A model reflects on fashion, sustainability and upcycling.

Recycle / Upcycle

Recycling and Upcycling walk hand in hand in our journey for a more sustainable world

By Virginia Mayer

Updated 10:54 am EDT, October 23, 2023

Published 10:19 pm EDT, August 14, 2023

Photo Credits

Producer: Mena Lombard
Production Assistant: Camila Abuchaibe

GABRIELLA SMITH, Jacqueline Aramboles

The wonderful fashion industry has given us a chance to meet very creative and brilliant people who are truly making a change when it comes to sustainability. The Upcycle Project, a multidisciplinary agency that provides creative circular solutions to build a more resourceful world, partnered with a different company this year, always to showcase sustainability through fashion… Which is just our cup of tea! 

FASHION DESIGNER: Francys Lorena Herrera. "For this design, I took as inspiration the highlight of utilitarian and practical elements that would make a garment wearable through climate change conditions. Added detachable elements, like the hoodie, reversible option for the pants; this would help wear the garment through variable weather conditions and give a second use to a garment."

This year they teamed up with Waste Management – WM (which -more than managing waste through their recycling companies and landfills- has a focus on maximizing resource value while minimizing environmental impact so that both the economy and environment can thrive) and Miami International University for a new project we very easily fell in love with.

We love fashion and live for it. And while navigating fashion design, garment production, and fashion shows, we learned a great lesson we believe is very important that we share with you: fashion is not recyclable. You read that right. Just keep on reading, and we’ll explain.

FASHION DESIGNER: ALEJANDRO BARZAGA. "To me, tailoring, draping, and the details are everything. I did not want to only make a pretty outfit; I wanted to create something new and different. My top took a lot of thought since I wanted it to be elegant but still reflect the origin. I definitely love the sleeves of my top; they came out organically from my emotions and the feel of the fabric."

First things first

the action or process of converting waste into reusable material.

reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.

Do you see how clear the difference is between both definitions? Well, that’s precisely the project’s focus. You see, as textiles are very hard to be recycled due to blended fibers (cotton, polyester, etc.) and other materials (elastics, buttons, zippers, etc.), they also get contaminated during disposal. For example, would you believe us if we told you there’s a mountain of discarded garments in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile that has reached such obscene proportions that it can be seen from space? We only wish we were making this up. We’re not, and you can look it up. Sad, isn’t it? 

FASHION DESIGNER: Anastasio Giannoutsos. "I wanted to focus on the logo of WM; I felt my dress honored the company but also allowed me to be playful and create an elegant contemporary dress. My favorite surprise is the patches on the back of the top. I love that my dress reflects the company but still represents my point of view."

Just imagine Martians spying on us with a high-tech telescope, and the first thing they see is a literal mountain of trash. Another interesting fact: polyester is the most used fiber on the planet, accounting for more than half. It makes total sense, as it is a cheap material and very durable for garments; however, the key point is: it is not degradable. Do not be greenwashed by what the ultra-fast fashion brands are marketing as “recycled” or “circular” polyester. Those things do not address the main focus: overproduction and tremendous waste.

Listen, if you really intend to recycle your old clothes, you should take very good care of them to be able to donate them to places like Goodwill and other reuse centers once you don’t want to wear them anymore. Or you should upcycle them, and that’s the reason why the Fashion Design students at Miami International University worked with WM to create a line of garments based on WM’s uniforms: to educate us and increase our awareness. There’s no point in throwing old clothes in the trash! Even worse, these textiles tend to get stuck in their sorting machines, and about twice a day, they stop the whole process to unclutter the machines so they can continue sorting the stuff that can actually be recycled from what can’t!

FASHION DESIGNER: TAYLOR CROSLEY. "I drew inspiration from the word Circularity. While recycling these garments to reduce waste and make something new and fresh, I set out to make a beautiful piece that did not look up-cycled. I created a full circle skirt mini dress and embellished it with recycled sea glass beads. It is a simple but impactful design."

What to do?

Dawn McCormick, Director of Communications & Government Affairs at Waste Management, answered some of our questions on the subject:

Why are Recycling and Upcycling so important for WM?

“WM has become North America’s most trusted post-consumer recycling leader. We not only collect materials from households and businesses across the U.S. and Canada, but we also sell them to manufacturers to be recycled and sold in North American markets. The recycling process begins when manufacturers demonstrate demand for recyclable materials, which leads companies like WM to build the infrastructure to collect and process them. This complex cycle is complete only when materials are converted into new products that can be used again.”

FASHION DESIGNER: JUDITH CABRERA. "I wanted to dye the fabric to provide a pop of color, but I did not want to get too complicated since I wanted the pantsuit to be cohesive and represent WM. I also made sure to use the belt loops and waistbands throughout my design to be playful and original."

How do you define Circularity?

“Very simple. In 2021, for example, WM recycled more than 15 million tons of material. By doing this, we help avoid Greenhouse Gas emissions by preventing the mining and manufacture of products from virgin materials. This is why the more we recycle, the more materials we can keep in the circular economy, and the more emissions we can avoid. Contamination is an important factor that affects how we can process and recycle, as well as unacceptable items being mixed in with recyclables. We are reducing contamination through both technology solutions and educating consumers on what items can and can’t be recycled, and we aim to reduce inbound recycling contamination to 10% by 2025.”

FASHION DESIGNER: PATRICIA CAMACHO. "Sustainable fashion is both responsible for our environment and sentimental. There is always a significant connotation behind the preowned or discarded. When you wear an upcycled garment, you have a meaningful piece of intangible value. As a designer, one of my favorite challenges is to amaze people with the possibilities behind it. It’s like a magic trick that people want to discover and understand. I think that making the upcycled piece trendy and wearable is imperative. The colors of the WMC uniforms inspired me to create a cargo look. Accessories and embellishments should not be out of the equation when upcycling."

The responsibility is in own hands

Just do your part. Be conscious, do not overconsume. You too can help by recycling every single item you use and taking the best care of all your clothes because the only way is to recycle or upcycle them!

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