Here’s How to Upcycle Clothes and Revamp Your Wardrobe

A woman cuts into clothing with bags of clothing behind her in trash bags.

Halima Garrett has made wrap pants out of a vintage skirt and estate sale fabric. She became interested in upcycling due to her large collection of vintage clothing she’s collected over the years. Photo courtesy of Halima Garrett

Have you ever stared into the depths of your closet and thought: “I have absolutely nothing to wear?”

If your normal inclination is to dejectedly sift through what you already have, it turns out that there is a better way  — and it doesn’t involve buying anything new. Enter the world of upcycling.

Here’s how to upcycle clothing and give yourself a whole new(ish) wardrobe.

First, What is Upcycling?

The term ‘upcycling’ comes from the idea of recycling an old item, but with a twist. Upcycling is not just reusing something, but tweaking that item to make it better than before.

An upcycled garment often bears little resemblance to its former state. Take Colorado-based designer Maggie Henricks of Create Good Company. She crafts boyfriend skirts out of men’s dress shirts. With patterns ranging from plaid and polka dots to bright Hawaiian florals, Henricks’ designs make for an interesting cross between masculine and feminine fashion norms.

Halima Garrett, who runs Thread of Habit out of New Jersey, got into upcycling by way of her love of vintage clothing. Garrett had amassed so much clothing over the years that she simply didn’t know what to do with it all. Finally, she decided the best option was to rework some pieces.

Even though she calls her sewing skills “basic,” Garrett was able to make wrap pants out of a vintage skirt and estate sale fabric. In fact, her website boasts an entire lingerie collection — each reworked piece contains at least one vintage lingerie item.

A woman creates a new outfit out of an old skirt and an old purple shirt.
Garrett combined fabric from two old pieces of clothing to create the outfit on the right. Photo courtesy of Halima Garrett

Here’s the best part about upcycling: your clothing will be one of a kind. And if you want to give a friend an inexpensive gift that they’ll cherish, upcycling an item for them is a great idea. You don’t even need to have a sewing machine, and all of these DIY projects can be done from your own home. There’s an exclusivity to it that might be enough to make even the least sewing-inclined person want to upcycle clothing.

For those of us who don’t want to sell our upcycled clothes but do want to wear them, Garrett and Henricks have some tips and tricks to take your grandmother’s nightgown — or whatever you want to redo — from frumpy to fancy.

1. Know What to Salvage and What to Cut Up.

If you’re working with vintage clothing or just old clothes in your closet, Garrett advises assessing what you’re cutting up before you take the scissors to your favorite jeans.

If an item has stains on the armpit or a hole that’s too big to mend, by all means, cut.

But if you’ve rescued a pre-1970s item from Goodwill’s bins and you want to preserve its original quality, it may be better to choose a different item to upcycle. The same goes for an item with sentimental value. Ask your mom — and yourself — before you cut up her old wedding dress.

2. Start Simple.

Garrett has proven that it’s possible to upcycle old clothes without the skills of an advanced seamstress. The easiest way to dip your toes into upcycled clothing is by starting small. Try cutting a pair of pants into shorts or cutting a long-sleeve shirt into a short-sleeve T-shirt.

3. Use Your Wardrobe as Inspiration.

Is there something in your closet that you absolutely love? Would you love to replicate it? That’s a great place to start when upcycling. Use the garment you love as a model for how you want another item to fit. Or if you like the color combination of an outfit, consider using that combination in an upcycled piece. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Another way to reimagine what you already have is looking at what something could be if it were a different type of garment. Do you love the fabric of a dress but hate the fit? Make it into a two-piece set with a tank top and skirt. Are you sick of your old jeans but they still fit well? Try sewing on a patch of fabric to the knee.

4. Look at Your Old Clothes as Parts of a Whole, not as a Single Garment.

Henricks always thinks of any item as different pieces of fabric rather than a shirt, a skirt or a dress. That helps her to get inspiration.

Measuring the size of your garment can help to think of a way to creatively rework it. And if you don’t have enough to make something new out of one piece, think about combining multiple into one.


“It’s important to think away from what it is now,” says Henricks, “and focus more on the fabric and patterns that you have available in the material.”

5. Youtube Tutorials are Your Friend.

Youtube videos are usually the best place to start for any technical skill. Garrett recommends searching for tutorials on “no-sew upcycle” or “minimal sewing upcycle.”

The fact that videos under that designation exist shows that no-sewing upcycling is possible. Three of Garrett’s favorites are Angelina of BlueprintDIY, Mimi G Style and Shania O. Mason.

6. When Looking for Guidance, Be as Specific as Possible.

When looking at the piece you want to remake, think about what it is specifically that you want to change. Do you want to make the top or pants tighter? Do you want to put slits in a dress?

Once you have a tentative visual in mind, that makes it easier to search online for guidance. You can then find a specific tutorial in line with the exact alterations you want to make.

7. When You Find Your Niche, Stick With it.

Have success reworking one item? You don’t necessarily have to branch out. Stay there and see what else you can do within that framework.

