Forget recycling. Yes, it reduces our consumption of raw materials, air and water pollution (from incineration) and our impact on the landfill, but the hottest eco-fashion trend since organic cotton is upcycling, which truly transforms trash into treasure. Mainstreamed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s 2002 book Cradle to Cradle (if you haven’t read it, Kindle it now), the concept takes landfill diversion one step further: Instead of recycling waste into new materials of similar value (or downcycling it into lower-quality materials), “upcycling” repositions it into a new product that’s even more valuable.
Confused? Think about what goes into your blue bin. Because it’s relatively fragile, paper can only be recycled a few times before its fibers become too short to be pulped and formed into new paper; that’s why most “recycled” paper is actually a blend of new and downcycled fibers. Glass, on the other hand, retains its durability as it’s crunched up and reformed into new glass—it’s the perfect candidate for recycling. And although plastic degrades as it’s recycled—or downcycled—new processes allow manufacturers to upcycle the material. So a product that would typically be made of eco-unfriendly polyester is instead crafted from what was once a water bottle.But upcycling ecoistas think beyond the bottle. Like Los Angeles-based designer Fahmina, who reclaims supple leather to make the ridiculously sexy Slit Cuff featured above. (See Rachel Sarnoff’s apprearance on the TODAY SHOW, who wears hers everywhere—including on The TODAY SHOW). The bracelet is the perfect accent to everything from jeans and a t-shirt to your favorite LBD.
Or Marty Stevens-Heebner, another fixture on the Los Angeles green scene, who upcycles her ReBagz line from entirely recycled materials—from candy wrappers to the paper featured in the adorable wristlet featured on our home page—that benefit women’s rights groups like Women for Women International. Talk about a great way to start a conversation!