Upcycling Clothes for Fun and Profit

upcycling clothes

Do you have a closet full of clothes you never wear? Perhaps you love thrifting but don’t need to further expand your wardrobe. Or maybe you have surplus materials from your own boutique? Rather than giving it away, selling the clothes on the cheap or tossing your closet cleanout in the garbage, why not start upcycling clothes, transforming the garments into trendy new fashions?

What is Upcycled Clothing?

Also known as creative reuse, upcycling is the process of giving a worn item a makeover, transforming it into a new and even higher-quality selection. Upcycled clothes can consist of sprucing up a garment, recycling it and giving it a new style.

It also can refer to using parts of fabrics to create an entirely different garment.

For example, a pair of old jeans could be painted into an upcycled pair of jeans, or they could be dismantled and remade into a denim quilt. There are many opportunities if you want to know how to start an upcycling business.

Why Upcycling Clothes is the Next Big Thing in the Apparel Industry

If you are looking to learn how to start a clothing business, this is not the exact same thing.

Upcycling clothes is the next big thing in the world of apparel. Fashionistas love to give old fashions a new lease on life, upcycle clothes and create trendy, eco-friendly fashions. They also love wearing one-of-a-kind upcycled garments. It’s no wonder upcycling clothes is such an increasingly popular fashion trend.

The fashion industry is not friendly to the environment.

As consumers grow ever more environmentally conscious, upcycling surplus clothing has surged in popularity. The fashion industry is notorious for fast fashion, where trendy items are mass produced quickly and inexpensively, resulting in poor quality and a high environmental impact.

Rather than sending enormous amounts to the landfill, the fashions are revived by upcycling them into new dresses, skirts, jackets and fashion accessories.

Plus, by upcycling their own used clothing into new garments, fashion lovers can expand their wardrobes while reducing their carbon footprints by wearing sustainable fashion. And if your in it for a business, a good place to start is how to sell on Amazon Handmade.

Promotes Sustainable Fashion

Upcycling represents a creative solution to the waste crisis in the fashion industry. Through upcycling, fashion becomes more sustainable by lessening the constant demand for new resources and reducing the environmental footprint of production practices.

This approach directly combats “fast fashion” by extending the lifecycle of textiles and garments, thus promoting quality and longevity over disposable trends.

Boosts Creativity and Individuality

Upcycling clothes provides a platform for designers and fashion enthusiasts to express unique styles. Each upcycled piece is distinctive, adding value and diversity to the fashion scene.

It allows emerging designers to showcase innovation, as creating upcycled clothing requires a high degree of creativity and vision.

Encourages Ethical Consumption Practices

Conscious consumerism is central to upcycling. This trend educates consumers on the environmental impact of their purchases and encourages more responsible choices.

By choosing upcycled clothing, consumers play an active role in reducing the negative side effects of mass production in the fashion industry.

Potential for Economic Growth

upcycling clothes

The growing demand for upcycled goods indicates a promising market. Entrepreneurs and established businesses alike can tap into this expanding consumer base.

The unique nature of upcycled products means that they often command a higher price point. Furthermore, upcycling can lead to job creation and skill development, as it’s often more labor-intensive than traditional manufacturing.

Environmental Conservation

Upcycling plays a crucial role in reducing textile waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. It decreases pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of resources associated with producing new clothing.

By spotlighting the environmental impact of fashion production, upcycling supports broader ecological conservation efforts.

With the rise of upcycling, the apparel industry is witnessing a broader cultural shift towards environmental awareness and ethical consumerism.

This trend offers both a challenge and an opportunity for reinvention within the fashion sector, emphasizing sustainability, creativity, and growth. Whether for personal use or business, such as selling on platforms like Amazon Handmade, upcycling is setting a new standard in the fashion world.

What Can You Make Out of Old Clothes?

What can you make out of old clothes? What can’t you make out of old clothes? You can upcycle clothes into new styles of the originals, or they can be transformed into something else entirely.

For example, you can apply paint or embroidery to an old jacket to create an updated version of the original, or you can reconstruct the vintage jacket to craft a duffel bag. Old clothes become new clothes.

