Upcycling is more than a buzzword, it promotes a new way of thinking on how and why we should start any design process. Sustainable practices and environmental concerns are on almost every design studio’s agenda around the world, as many designers understand its active role in changing the way fashion is currently made.
In this context, can upcycling be the same term as recycling? Or is upcycling related to second-hand clothing practices only? To answer both questions, we must start by clarifying some terminology in order to be accurate.
The term “upcycling” was coined in 1994 by German engineer Reiner Pliz. Recycling at the time diminished the value of old or used products, so he suggested new value must be added instead, leading to the aforementioned term of “upcycling”. Author Gunter Pauli wrote the first published book on upcycling in the year 1998, however, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart, was the first to gain mainstream recognition in 2002 , that is when the public started to be familiar with this terms and its purpose.
According to Vadicherla et al. on Textiles and Clothing Sustainability Journal: Recycled and Upcycled Textiles and Fashion, “upcycling creates something new and better from the old or used or disposed items” it is a process that requires a blend of factors such as, “environmental awareness, creativity, innovation, and hard work”. In this perspective, upcycling “aims at the development of products [that are] truly sustainable, affordable, innovative and creative.”