Upcycling: How to Stunt With the Clothes You Stored in Your Basement

Growing up, I never focused too much on brand names. I learned how to be as frugal as my parents, who could not afford to pay $50 for a t-shirt. Despite that, I did not let that stop me from dressing up. Though my style has evolved as my character and the people I surrounded myself with has changed, experimenting with clothing has always been a component of my process. I would cut, tear, paint, wear it differently (like a skirt as a dress), or follow a list of other DIYs on Youtube. People around me always complimented my style, so I felt pretty gassed about myself to say the least.


Nothing will humble you more than walking into the AS220 Youth Studio space. It’s an art center in Providence, Rhode Island that provides youth with the resources to create visual work, digital media, music, choreography, and more. Everyone has their specialty; from the girl that grew up carpeting with her father, the kid that writes and produces music, to the person who rocks their own shirts daily. The space is filled with personality and it acts as an outlet for each members’ unique expression.

Last summer, I was working with youth to create costumes for FutureWorlds 5 and we received extra help from previous affiliates of AS220. A woman with her hair cut to her ears came in one day rocking a high waisted flannel skirt that hung right above her ankles. Her name was Natalie. "Where did you get that skirt?" I asked, as she replied, “I made it.”

Where did you get that skirt? I asked, as she replied, “I made it.”

My ego seethed at the dream someone else seemed to take from me. To stunt on people with your own clothes! What bigger flex is there than to rock your own design? You can buy foo-foo Supreme, but you can’t fake hard work, skill, and creativity. If style is an expression, creating your own wardrobe is a statement about who you are.

"If style is an expression, creating your own wardrobe is a statement about who you are." 

What impression do you want to make on people? Do you want to give elegance or eccentricity? Punk or femme? Or, as I’m sure most of you don’t subscribe to one style, a little bit of everything. Expression changes by the day.

Tailored To You

Natalie watered the seed in mind that said to redesign my entire wardrobe. There are certain styles I can not afford, or specific looks I never find in the store. The style I establish will be fitted for me (literally). I see it as a great way to start practicing for the larger picture; creating my own line. This isn’t about me though; this is about you. I believe everyone should try upcycling at some point; it is fun, creative, and it pushes you to explore and define your style. 

 "...it is fun, creative, and it pushes you to explore and define your style."

There are so many resources online that can show you how to DIY your own clothes. As my favorite Youtuber, Amanda from BlueprintDIY says, “Be afraid but do it anyway.” Sometimes you just need to put a pair of scissors to an old pair of jeans and start cutting to see where you want to go.

Recycling Old Habits

Though creative freedom is definitely a factor in why upcycling your wardrobe is a worthy journey, upcycling is also a way to recycle. Fast fashion remains to be one of the leading industries contributing to global waste, as they prioritize mass production. A lot of material (such as polyester or other synthetic materials) is not biodegradable. It might do you good to save the skirt that has the really nice print but doesn’t fit. Not only can you create something new and better out of something old, you are being mindful about the material you use.

"Not only can you create something new and better out of something old, you are being mindful about the material you use."

Fast fashion also enables bad working conditions for women in garment factories. Stores like H&M and Gap outsource for mass production of clothes indirectly with subcontractors in other countries. Consequently, stores like H&M do not have authorization over the workers, and so they are not liable for ensuring work conditions are safe. 

 "Upcycling your clothes can be an act of protest..."

Upcycling your clothes can be an act of protest. At the end of the day these companies are aware of these working conditions. What are they doing about it? If the answer is nothing, then what can you do about it?

So Here’s the Stitch…

Quarantine has been the time to pick up new habits. I suggest you start with upcycling! You don’t need a sewing machine, or even a needle and thread (which is only a dollar at the dollar store so I won’t accept that as an excuse); I have seen upcyclers flip an outfit simply using fabric glue or a pair of scissors. You can even slather some paint on an old jean jacket and you will look like a fly ass creative! Upcycling refreshes your look without wasting material. Our world does not have an infinite amount of resources so we need to use our creativity to come up with new ways to look cool; to be cool. It’s cool to be conscious. 

How are you being conscious of the material you buy?

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