Henricks is focused on the men’s dress shirts arena. And she has found inventive ways to upcycle different aspects: not only does she make boyfriend skirts from the shirts, but she also makes dog collars from the shirt collars and crop tops. She is a great example that finding your fashion lane and sticking to it can yield some of the most inventive and creative ideas.




How To Teach Your Children To Be Entrepreneurs

When I was in the 7th grade, my bestie at the time and I wanted to save up for a shopping spree. We put our middle-school brains together, and devised ways we could earn enough to buy whatever we pleased at the mall. Our goal? To save $500 each.

We posted flyers around the neighborhood advertising our lawn watering and pet-sitting services, held yard sales, and peddled candy in between classes. While we fell short of our goal, we had a lot of fun and learned what it took to make a buck.

Whether your child ends up being a creative freelancer or CEO of a startup, he or so doesn’t have to wait until college to learn how to start a business. Here are some pointers on teaching your kids entrepreneurial skills.

Start With One Business Idea

Whether it’s selling lemonade from a corner stand, art at a crafts fair, or home baked goodies at a school-sponsored sale, it’s always helpful to start with a single idea. If your kids are having trouble picking one business endeavor to start with, ask them what they enjoy doing or might be naturally good at.

Next, brainstorm ways they can turn these talents into profitable ventures. Check out platforms such as Etsy, Society6, and Shopify to see what kinds of goods are trending. What is it that people want to buy? How much will they sell their product for, and to whom will they sell?

For instance, when Brynne Conroy’s youngest child wanted to fill up her piggy bank as the family prepared to visit Disney World, Conroy hadn’t started issuing an allowance yet. She used it as an opportunity to talk about the different ways one can make money. They decided they wanted to sell a product, and that the product would be art.

“Lots of crayons and watercolors later, we realized we needing something to mount this art,” says Conroy, who is the creator of Femme Frugality and author of The Feminist Financial Handbook.

They went to the Dollar Store to pick up a bunch of picture frames, which her child agreed to repay her for from their initial profits. When they got home, they identified a target audience. That audience turned out to grandma, because she loved her granddaughter’s art and would be more than willing to pay for it. “Minimal sales pitches required!” laughs Conroy.

Create a Shark Tank Challenge

A few years ago, I taught a “how-to” workshop on entrepreneurship to high schoolers. After I ran through the basics of how to start a business, we played a Shark Tank-esque game. The kids paired up and came up with a business concept that included their type of business, the basic costs of materials and operating expenses, and their target audience. Next, they presented their ideas in front of the group, and the kids had a chance to pick a few “winners.”

What the kids came up with was impressive. From starting a cupcake shop to an electronics resale platform to a print-on-demand service, they were able to devise a basic business plan in a short amount of time.

You and your child’s peers can provide useful feedback to help them shape their ideas. Let them know what you like about their business concept, and how they can be improved. Point to real-life businesses as reference.

Incorporate Money Lessons

While you can teach your kid money management basics by way of an app, game, or by enrolling them in a non-profit financial literacy program such as Junior Achievement, when teaching your kids to be little entrepreneurs, weave in some basic financial lessons to your young ones.

Besides basic math, such as addition and subtraction, you can help them get their head around business terms such as return on investment, inventory, goods, services, and the difference between revenue and profit.

If you like, you can teach them basics about financing. Use kid-friendly language to demonstrate how a loan works, and what their responsibilities are if they take out a form of financing. Going back to Conroy and her child’s art-selling enterprise, let’s say Conroy had issued a loan to her child to purchase frames. Besides having to “pay back” that money, either by doing extra chores around the house, they would’ve owe additional money, or “interest.” And interest is the cost of borrowing money.

Encourage Creativity

Money lessons and business jargon 101 aside, an important part of being an entrepreneur is creativity. And that isn’t limited to creating paintings or writing songs. From finding out-of-the-box ideas to pitch a product to would-be customers, marketing tactics, and fusing two unlike things together to come up with something unique, kids can learn to apply their creative ideas to both conceptualizing ideas and problem-solving.

For example, a clever marketing tactic could be a referral program of sorts. Or maybe they want to combine their love of baked goods with sea creatures, and create sea-themed cookies and cupcakes.

Success Is Secondary

While it’s nice for your kids to make some money, it might be more important that they have a positive experience with their efforts and establish confidence, points out Conroy. The last thing you want to do is turn your children off from future entrepreneurial pursuits.

“While I’m proud my kid followed me through the steps necessary to generate profit, I’m even more satisfied that they felt good about their efforts at the end,” says Conroy. “Hopefully the next time they have a great, profit-generating idea, they’ll be able to draw upon this well of confidence as they initiate their efforts.”

Teaching your children how to be little entrepreneurs can help them learn lasting money management lessons, and give them the confidence to build something from the the ground up. By helping them learn the basic in-and-outs of enterprise when they’re young, they’ll be that much more equipped to tackle the challenges of entrepreneurship in their later years.

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