In the past upcycled clothing meant turning a pair of jeans into a skirt or boho shabby chic styles.  But upcycled clothing is experiencing a transformation and the clothing choices are now artsy and edgy. Even Miranda Priestly might wear some of the upcycled garments that are being refashioned and restyled now.1

Sass Brown, the Dean of Art and Fashion at The Fashion Institute of Technology in NY, has written a fabulous book:  ReFashioned – cutting-edge clothing from upcycled materials.  The book features 46 international designers who work with recycled materials and discarded garments, reinvigorating them with new life and value. Upcycling is similiar to recycling but different. Upcycle means to process used goods or waste materials to produce something that is often better than the original. For example, recycling a worn t-shirt could mean you use them as dust rags. Upcycling t-shirts means you repurpose them into an infinity scarf/necklace like this one from the seller Thriftysister on Etsy. 2 An upcycled garment is typically one of a kind. This requires a considerable amount of creativity and vision in addition to environmental consciousness.  There is a cottage industry of innovative designers who sell upcycled clothing on platforms like Etsy, for example CreoleSha and BrokenGhostClothing. Michele Paganini, is the owner of Paganoonoo, a company that specializes in upcycle fashion design. She creates and sells sewing instructions/patterns that allow stitchers to duplicate her Paganoonoo designs. 3 4

Her patterns, based on repurposing second-hand dress shirts, walk users through each step of the process, resulting in a custom fit.

Quick side note: Michelle and I met after she read this blog post I wrote called “Keep the memory of your loved one alive: 10 creative ways to repurpose their clothing.”

I am fascinated about the idea of upcycling clothing of a deceased loved one. It started because a lot of people rent mannequins from my company to display favorite garments owned by their deceased loved one at the memorial service. (We’ve seen everything from super hero costumes to military uniforms to a collection of smoking jackets)

People have a deep attachment to the clothing of their deceased loved one and often have a hard time getting letting go of their clothing long after the person has died.

Michelle says one segment of her customer base are family members who buy her patterns to make garments they can wear from their deceased spouses, parent’s, grandparents’ etc shirts.  They get a kick out of designing something that is comfortable and comforting.

5 Speaking of comfortable, a lot of Michelle’s clients are women of a certain age and size that is still ignored by the fashion community. The “Paganoonoo look” is a combination of classic and arty. The designs are figure friendly and work quite well for very curvy figures of all ages. If you have some shirts you like but can no longer wear them in their current form, with a little creativity and effort you can upcycle them into something innovative. 9 For example, suppose you have three shirts  –  one is dated looking, one is torn or stained and the other is bit too snug for you to wear now. Well you can buy a Paganoonoo pattern to create a new updated look.7 For those of you who sew, Michelle highly recommends that you use a sewing dress form – it is as essential as a sewing machine. She uses the PGM brand (you can see their logo on the form in the photo above). All of her designs are draped on dress forms first. You can purchase both the PGM brand and Roxy brand on the Mannequin Madness website and sometimes we have used versions of the highly sought after  Wolf dress forms. I am biased towards businesses like Paganoonoo because it so similar to my mannequin recycling business. In 2001 I started recycling mannequins for retail chains when I discovered that they were throwing away perfectly good mannequins just because they were old or had some damage. Sometimes the mannequins might even be brand new but the retailer was closing or remodeling stores and no longer had any use for the mannequins. This is one reason why the fashion industry is the 2nd largest polluting industry on the planet, second to oil. It pained me to think that something that was still useful would be sent to the landfill just because it was old. The used mannequin section offers high quality mannequins at discount prices. The quality and workmanship of older items (be they mannequins, clothing or cars) is often vastly superior to new versions of the same item. Michelle feels the same way and picked up used men’s and women’s dress shirts at Goodwill to repurpose into the topic featured in this post.

So you can be eco-friendly and fashion forward! We look forward to seeing even more upcycled garments on the catwalk. And more upcycled clothing being displayed on our recycled mannequins in retail stores!8


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