Dresses become shirts, pants become scarves, and plain old cotton t-shirts be transformed into trendy and fashionable tops.

Some upcycled fashion accessories even are made from recycled trinkets, tools or trash.

Could you imagine earings made from recycled plastic bottles? It’s been done! With so many options, it’s not hard to envision a small business specializing in nothing more than upcycled fashions. A talented upcycled even could launch their own brand. The key is finding where to sell handmade items locally or online.

14 Project Ideas for Upcycling Clothes

Want to revitalize your wardrobe by upcycling old clothes? If you have a talent for recycling old garments into refreshed and repurposed fashions and accessories, you can sell the projects online or at local marketplaces.

A successful upcycler even could launch a boutique of recycled fashion creations. While you are at make sure to look into how to start a small business on Etsy to sell your creations.

Looking for some fresh ideas to transform old clothes into an upcycled fashion line? The following 15 project ideas for upcycling clothes should set you on your way:

1. Upcycle T-Shirts

upcycling clothes

One of the most common ways to upcycle a t-shirt is to paint a plain tee or add embellishments like rhinestones or lace.

T-shirts, however, are incredibly versatile, and with basic sewing skills an upcycler can convert a cotton t-shirt into a stylish and trendy blouse like the one pictured above. Tshirts also can be disassembled, and the fabric can be used to make DIY pillows, blankets and other crafts.

2. Upcycle Shirts

What can you do with an old dress shirt? Do you, your spouse or a parent have a slew of button-down shirts hanging in the closet? Can they be worn as anything but a dress shirt? Dress shirts can be upcycled into a variety of other garments.

A large button-down shirt can become a dress, or a shirt can be flipped into a blouse with the buttons down the back, as pictured above. Tired of white shirts? Cotton shirts can be dyed into whatever color you prefer!

3. Upcycle Flannel Shirts

Old flannel shirts are often recycled since people tend to wear them and rewear them forever. But used flannels also can be upcycled and given a stylish twist. An upcycled flannel might raise the hem and alter the sleeves to become a stylish blouse.

Or, an old flannel shirt can be reconstructed into a new life as a plaid duffel bag, as seen in the image above.

4. Upcycle Sweatshirts

Who hasn’t had some ratty old sweatshirts that have seen better days? Instead of tossing them out, upcycle the used clothing into fashionable garments.

With some basic sewing skills, a couple of buttons and just a scrap of new fabric, you can transform an old sweatshirt into a unique and stylish cardigan, like the one seen above.

5. Upcycle Sweaters

upcycling clothes

There’s so much you can do when upcycling old sweaters. The stretchy, knit material of sweaters is versatile and can be used to wrap just about anything.

It can be used to make home decorations by stretching it over a variety of shapes, such as the Chrismas decor pictured above. Old sweaters also can be refashioned into new sweaters, changing a crew neck to a cardigan or adding stylish embellishments to an otherwise dull design.

6. Upcycle Denim

upcycling clothes

Denim is such a durable fabric, it’s easy to see why it’s such a versatile material. Denim clothing can be upcycled into a host of items, including other denim clothes, blankets, scarves and upholstery.

Try sewing patches of denim into a quilt or save high-quality denim scraps to upholster upcycled furniture.

7. Upcycle Jeans

You can create trendy jeans from old pairs of denim pants. Try adding a decorative cuff to an old pair of jeans to recycle the garment, or you can embellish the jeans with rhinestones, pearls or lace.

You even can craft one-of-a-kind upcycled jeans by decorating them with fabric paint. A savvy fashionista can buy old jeans at a local thrift store, embellish them, and sell the upcycled clothing for a healthy profit.

8. Upcycle Denim Jackets

It was only a matter of time before denim jackets were trending again, and anyone who has perused a thrift shop can attest there are still plenty of vintage jackets to go around.

You can update an old denim jacket by adding fabulous designs to it. You can paint it or add embellishments like lace, rhinestones, embroidery and fabric patches. You might be surprised the profit you can make by transforming cheap thrifts into upcycled masterpieces.

9. Upcycle Skirts

You can upcycle a skirt by transforming it into a shirt, and you can upcycle a shirt by reconstructing it into a skirt! In fact, there are all sorts of ways you can upcycle old skirts and their fabric.

