Slow Fashion

Five surprisingly simple ways to repurpose old clothes after cleaning out your closet

Cleaning out your closet? Here are some remarkably easy ways to repurpose old clothes and reduce your fashion waste.

January 26, 2023

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Around 92 million tonnes of textile waste is created globally each year.

To put this into context, the equivalent to a rubbish truck full of clothes ends up in landfill every second. And by 2030, we are expected to throw away more than 134 million tonnes of textiles a year.

These frightening statistics from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are definitely grounds to pause and rethink our addiction to fast fashion.

So, what about those clothes you already have and don’t need anymore?

After cleaning out your closet, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the local charity shop or reselling your old stuff online. Certainly, these are excellent options if your old clothes are in good condition.

But what about those old, comfy t-shirts with holes in them, or your favourite ripped jeans that have ripped just a little too far, or your intimate items like underwear? 

Luckily, there are alternative ways to reuse, recycle, or repurpose old garments if they aren’t in the best shape, or simply unsuitable for resale.

Recycle your old clothing

Women putting clothes into recycling bag

Incredibly, around 95 percent of all materials can be recycled and turned into something new. Yet, in the US alone, more than 80 percent of clothing waste ends up in landfill or incinerators.

Recycling old clothes is more wide-ranging than you might think. Even badly damaged items can be shredded and used as furniture and textiles stuffing. 

This means that you can send almost all of your old clothes to a recycling centre, or drop them off at your local clothes donation bins. 

Even those ratty unwearable pieces, or your old underwear and socks. Just be sure to bag them separately and label them ‘To Recycle’ when dropping them off.

This is a responsible and sustainable way to dispose of your damaged pre-loved garments and other unusable, non-transferable  items, and will dramatically reduce the amount of unnecessary waste being sent to landfills.

Don't have access to these options? Your local city or town council may be able to offer you support and advice in this area.  

Repurpose ratty clothes as cleaning cloths

Most of us have that favourite clothing item we've worn so much it is literally unwearable and, alas, it’s finally time to bid it farewell! 

Why not turn these items into something new by cutting them up as cleaning cloths for around your home? 

Not only will this reduce waste but it allows you to give your old garments a new purpose.  If you ask us, it's a win-win situation.

Mend or upcycle old garments into something new

Woman repairing old jeans

In addition to the feel-good factor, this one is sure to get your creativity flowing. 

Normal wear and tear takes its toll on our clothes, often leaving them torn or damaged. While this might mean that we can no longer wear them in their current form, some repair or upcycling may give them a whole new lease of life. 

So, it might be the time to muster up some artistic flair and devise ways to transform old items into something new!

A pair of scissors and a needle and thread can quickly turn your ripped jeans into trendy denim shorts or transform your favourite  summer dress into a top or skirt. By recreating new pieces from your damaged clothes you’ll add unique, one of a kind pieces to your wardrobe. 

If the thought of sewing fills you with dread, you could enlist the help of a seamstress. Or teach yourself with an online course. There are many reasonably priced courses  available. 

Check this one out. It just might be a fun, worthwhile experience. You’ll quickly discover you can upgrade your wardrobe at minimal cost while dramatically reducing your fashion footprint. And, maybe you will discover a new skill. Win win!

Pile of old clothes sitting on a sofa

Another fun way to repair your clothing is to join the Repair Café movement, a campaign which aims to challenge the throwaway mindset and build a more sustainable society. 

An initiative that started in Amsterdam in 2009, Repair Café has spread globally and there are now more than 1,400 repair cafés worldwide. 

Regular meetups involve volunteers who help participants learn how to repair their clothing free of charge. It is a great way to meet like-minded people too. There might be one near you!

Plan a clothing exchange with friends or family

Organising a clothes swap or exchange is an excellent way to get rid of your own pre-loved clothing items, and possibly get something 'new' in return. 

You might find some others’ pre-loved treasures to add to your own wardrobe. This is an environmentally friendly way to offload items without throwing them in the bin.

Any leftover items can be recycled or upcycled. Contact your local clothing recycling centre to see what types of items they take.

Compost your clothing

Most people associate composting with food and garden waste. But, did you know that certain textiles and fabrics can be put in your compost bin too? 

Clothing made from 99 percent natural fibres like cotton, silk, and wool can be reintroduced to the earth where they will biodegrade naturally without releasing any toxins in the process. 

However, most clothes can be repurposed or recycled so composting is usually a last resort, considering the limitations of suitable compostable materials.

If you do decide to go down the compost route, remember to remove any buttons, zips, and labels since these won't biodegrade. Also note, anything that contains dyes and harsh materials is not compostable. 

The same rule applies for clothing made from synthetic fibres such as polyester/nylon, acrylic yarn, or microfibre fleece. They are made from plastics and harmful chemicals that will damage the environment.

The bottom line: While composting offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to throwing away, presently, it is simply not the easiest  option. Feasibly, in the future, compostable clothes will contribute to a more circular economy with no excess waste of natural raw materials. 

Final Thoughts

We can all play our part in supporting the planet by buying less and buying better. When your clothes do finally reach the end of their life, keep in mind these remarkably easy ways to give them a new lease of life or dispose of them responsibly.

If your clothes are still in good nick, a number of retailers offer in-house recycling stations or you can resell garments online using sites like Depop. And of course, your local charity shop will be more than happy to take any clean wearable items off your hands!

Not all our old clothes are suitable for the charity shop and many do end up in landfill.   For this reason, finding alternative ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle unnecessary clothing waste has become more important than ever. 

The next time you clean out your closet, try to incorporate some of these easy and fun ideas into your lifestyle, and you can rest assured, you will be contributing to a cleaner world!

Looking for other ways to live more sustainably? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Living.

Siobhán is the founder of Bon+Berg. When she's not designing bras and undies, you'll find her snowboarding, hiking, or just enjoying the views in the mountains. She is passionate about environmental issues and wants to inspire others to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Siobhán Dunphy

Siobhán is the founder of Bon+Berg. When she's not designing bras and undies, you'll find her snowboarding, hiking, or just enjoying the views in the mountains. She is passionate about environmental issues and wants to inspire others to live a more sustainable lifestyle.