Eco-Fashion: These Startups Are Upcycling Waste into Bags and Clothes


Together, we can celebrate innovation and embrace eco-fashion as a powerful solution for a more sustainable future.

Waste has become an alarming issue in our society today, with millions of tons of abandoned materials piling up in overcrowded landfills each year. Among the culprits, the fashion industry stands out as a major contributor, earning the notorious title of being one of the planet’s most significant sources of pollution. It is truly staggering to fathom that out of the mind-boggling 100 billion garments produced each year, an astonishing 92 million metric tons eventually find their tragic fate in landfills. If current patterns persist, the waste generated by fast fashion alone is estimated to skyrocket to 134 million metric tons per year by ‌the end of the decade.

In light of this urgent situation, the need for sustainable practices in the fashion industry has become more critical than ever. This has given rise to the emergence of eco-fashion—a burgeoning trend that strives to promote environmentally-friendly garments through responsible production processes, such as organic cotton farming and the abandonment of harmful chemicals. A particular popular avenue for encouraging sustainable fashion is through the transformative power of upcycling, which involves breathing new life into discarded materials, such as fabric scraps, by fashioning them into stylish bags and clothing. 

In this article, we explore the stories of three visionary startups that have taken creativity, ingenuity and a commitment to sustainability to revolutionize our closets and combat the fashion industry’s waste crisis. 

Rothy’s: Sustainable footwear and bags made from discarded plastic

Image courtesy of Rothy’s

Rothy’s, founded by Roth Martin and Stephen Hawthornthwaite in 2012, is an eco-fashion company renowned for its commitment to sustainability and inventive waste conversion practices. The San-Francisco-based company repurposes unique waste materials, such as recycled plastic water bottles and discarded marine plastic, to create a diverse range of stylish products, including flats, sneakers, loafers and bags.

With a creative and practical approach to recycling and upcycling, Rothy’s utilizes its proprietary 3D knitting technology to transform recycled materials into seamless and durable pieces that boast fashion and function. It also prioritizes the use of non-toxic adhesives and dyes throughout the manufacturing process, ensuring that its designs are not only fashionable and comfortable but also built to last and have a minimal environmental impact. 

Through its efforts, Rothy’s has successfully repurposed millions of plastic water bottles and marine plastics, making significant strides in waste reduction. Taking its commitment a step further, the brand has implemented a recycling program that enables customers to return worn-out products for proper recycling, reinforcing its dedication to a circular economy and a sustainable future. 

Looking ahead, Rothy’s remains dedicated to innovation and expanding its sustainability initiatives. With a keen focus on incorporating more recycled and renewable materials into its product offerings, the company is poised to make a positive impact on the fashion industry and inspire conscious consumer choices.

Girlfriend Collective: Activewear crafted from recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Founded in 2016 by the dynamic husband and wife duo, Ellie and Quang Dinh, Seattle-based Girlfriend Collective is leading the charge toward a more sustainable future. The brand incorporates waste materials, like recycled plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets, into its activewear line, challenging conventional fashion practices. With a product range that includes leggings, sports bras, tops and shorts, Girlfriend Collective offers a sustainable workout wardrobe for the conscious consumer.

The popular Compressive Leggings from Girlfriend Collective exemplifies its dedication to minimizing environmental impact. Crafted from 25 reused water bottles, these leggings showcase the brand’s innovative approach to fashion that doesn’t compromise sustainability. But its commitment doesn’t stop there. Girlfriend Collective goes the extra mile with thoughtful fabric choices, eco-friendly dyes and packaging materials, fair labor conditions and transparent manufacturing practices, ensuring that every aspect of its production aligns with its core values of environmental responsibility. 

One of the notable aspects of Girlfriend Collective is its unwavering dedication to inclusivity. The brand firmly believes that fashion should celebrate and empower bodies of all sizes. From XXS to 6XL, its activewear is designed to embrace and cater to individuals of diverse sizes and shapes, promoting inclusivity in an industry often criticized for its lack thereof. 

As Girlfriend Collective continues to expand its product offerings, it remains committed to its core values of transparency and ethical production practices. 

Elvis & Kresse: From fire hoses to luxury fashion

Image courtesy of Elvis & Kresse

Founded in 2005 by Kresse Wesling MBE and James Henrit, Kent-based brand Elvis & Kresse stands out for its innovative approach of incorporating unique waste materials into their wide range of luxury products. From handbags and wallets to belts and accessories, each item exudes a sense of craftsmanship and sustainability that has captivated eco-conscious consumers. 

By transforming materials such as decommissioned fire hoses, leather scraps and parachute silk into high-quality fashion pieces, the brand gives these materials that would otherwise go to waste a new lease on life. What’s more, by upcycling fire hoses, for example, the company not only diverts these sturdy materials from the landfill but also imbues its products with a sense of history and durability that is truly unmatched.

The achievements of Elvis & Kresse are nothing short of impressive. Since its establishment, the company has successfully repurposed over 300 tons of waste, including a remarkable 200 tons of fire hoses. Its commitment to sustainability has earned it recognition and partnerships with prestigious brands like Burberry. 

Consumer perspective: Embracing eco-fashion

The rise of eco-fashion startups is intricately connected to the evolving mindset of environmentally-conscious consumers. These startups thrive because consumers are not just passively observing the depletion of our environment but actively supporting eco-friendly ventures by embracing their offerings. The fashion industry’s detrimental environmental impact has sparked a collective awakening among consumers, prompting them to demand eco-friendly practices and products.

The transformative power of consumer support for eco-fashion startups is evident in the remarkable statistic that 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products. This surge in consumer awareness and commitment is not just limited to words; it translates into tangible action as consumers align their purchasing decisions with their values

By supporting eco-fashion companies, consumers are playing a vital role in driving the transition towards a greener and more ethical future for the fashion industry. Their collective power has the potential to reshape the industry, fostering a sustainable ecosystem where fashion choices have a positive impact on the environment and society at large.

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Header image courtesy of Freepik


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