Fashionable Recycling: Upcycling Old Outfits into New Trends

Upcycling old outfits goes beyond clothes. Turn that old Maasai shuka into a statement belt, like Kenyan brand Enda does.
The Love Central - Fashionable Recycling: Upcycling Old Outfits into New Trends The Love Central - Fashionable Recycling: Upcycling Old Outfits into New Trends
Fashionable Recycling: Upcycling Old Outfits into New Trends

“I have a heap of old clothes but nothing to wear!” Sound familiar? Before you swipe that credit card at the mall, pause. That mountain of “outdated” outfits could be your secret weapon in the fashion world. Welcome to the art of upcycling old outfits, where your forgotten Adire blouse or that stretched-out Kente cloth wrap become this season’s must-have pieces

Upcycling old outfits isn’t just a Pinterest trend; it’s woven into the fabric of African culture. For centuries, our people have been upcycling geniuses. In Ghana, the Kente weavers would unravel worn clothes, combining the threads with new ones to create intricate patterns.

In Nigeria, Yoruba women transformed old Adire fabrics, over-dyeing them with indigo to give them a second life. Even in South Africa, Ndebele women have long repurposed beads from broken necklaces into stunning new designs.

Today, this tradition is causing a global fashion earthquake. ThredUp’s 2024 Resale Report reveals that the secondhand clothing market is now growing 25 times faster than traditional retail. They project it will hit a staggering $77 billion by 2026, with upcycling old outfits leading the charge. It’s not just eco-friendly; it’s become the ultimate style statement!

Ready to turn your “nothing to wear” into “everything to flaunt”? Here’s your upcycling roadmap:

The Love Central -
Yoruba women transformed old Adire fabrics over dyeing them with indigo to give them a second life Image source Freepik

1. Denim Alchemy

Those old Levi’s aren’t trash; they’re treasure! Cut them into Daisy Dukes, or channel your inner Yemi Alade by turning them into a fierce denim skirt. Better yet, patch them with vibrant Kitenge fabric for a perfect Afro-urban look. Renowned Kenyan designer Deepa Dosaja is famous for upcycling old outfits like jeans, infusing them with East African flair.

2. T-Shirt Magic

Don’t ditch that faded Fela Kuti tee! Cut it into a stylish crop top à la Tiwa Savage, or braid the bottom for a fringed look that would make Miriam Makeba proud. Better yet, sew it with other tees to create a patchwork dress, inspired by the Ewe people’s iconic Keta cloth. Upcycling old outfits like tees keeps your style as legendary as your music taste.

3. Button-Up Brilliance

Dad’s old dress shirts? Fashion gold! Transform them into off-shoulder tops like South African designer Thebe Magugu. Ghanaian-American designer Mimi Plange is the queen of this, turning traditional menswear into red-carpet showstoppers. Her upcycled shirt-dresses have graced the likes of Michelle Obama!

4. Ankara Adventures

As diasporans, our love for Ankara is eternal. When your favorite Vlisco print starts to fade, it’s upcycling time! Take cues from Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo, who cuts old Ankara into strips, weaving them into stunning headbands. Or follow Senegalese artist Johanna Bramble, who lines denim jackets with upcycled Ankara, marrying West African and Western styles.

5. Accessory Alchemy

Upcycling old outfits goes beyond clothes. Turn that old Maasai shuka into a statement belt, like Kenyan brand Enda does. Use cowrie shells from a worn-out necklace to decorate plain pumps, inspired by Zulu beadwork. Got a tired Kiondo bag? Jazz it up with patches from your old Bogolan mudcloth, like Malian artisans do.

The Love Central -
When youre upcycling old outfits youre practicing Omenka Image source Freepik

Diaspora Fashion: Stitching Identity with Upcycled Heritage

Nigerian designer Nkwo Onwuka is a true upcycling virtuoso. Her brand, NKWO, turns discarded denim and frayed Akwete cloth into haute couture. “In Aba markets, nothing is wasted,” she explains. “Old jeans become new bags, torn Akwete becomes embellishments. When you’re upcycling old outfits, you’re practicing ‘Omenka’—doing good art.”

For us in the diaspora, upcycling old outfits is more than fashion—it’s a lifeline to home. No sewing skills? No worries! Many diaspora hubs host “Upcycling Jams.” In London’s Brixton Market, Zimbabwean designer Pam Samasuwo-Nyawiri runs monthly workshops where you can learn to turn old dashikis into chic jumpsuits.

Fast fashion’s cost isn’t just financial—it’s cultural and environmental. The UN reports that fashion produces 10% of global carbon emissions and consumes lake-sized volumes of water. 

By upcycling old outfits, we’re not just saving money; we’re preserving our heritage and planet. So, next time you moan, “I have nothing to wear,” look again. That “useless” pile isn’t just clothes; it’s a canvas for your creativity, a bridge to your roots. 

Maybe your old Boubou becomes a killer jumpsuit, or that frayed Kanga turns into the summer’s hottest beach cover-up. Who knows? Your next Essence Fashion Week stunner might be hiding in that “nothing to wear” heap. Time to start upcycling!

READ: The Secret to Finding Hidden Gems in Thrift Stores Abroad

Thrift stores are these magical places where pre-loved clothes get a second life. You can find everything from designer labels at a fraction of the price to unique vintage pieces that scream #OOTD (Outfit Of The Day). Click here

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x