forgotten them. And instead of living with them and resusing them, we live in a culture of helplessness, unable to perform the simplest of tasks, such the hemming of a skirt. Leisure time is seen as further passivity, such as watching films – not for creativity. Our only role is that of consumers – to buy new clothes and to throw them away.

But traditional sewing was true leisure time – sitting with fabrics and shaping them with the patience and care and imagination which today we might associate with sport or the arts. It can be social as well, sitting with friends and sharing the enjoyment, and developing your own personal creations that express your personality so much better than an off-the-shelf item of production line fashion.

"There is a kind of poetry in taking the unwanted and giving it another life - as a design process it has its own aesthetic signature, its own set of values, its unique method. It may not be for everyone, but those who love it can become passionately addicted."

- Orsola de Castro

The Selkie’s New Clothes

“The coastline, always changing with the tide, is where seals and people meet as selkies. It is a nowhere place and yet it is all they have.”

Turn your leftover pieces of fabrics into wrist cuff

Giving New Life to Fabric Scraps

There are many projects to upcycle leftover fabric scraps that are super easy and really fun to do.


The installation linked the the world of art, mythology and nature with the world of technology and materials.

Fashion the Future

The costumes were created to show the creative potential of upcycling.