Upcycling opens creative and low-waste doors for our wardrobes

Upcycling may be a rising buzzword, but Nathalia JMag knows the concept is nothing new. As a contemporary fashion designer—and a crop top enthusiast before they were in style—she constantly leverages the environmental and creative benefits of reworking garments in her elevated streetwear collections.

We can each remember a time when DIY altering was all the rage. Not just mending or patching up a hole, but taking existing clothes, maybe something unwearable or undesirable, and transforming them into something better. The fashion pendulum always swings back, and the fabric-reusing approach comes back into style. A splash of creativity can breathe new life into garments that are no longer worn and are otherwise destined for the landfill. Turning t-shirts into crop tops, or old jeans into shorts can be an environmentally friendly, low-cost way to achieve a new look, a fun form of expression, or a unique opportunity to carry old clothes on with us as fashion evolves. 

When thrifting rose in popularity in the YouTube age, it also ushered in a wave of “thrift flips,” where secondhand clothes are repurposed into new garments. The process remains relatively accessible depending on the source of the clothes, but upcycled fits now go well beyond dorm room video tutorials. They’re walking out of fast fashion, high fashion, and sustainable trendsetter lookbooks alike, as a “shoelace-fur” shaggy coat, or a pair of curtain tassel earrings, or a corset that used to be several pairs of sneakers. 

Instead of throwing away or burning unsold inventory, bigger brands are starting to consider how they can reuse old pieces in the new season: a welcome trend amid an urgent time for climate action, as consumers grow more environmentally conscious and wonder how their wardrobes can reflect a circular economy. Many turn to sustainably sourced fabrics, secondhand threads, and the clothes they already own. 

A longtime sustainable fashion advocate, Nathalia JMag uses deadstock and organic fabrics, natural dyes, and upcycling in her made-to-order and limited batch collections to reduce unnecessary waste.

“Upcycling is just the most sustainable because it already exists. You're taking something that is already there and that most likely will be thrown out if it's not bought from a thrift shop, and you're turning it into something that's going to have a new life,” Nathalia says, “so that's one of my favorite ways to create.”

Nathalia also embraces the endless opportunities that come with upcycling a garment with no end product in mind. The creative freedom lends itself to her unexpected spins on denim, like the customizable Cargo Jeans, which feature pocket patches down the sides. Her signature two piece blazer sets, first designed in 2018, rippled through the fashion industry over the past couple years, copied and recreated by multiple fast fashion brands.

Only time will tell whether shoppers and fashionistas will embrace upcycling long term, but for now, we can expect to see more reworked creations from Nathalia JMag that push the boundaries of clothing with our planet in mind.

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