When talking about sustainable fashion, we also need to address the issue of fashion waste. There are quite a lot of terms to describe how a garment came to be. The use of second hand materials and waste reduction techniques are increasing within the fashion industry. From start-ups to established businesses, more companies are looking for eco-friendly ways to produce their clothing.

Fashion Waste: Minimisation techniques

Below are the various processes that deal with fashion waste and what the difference is between them.


Recycling involves completely breaking down materials or objects that have been discarded as waste. Once they are broken down, the waste is reformed into new materials to make completely new products.

Recycling is something that quite a few major fashion brands are experimenting with. For example, Levis recovers plastic bottles and food trays and turns them into denim fabric for their Waste-Less jeans and jackets. The rubbish is cleaned, sorted and spun into a polyester fibre, which is then blended with cotton and woven into the denim.

fashion waste levis waste less jeans project selvage
Levis Waste Less jeans are created using recycled plastic bottles


Upcycling on the other hand reuses fashion waste without completely destroying it first. When clothing has been upcycled, it has been given a new life and value has been added to the garment again.

The process of upcycling can range from taking the garment apart and re-designing it into something totally new, to making simple repairs on your clothing. The key thing to remember about upcycling is that the life of the garment has been prolonged.

Here at Project Selvage, I upcycle preloved clothing that has been given to me from friends and family, or clothing that I have found in secondhand shops. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with any of the clothing I have sourced, it is just that the original owner has no use for it anymore. Maybe it doesn’t fit them anymore, or they no longer find the style flattering. All these garments need is a bit of love and imagination!

striped and polka dot sleeveless shirt zoom
A Project Selvage creation using a men’s shirt and vintage fabric off-cuts


As you could probably guess, downcycling is the opposite of upcycling. The materials or fashion waste are broken down and reused to produce a lesser value product.

In the fashion industry, when clothing can no longer be worn, it downcycled in a number of ways. These include being sold off as rags or being made into insulation or toy stuffing. Even you have probably downcycled your own old clothing into rags at some point!

Downcycling fabric is the most basic form of the “-cycling” methods we are talking about here. It is one-up from throwing the clothing away all together. Downcycling clothing is of course better than throwing it away, but it is not the best solution for unwanted clothing and will end up in landfill a lot sooner than if the other waste techniques were used.


Zero Waste

Zero waste production is a relatively new concept in the fashion industry. As the name suggests, clothing is produced without generating any sort of waste, or designers try to get it as close to zero as possible. It is very difficult to find out exactly how much fabric waste is created in garment factories, but the majority of it comes from the cutting room floor- where the patterns are laid and the fabric is cut.

Therefore, to achieve zero waste, it involves some very clever design work in order to create patterns that will use all of the fabric. Even off-cuts are saved so they can be used in future designs.

fashion waste zero waste alice sutton project selvage
Created by Alice Sutton, a zero waste designer

Why is it important to reduce fashion waste?

Waste reduction is something that is particularly important in the fashion industry. Fast fashion has turned clothing into a disposable item. The average Australian buys 27 kilos of clothing each year, only to throw out 23 kilos of it. And when you throw out clothing, it doesn’t just disappear nicely into the Earth. It is put into a huge hole called landfill, along with all our other waste. Some of it is donated to second hand shops (you can read more about that here), but that is also not a sustainable solution as a huge amount of that is sent overseas for poor African countries to deal with.

Of course, the most sustainable option is to use the materials and clothing already produced to create new garments!

Do you own any garments that have been upcycled or made from recycled materials? Maybe you have upcycled something yourself? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments below!

Fashion Waste: How to minimise the impact
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