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Sustainable Clothing Manufacturer Upcycle Considers the Care of Both the Planet and Garment Workers

By Alyssa Shapiro

When creating our classic oversized plastic bottle crewneck, YTTP Studios turned to one of our partners in sustainability, Upcycle, a Los Angeles-based sustainable clothing manufacturer. Upcycle creates clothing out of recyclable materials already available, and their in-house knitting and dyeing processes use 40% less water and power than conventional methods. 

“I have lived behind the scenes in the world of the fashion industry for years. Seeing what goes into making apparel, to the amount of waste is shocking,” says Tabitha Vogelsong, co-founder of Upcycle. The process needed a makeover, and the planet needed someone to disrupt the manufacturing process and demand a change.”

What is the mission or raison d'être for Upcycle?

We saw a void in the industry when it came to a sustainable model being used to make clothing, so we decided to create our own proprietary yarn that checked all the important boxes. The result is a yarn that does not use any virgin materials, and that is made from recycled plastic bottles and recycled cotton. All steps of our process are done within a five-mile radius. 

How do you procure plastic materials to be upcycled?

All of our plastic bottles are collected in the U.S. and then converted into polyester domestically and combined with recycled cotton.  

Did you have a mentor in sustainability?

Frustration is actually more what fueled us versus anything else. Companies have instilled traces of sustainability in the past decade but initiatives have been somewhat disconnected as they do not think about the full process. After being in the garment industry for over 20 years, I witnessed how garments are made, and it was clear there must be a better way. Everything from the social impact of how garment workers are treated to what materials are used should all be considered when producing apparel. 

We also thought about what to do with the waste that is a natural byproduct of making clothing. There were few downstream options for textile waste, so we created a model that allows us to upcycle all our scraps from manufacturing and make them into beanies.

What is your favorite part of collaborating with brands on upcycled merchandise?

The best part about working with other brands with similar philosophies is the sense of community. I find myself getting inspired in meetings in a way I never had experienced in my career. Other companies practicing green initiatives within their organizations freely offer what changes they have implemented so everyone can incorporate the same positive changes that result in a lower environmental impact.

Can you explain why local manufacturing is important?

Keeping things local is so important to us for a number of reasons. We want to make sure our manufacturing employees are in a safe, clean environment, and are treated fairly as well as paid living wages. This is hard to find in the fashion industry, even domestically. 

Our footprint also plays an important role in being a sustainable company; our garments only travel five miles vs. a typical garment that travels over 16,000 miles. We are also able to create a vertical manufacturing model that allows us to control everything including knitting the fabric, sewing garments, and making sure there is a recycling stream in place for our textile waste.

How has the pandemic affected Upcycle? What changes have you had to make?

Since the creation of Upcycle, it has been our goal to protect the environment. It is now our goal to protect the community. We converted all of our factories to be able to make masks, and we are now making thousands of masks daily for hospitals, law enforcement, departments of defense, and underserved communities. We sell directly to consumers as well and are shipping masks nationwide daily.

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Check out the recycled plastic bottle crewneck here.

Images courtesy of Upcycle