January 5, 2024 - Ethical & Sustainable

New Year, New Wardrobe? How to Upcycle Old Clothes!

How to upcycle old clothing into something brand new

A new year can mean new outfits and styles influenced by new fashion trends. As we head towards a new season why not try doing something unique and different from everybody else? Upcycling is a fashionable and creative way to make old clothes look brand new again and even better than they did before! It’s the best way to stand out from the crowd.

Perhaps you have an item of clothing that no longer fits, or has a hole or a stain that cannot be removed. Start experimenting with different materials, prints, paints, and dyes to transform your wardrobe without spending a penny. There are so many garments in our wardrobes that can easily be given a new lease of life, for example, adding a few decorative buttons to an old sweater or perhaps adding a lace trim to an old t-shirt.

Use spare materials at home when making repurposed clothing

The possibilities are endless! Upcycled (or re-fashioned) clothing is an increasingly growing and popular trend that can appeal to all. Learn how, by extending the life cycle of unwanted clothing, you can contribute to helping the planet as well as encouraging innovation and creativity. In this blog, we also share great upcycling ideas that you can easily try from the comfort of your home.

Why Repurpose Old Clothes?

Upcycling unwanted textiles including clothes, shoes, handbags and even fabric offcuts (cutting room floor waste) help to extend their life cycle and prevent them from ending up in landfills. According to Fashion Revolution, 95% of discarded clothing can be recycled or upcycled. That’s an awful lot of waste that could give you a completely new look and save you money.

95% discarded clothing can be recycled or upcycled Fashion Revolution sustainable fashion fact

The Wrap website states that every year an estimated 350,000 tonnes of used clothing, about £140 million worth, goes to landfills in the UK. Many of us donate unwanted clothing to charity shops but this interesting article on Triple Pundit explains that only about 20-30% is actually re-sold.

This is due to the large increase in the volume of second-hand clothing. The majority of donated items are cheap and of poor quality caused by the high demand for throwaway or ‘fast fashion’.

Donations that are not sold in charity shops are shipped to developing countries damaging local textile industries. In Tanzania, for example, local people purchase bundles (called ‘mitumba’) of second-hand textiles imported from mainly North America and Europe by sea.

Unwanted clothing sustainable fashion

There are different quality grades of ‘mitumba’; the local textile industry cannot compete with the highest quality grade due to the cost and availability of raw materials. The amount of new clothing being produced in the world is more than needed so upcycled items help to slow down the demand for new items reducing over-consumption.

Fashion designers, retailers and brands tend to follow the same fashion trends each season, which is why you might have previously noticed similar-looking items in each store.

A major benefit of upcycling is that you can wear one-of-a-kind items that no one else is wearing. You’ll also feel a sense of pride and satisfaction, after all, you’re showcasing a bit of your creativity and personal design. In addition, you’ll be paying your respect to the planet, as well as showing others how they can too.

Discover more upcycling clothing ideas in our blog full of sustainable fashion trends.

Fun Ways to Reuse Old Clothes and Redesign Your Closet

There are so many great ideas that you could try. It all depends on the spare materials you might have lying around at home and the fashion trends that appeal to you. We’ve listed fun ways to jazz up old items of clothing into brand new sustainable styles.

Create Headbands out of Old Ts

Make a headband at home by upcycling an old t-shirt sustainable fashion

You could easily transform an old t-shirt into a beautiful headband! All you need is a pair of sharp fabric scissors, a hot glue gun (or fabric glue) and a tape measure to create this gorgeous accessory, which can feature a ‘Shannon’ or ‘Celtic’ knot. No sewing is required to make this easy headband.

View this simple tutorial to make a headband from an old t-shirt on the eHow website.

DIY Dresses Made Out of Men’s Shirts

Why not make a stunning dress ready for spring/summer by using an old men’s shirt. For a really stylish look, use the top of a fitted shirt (or t-shirt) and an oversized old men’s shirt for the skirt. Simply chop off some inches from the top of the old men’s shirt before sewing the two shirts together. For a more advanced way to make a re-fashioned shirt dress, follow this helpful YouTube guide:

Trousers into Shorts

This is a really great way to re-purpose an old pair of trousers. If they have been damaged at or below the knee then you can easily turn them into a pair of shorts instead. It’s an oddly satisfying feeling turning a damaged garment into something brand new again!

