17 Best Recycled And Upcycled Clothes (2023): Leggings, Sneakers, T-Shirts
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Reduce, Reuse, RecycleConsider Thrifting
You may have noticed we’re in the middle of a climate crisis, but we’re having a trash crisis as well. Trash is polluting our oceans, lining both city and rural streets, and harming animals that are trying to go about their day. We can reduce our own plastic usage, especially single-use plastics, but some companies have figured out how to turn some of that trash—mostly plastic bottles and old clothes—into new products.
This is a growing category, but these are our favorite clothes made from recycled materials that we’ve tested so far. Be sure to check out our other product guides, like the Best Recycled Bags, Best Everyday Products Made of Recycled Materials, and the Best Reusable Products.
Updated April 2023: We’ve added Parade underwear, Rothys men’s shoes, Thousand Fell sneakers, and a recommendation for Taylor Stitch.
How Plastic Becomes Thread
Most companies use “post-consumer” plastic, which means it comes from plastic that has been used and recycled. “Pre-consumer” means it comes from waste in the manufacturing process before anyone ever buys it. Plastic bottles are collected, dried, shredded, and turned into tiny pellets. Then the plastic goes through an extruder machine, which spins and pulls it like taffy to turn it into yarn. This still uses a lot of energy and resources, but it produces far less waste. Everyone needs clothes, so they might as well be more sustainable.
Photograph: Britt Erlanson/Getty Images
Reduce, Reuse, RecycleConsider Thrifting
Most ethically made, sustainable clothes are, unfortunately, expensive. Most of us simply can’t spend $80 to $100 on a single piece of clothing. Thrifting is the best way to get new (to you!) clothes for cheap. The material might not be spun from plastic bottles, but you’re reusing items that would normally end up in a landfill.
Thrifting is an art form that might include combing through the racks at Goodwill, swapping clothes with friends, stopping at estate and yard sales, or scouring websites like Poshmark, eBay, and ThredUp. We also have some useful tips for shopping on eBay to avoid upcharges and scams.
★ Pro tip: Learning to sew opens up a new world to thrifting (I’m learning now!). You can alter clothes you like to fit you better or change them up completely. Dresses can become two-piece sets, and you can even turn clothes into accessories, like bags and headbands. TikTok, YouTube, and Reddit have great communities if you’re unsure where to start.
A Great ParkaTentree Daily Parka
Winter coats usually make me feel like Randy from A Christmas Story, but I like wearing Tentree’s parka. It’s warm and comfortable, and I feel like I look, maybe, kinda cool. It’s made from Repreve fabric, which is spun from plastic bottles and recycled fiber—70 bottles were saved from a landfill in this one jacket’s construction. Tentree plants 10 trees for every purchase (hence the name).
The parka has soft cuffs that keep the cold air from breezing up your arms, it’s long enough to cover your bum (why are there so many cropped winter coats?), and the insulation doesn’t come from animals. There are plenty of pockets too, including softly-lined ones for your hands and a zipper pocket up at the breast. The only thing I’, not a huge fan of is the awkwardly shaped hood. WIRED senior associate reviews editor Adrienne So also likes Tentree’s Bentley trousers ($88). They are also made from a fabric blend using Repreve and feel like work-appropriate pajama pants.
Recycled T-shirtsEco Tees
30A has a rotating stock of beachy apparel that makes me want to spend the summer in New England. Everything is made using recycled materials, mainly plastic water bottles, and is comfortable, soft, and reasonably priced. The Henley we like also uses coconuts for its buttons. The designs are made with water-based inks and items are shipped in recycled packages, too.
For PeriodsSaalt Period Underwear
Period underwear is my favorite invention. I’ve tried several brands, and all of them absorb blood quickly, so you won’t feel like you’re stewing in dampness. Knix is my favorite, but Saalt’s pretty lace and mesh designs are made of post-consumer recycled water bottles. There’s light, regular, and heavy absorbency, costing somewhere between $29 and $39 for single pairs.
★ Alternative: If you don’t like these styles, Saalt has cotton and seamless pairs too, however, those aren’t made from recycled materials (there are some Tencel options, which is a fiber made from renewable beech wood). Modbodi now has recycled and biodegradable pairs, so hopefully, our skivvies won’t live forever in a landfill. It’s worth noting here that the popular brand Thinx recently settled a lawsuit over the presence of toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in its underwear; we do not recommend them.