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  • Writer's pictureginaelisebradbury

Upcycled Denim Should Be a 21st Century Style Staple

With denim a wardrobe staple, how can we alter our buying habits to lessen negative environmental impact?


Since the creation of Levi 501's in the 1870's, denim has become unbeatable in terms of blending practicality and style. Denim was worn by American miners in the late 19th century due to its practicality and comfort. With the 1950's and 60's denim became fashionable. Countless images come to mind when considering 20th century style icons and denim attire. Western movies and musicians, including Elvis Presley, fuelled the popularity of denim as the comfortable and stylish go-to. Denim continues to be a versatile material that transcends class, gender and age barriers. It is comfortable, reliable and versatile. It can be dressed up or down.

Elvis wearing double denim in Jailhouse Rock. 1957.
Elvis wearing double denim in 'Jailhouse Rock'. 1957. (Image via habilitateblog.com)

A high quality item of denim clothing can be a well-loved item that we regularly wear for years. We even often judge our changing shape and health by the fit and feel of our jeans. With the reliability of denim in mind, its overproduction is clearly wasteful and unnecessary. However, it has been widely reported that the average woman owns seven pairs of jeans and the average man owns six. While we have this amount, the average person only wears four of the pairs in their wardrobe. (holebuttoncover.com, 2019) On top of this, it is expected that denim jean consumption will raise dramatically over the rest of the decade;

It is predicted that the "global market value of the denim jeans industry will be worth 95.2 billion dollars by 2030, up from 64.5 billion US dollars in 2022." (fashionunited.uk, 2023)

These dramatic figures only take into consideration the the production and purchase of denim jeans, excluding other items of denim fashion like jackets, shirts and shorts.


These immense, growing figures are highly concerning when we consider how environmentally damaging the production of denim is. The damaging impacts of denim production include high water and energy usage, fabric waste and the use of chemicals.

In terms of water usage alone, around 7,500 litres of water is required to make a single pair of jeans. This is equal to the amount that the average person drinks over the space of seven years. (news.un.org, 2019)


The purchasing of multiple denim products contributes to demand and therefore to increased production levels and negative environmental impact. However, there are a number of buying alterations that you can make to lessen this negative impact. One is to purchase second-hand denim items online, from charity shops and from vintage clothing stores. Buying from physical stores allows the advantage of trying on the clothing before purchase for fit and comfort. This method of buying benefits all, including the fashion conscious, as such a vast number of denim fashion items, in classic styles, have already been made. The purchasing of second-hand denim places emphasis on the importance of high quality. Denim items shouldn't be produced purely to satisfy a fleeting fashion trend. They should be produced to be long lasting and practical. With the equivalent of one garbage truck burned or landfilled every second (news.un.org), we need to embrace the long lasting potential of denim.


Another positive change to make when buying denim is to choose upcycled options. Upcycled clothing (also referred to a recycled or reformed) involves the turning of fabric from old pieces of clothing into new, re-styled items. Upcycling can also involve using scraps leftover during production to create new pieces of clothing. Due to the nature of its creation, upcycled denim tends to be patchwork in style. Patchwork clothing, including denim, has been a trend for several years now and continues to be widely available.

Patchwork trend at the Chloe F/W 2015/16 ready-to-wear runway show.
Patchwork at the Chloe F/W 2015/16 ready-to-wear runway show. (Image via fashionnetwork.com)

Upcycled denim patchwork denim trench coat by Philipp Plein at F/W 2023/24 Milan fashion week.
The upcycled denim patchwork look is in, as evidenced by this Philipp Plein trench coat at F/W 2023/24 Milan fashion week. (image via sourcingjournal.com)

It is worth noting that as upcycled denim clothing is created using repurposed materials, no two items are exactly the same. Below, I've chosen a selection of standout upcycled denim fashion options:







What are your thoughts on the environmental impacts of denim, upcycled clothing and the patchwork trend? please let me know in the comments below. Also, are any of the shared upcycled denim pieces something that you would wear? Thank you for reading, Gina.


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