Defining Upcycling: Upcycling the Past, for the Now and Beyond | the UA Chronicles

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling “the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.”  Or more simply put, by creatively readapting or repurposing materials, a product’s lifespan is expanded and turned into something new and valuable. 


History of Upcycling

Upcycling first became mainstream in 2002, when architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart published the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.  And while with the turn of the century the practice began to gain significant traction, the concept of upcycling, really is not new at all.  

Repurposing has been around since the early beginnings of humanity. Indigenous people utilized every part of an animal after the hunt, skin, bones, meat, even teeth.  From food, to clothing, to tools, nothing went to waste.  Evidence of practical uses are clear throughout history, hand me downs, repurposing curtains and bedsheets, to even modern day inventions in third world countries which cleverly readapt products and materials to apply to a new and needed use.  Definitely not a new idea, but certainly, the growing trend towards upcycled fashion shows that it is one recognized as crucial to conservation, sustainability, and ethical endeavours. 

Upcycling in Fashion

Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production doubled.  Globally, we consume 63 million tonnes of textiles per year and by 2030, this number is expected to reach 102 million tonnes.  

The textile production process requires large amounts of energy, water, chemicals and other resources, none of which are conducive to a healthy and sustainable planet.  Add in to that the supply chains that are rarely ethical, and one can quickly understand why the move towards slow fashion and upcycling have become a rapidly growing trend.  One, that we here at Upcycled Aviary have wholeheartedly embraced and believe, is here to stay. 

Upcycling in Film & Television

9.3 Billion dollars was the amount spent on Canadian television and film productions during the 2019/20 season.  Of that budget approximately $300 million dollars goes to a productions wardrobe budget.  This translates into 9.2 metric tons of Co2 being emitted per hour of TV production in 2019. 

If we look at upcycling wardrobe from Canadian television and film on a large scale, it is clear that by procuring massive wardrobes for the purpose of upcycling, we can immediately have an impact on reducing the giant carbon footprint on the television and film industry.  That combined with the growing commitment of large and small productions alike to find sustainable and ethical methods to redistribute wardrobe, means the gems and treasures the team here at Upcycled Aviary can creatively breathe life and value into again, are endless.

Other Benefits of Upcycling

Beyond the obvious and immediate benefits of upcycling, landfill mitigation, it also greatly reduces the demand for new or raw materials, which means cleaner air, water, lower greenhouse gas emissions and assisting in the conservation of the world’s precious resources.

There are additional benefits for the team here at Upcycled Aviary as well.  This innovative method of material sourcing and production, has formed an entirely new and thriving industry.  The shift to slow fashion has been a breath of fresh air (no pun intended).  The movement back to handmade artisanal craftsmanship after so many years of mass production across all major consumer industries, means less waste.  Sounds brilliant, no?  What is not to adore about being a part of a sector that is contributing positively to the health of the planet and at the same time allows us the opportunity to design unique, one of a kind products, unlike any others.  

Written for Upcycled Aviary by Heather Adele



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