Upcycling at the 2017 Hillside Festival. Photo by Jacqueline Ouellette

In 2016, the magazine TakePart reported that 26 billion pounds (11,800,000 tonnes) of textile is tossed into US landfills each year. You might donate clothing in hopes that someone will re-love it, but according to the 2015 film The True Cost, only 10 percent of clothes that people donate get sold. One of the most important practices in closing the loop of the fashion industry is buying donated items, which is why innovative upcycling companies are bringing new life to second-hand fabric.

At the 2017 Hillside Festival, I interviewed the founders of two upcycling businesses, The Upcyclists and Fred&Bean, and they shared varied perspectives on upcycling values. Katie McLellan and Catherine Butchart, the co-founders of The Upcyclists, see upcycling as a uniquely artistic endeavor. Katie crafts wall collages, or as she calls them “wallages,” using the quirks of fabric to create specific effects, such as the fade in jeans becoming clouds that fade into a blue sky. Katie explains that she is moved by the worn and torn fabrics, which can share more stories than something that is brand new. Co-founder Catherine contributes by creating edgy patched clothing, bracelets out of old bike tires, chokers using the hems of pants, and adorable car fresheners out of leftover fabric from her upcycled mitten collection.

Kat Palmer, the founder of Fred&Bean, focuses on reworking her fabric with functional flair. She creates beach vests out of thrifted towels and swim underwear out of reworked swim fabric, the latter of which I can verify as incredibly comfortable since I picked up a pair to wear at the lake during the festival! She explains that clothing should be made to serve you and be of value to your life, not to merely make a sale. Fred&Bean also hosted a DIY booth at Hillside because Kat believes that if more individuals feel comfortable working with fabric, it will be easier to manage material waste. She insightfully explained, “In this life, there’s red tape around almost everything, but fabric is a bit of a free-for-all. There’s so much fabric that it becomes a problem to manage, but it has also become a resource without red tape around it. It’s a resource like water, air or soil.”

Whether fabric is recreated for aesthetic value or functional lovability, I discovered that there are so many ways to “spin straw into gold” as Katie described it. Whatever the purpose, the fabric these makers touch is given new life with a new home, much less shabby than a landfill.

Jacqueline Ouellette holds a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies and Film Studies (Co-op Option) from Wilfrid Laurier University.


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