Repurpose old damaged trousers into new shorts at home

You will need a pair of fabric scissors, a pencil or tailor’s chalk and a sewing machine, or needle and thread. Follow this helpful step-by-step guide including pictures showing how to turn a pair of trousers into shorts on the WikiHow website.

Get the Paints & Dyes Out

This has to be our favourite way of making an old item of clothing look brand new again. It’s also really fun and exciting to see the final product. Do you have any old plain coloured t-shirts, vests or hoodies that you could tie-dye? Learn how to create different tie-dye patterns at home in this great video:

Alternatively, you could create your own patterns on any old plain coloured top by experimenting with fabric paints or marker pens. It’s best to use washable natural fibres, such as 100% cotton or natural-blend fabrics.

Also, wash and dry the garments beforehand without using a fabric softener. Place a piece of cardboard between the fabric layers and pin the fabric in place before you begin to create your design. Perhaps you could get some pattern inspiration from Kitenge’s colourful African print fabric prints.

Bleach an old Pair of Leggings

If you have any plain dark-coloured leggings at home then you can have fun decorating them with a bleach pen. Pinterest has some great design inspiration if you’re stuck for ideas. The henna designs look really beautiful and work well with this decorative method.

We recommend creating a design on paper first which you can easily copy across onto the leggings later. Place a piece of cardboard in-between the layers of the fabric. When you have finished creating your design put the garment inside a bowl of water and wash it before wearing it.

You can also use a bleach pen to decorate other items of clothing such as jeans and plain t-shirts.

Make a Galaxy T-shirt

This is a popular trend for upcycling plain black cotton t-shirts and requires bleach and white fabric paint to create a starry galaxy design.

Upcycle an old top at home using fabric paint and bleach

You’ll also need a spray bottle and a stiff paintbrush (or an old toothbrush) and a sponge brush (or spray fabric paint if you prefer). This could be a fun activity to do at home with the kids! Learn how to make a galaxy t-shirt on the WikiHow website.

Repurpose Excess Material to Add Patterns

Do you have any spare leftover materials at home that you could add to old garments and create new patterns? Perhaps you could sew a lace trim onto the hem of an old t-shirt or some fringing onto the sleeves of an old jacket.

Use leftover fabric buttons sequins trims when making upcyled clothing at home

Use fun fabrics to jazz up a pair of trousers or a shirt by upgrading the design elements such as the pockets, collar, belt loops and drawstring tie. You could sew some large buttons or sequins onto an old sweater for decoration. Adding something quirky can spruce up an old garment in no time!

Find out ‘What to consider when sewing with African wax print fabric’ if you have some spare offcuts at home that you could use to decorate old items.

Sustainability at its Best

It is so important to upcycle your unwanted clothing rather than to invest in something brand new. This is one of the many ways we can put an end to the negative impacts caused by ‘fast fashion’ for the sake of garment workers and the environment.

If you would like to purchase a new item of clothing that is made to last, perhaps for a special occasion, then the trend is to support ethical and sustainable fashion brands that care for the talented people who make their clothes such as social enterprises like Kitenge Store.

Unwanted clothing due to fast fashion gets dumped in landfill when it could be recycled or upcycled

The more items of unwanted clothing that we can prevent from ending up in landfills or developing countries the better. By voting with our wallets and using our own creativity we can make a real difference.

Discover Kitenge’s Range of Sustainable African Clothing

Kitenge offers a stunning range of colourful and sustainably made to measure garments that are made to order with love by our talented team of tailors in Tanzania, East Africa.

Shop Men’s MTM Clothing Shop Women’s MTM Clothing


Men's red/blue floral custom-made African print long sleeve shirt model wearing front view

Men’s made-to-measure shirts by Kitenge Store

All our colourful ankara fabric offcuts are recycled by making small accessories such as men’s bow ties, neckties and pocket squares.

Shop Men’s Accessories Shop Women’s Accessories


Men's red floral African print fabric bow tie  

Men’s African inspired accessories by Kitenge Store

Any fabric offcuts that are too small to be upcycled by Kitenge’s tailors are donated to female artisans who make jewellery in Tanzania and schools for education and art projects. We do everything that we can to ensure that our African print clothing production creates zero waste.

Our popular African print fabric designs can be used to jazz up old items of clothing too. They are available to purchase by the yard (1 to 6) and there are fat quarters available too for smaller repurposing projects.

Shop African Print Fabric


Authentic African wax print fabric designs by Kitenge Store


Please do get in contact for more fun upcycling ideas and let us know how you get on. We’d love to see your photos and might even share them on our social media pages with your permission.


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