Upcycling Your Clothes Could Reduce Over a Billion Tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The world's largest fashion activism movement is here to help consumers reduce waste and improve their buying habits.
Image via Fashion Revolution

We can use canvas bags at the grocery store. We can cycle to work. We can even be vegan and have solar panels on our roofs. But we’re probably still helping destroy the planet.

Our clothes -- often made from oil, using huge quantities of water, in factories powered by coal, made 80 percent of the time by women between 18-24 years old earning low wages, and shipped around the world -- means that today the fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world. In fact, a report published last month by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that the waste and the throwaway nature of fashion means that the industry creates 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse emissions every year — that’s more than all international flights and shipping combined. But despite fast fashion’s devastating impact, most of us are guilty of financing it.


The report published by the MacArthur Foundation ends with four calls-to-action: phase out substances of concern and microfibre release; increase clothing utilization, for example by the industry supporting and promoting short-term clothing rental businesses; radically improve recycling; and move to renewable materials. These are aimed at the industry itself, but since our money is what makes the fashion world go round — it’s us consumers that are going to have to catalyse this change.

Orsola de Castro, the Founder of Fashion Revolution knows just that. On April 24 2013, following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, which was home to five garment factories all manufacturing clothing for big global brands, and which caused the death of 1,138 people (mostly young women), Orsola de Castro decided things in the fashion industry had to change. And launched the Fashion Revolution, which today it is the world's largest fashion activism movement.

What should the future of fashion look like? One that “values people, profit, creativity and the environment in equal measure,” Orsola de Castro told VICE Impact. But it is “our collective responsibility to make sure this will happen.”

Fast fashion is dangerously attractive because its products are cheap. However, slow fashion doesn't have to break the bank.

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On the contrary. VICE Impact spoke to Orsola de Castro, often referred to as the ‘Queen of Upcycling’, for a few easy, cheap and concrete tips to help us support today’s much-needed Fashion Revolution.


VICE Impact: How can we shop more responsibly this winter without breaking the bank?

Orsola de Castro: Only give gifts that are meaningful, can be repaired, come with a lifetime guarantee, or are designed to be mindfully disposed of. Give your loved one’s pieces that were yours, not your unwanted leftovers, but precious things you still love, but no longer use. Make instead of buying, or only buy second hand.

What tips do you swear by when it comes to caring for your clothes?

“Care for your clothes like the good friends they are,” said Joan Crawford. Have this quote in mind, always. Read the washing instructions and wherever possible wash at 20 degrees, using only one tablespoon of powder detergent, best from an eco-friendly brand. You can also sponge clean and steam refresh. Those are very good alternatives to washing, especially for knits and delicates.

Mend. If you don’t know how, find your local, there are more and more mending and alteration services on the high street. Locate them, start using them and let your imagination do the rest. If you don’t have that kind of imagination, ask someone who does.

Practice the mantra “I buy therefore I keep” to stop you from accumulating any more stuff during January sales. Try re-styling your old pieces into fresh new looks.

How can people support the Fashion Revolution?

One way -- and the easiest way -- you can get involved is by taking a photo of your clothing label and asking the brand, “Who made my clothes?” Make sure you tag the brand in the photo so they can see your question. Share your photo on Instagram and encourage your friends to do the same.

Write to a policymaker. Governments can have a real impact on the lives of the people who make our clothes. Legislators decide minimum wages, mandate working conditions and create laws that protect people and the environment. Public officials expect to be contacted by their constituents (that’s you) and should be doing their best to address the issues that are important to you. Your voice has power, so use it!

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.