In the above example, a stylish lace skirt is upcycled into a trendy, off-the-shoulder blouse. While limited sewing is required, most upcycling projects don’t require much advanced skill.

10. Upcycle Dresses

Dresses are excellent candidates for upcycling projects thanks to the larger amount of fabric used to create them. In the above example, a dress is deconstructed, and its fabric is used to create an entire upcycled outfit, including a skirt with matching scarf and purse.

When upcycling a dress, look for multiple ways to use the vintage fabrics from a single garment.

11. Upcycle Wedding Dresses

What do you do with an old wedding dress? While some people choose to keep their wedding gowns intact for sentimental reasons, other people want to wear the garment again.

Or perhaps you came across a beautiful wedding dress at a local thrift shop, and you want a use for the garment. Wedding dresses can be dyed and reworn on Halloween or on another formal occasion.

They also can be upcyled to other items of a personal and sentimental nature. Try converting the fabric from a wedding dress into an elegant Christianing gown, or create beautiful doll’s clothes from it.

12. Upcycle Shoes

upcycling clothes

Upcycled shoes are a fun project for a creative crafter, and they can turn into a successful small business. Start with cheap fabric shoes and add designs and embellishments to them.

You can cover shoes with lace, add rhinestones or paint elaborate designs. The options to decorate upcycled shoes are only limited by your imagination. Not interested in selling them? Upcycle your own old shoes instead of spending money on a new pair.

13. Upcycle Fashion Accessories

Unusual jewelry and unique fashion accessories continue to trend, and some of the most fashionable are made from recycled materials. Just about anything can be transformed into fashion jewelry and accessories.

Consdider making jewelry from fishing line and bobby pins, or how about transforming a stylish woven belt into an even more stylish wristband, like the one pictured above? An upcycling small business could start its own collection of upcycled accessories made from everyday items.

14. Upcycle Scarves

Scarves are popular fashion items, and they can be upcycled into a variety of garments and decorative items. Scarves can be painted and embellished into more stylish versions of the original. The fabric also makes excellent craft materials.

Try wrapping a long scarf around a wreath form to create a beautiful door decoration like the one pictured above.

List of Upcycling Ideas for Clothes

  • T-Shirts
  • Shirts
  • Flannel Shirts
  • Sweatshirts
  • Sweaters
  • Denim
  • Jeans
  • Denim Jackets
  • Skirts
  • Dresses
  • Wedding Dresses
  • Shoes
  • Fashion Accessories
  • Scarves

Upcycling Clothes Summary

Upcycle CategoryIdeas/TransformationsPossible Uses/Projects
T-ShirtsPaint, add rhinestones/lace, convert into a blouse, make pillows, blanketsStylish clothing, home accessories
ShirtsConvert into dresses or blouses, dyeingFashionable garments
Flannel ShirtsAlter into blouses, make plaid duffel bagsTrendy clothing, travel accessories
SweatshirtsTransform into cardigans with new fabric, buttonsUnique, comfortable clothing
SweatersMake home decorations, refashion into new sweatersHome decor, updated wardrobe
DenimCreate blankets, scarves, upholster furniture, denim quiltsHome accessories, clothing
JeansEmbellish with various materials, decorative cuffsTrendy, personalized jeans
Denim JacketsPaint, add lace/embroidery/patchesCustom, fashionable jackets
SkirtsTransform into shirts or other types of skirtsVersatile clothing options
DressesDeconstruct for fabric, create matching outfitsCoordinated fashion items, use of vintage fabrics
Wedding DressesDye for re-wearing, convert into other sentimental itemsSpecial occasion wear, sentimental keepsakes
ShoesAdd designs, cover with materials, paintPersonalized shoes, potential business products
Fashion AccessoriesMake jewelry from recycled materialsUnique jewelry, accessory collection for a business
ScarvesPaint, embellish, use fabric for craftsStylish scarves, home decorations

Image: Depositphotos

Samantha Lile Samantha Lile is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 3 years. She is also a freelance writer and journalist who contributes to a variety of web publications from her home office in the heart of the Ozarks.