Technology

15 Best Recycled and Upcycled Clothes (2023): Leggings, Sneakers, T-shirts

15 Best Recycled and Upcycled Clothes (2023): Leggings, Sneakers, T-shirts thumbnail

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Person's hand sorting through hanging clothes at a thrift store

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Consider Thrifting

A Lounge Set With a Mission

Pangaia Re-Color Loungewear

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Everywhere Upcycled Tshirt

Plain Tees

Recycled Shirts

You may have noticed we’re having a bit 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 just trying to go about their day. We can reduce our own plastic usage, especially single-use plastics. But thankfully, some companies have figured out how to turn some of that trash—mostly plastic bottles and old clothes—into new clothes and accessories.

Here, we list the favorites that we’ve tried so far. Be sure to check out our other guides like the Best Recycled Bags, Best Everyday Products Made of Recycled Materials, or the Best Reusable Products.

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 does still use quite a bit of energy and resources, but produces far less waste. Everyone needs clothes, so they might as well be more sustainable.

  • Person's hand sorting through hanging clothes at a thrift store

    Photograph: Britt Erlanson/Getty Images

    Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

    Consider Thrifting

    Unfortunately, most ethically-made, sustainable clothes are expensive. A lot of us simply can’t spend $80 to $100 on a single piece of clothing. Thrifting is the best way to get a bunch of new (to you!) clothes for cheap. While the material might not be spun from plastic bottles, 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 the Salvation Army, clothing swaps with friends, stopping at estate and yard sales, or scouring websites like Poshmark, eBay, and ThredUp. Our guide to shopping on eBay has some useful tips to avoid upcharging and scamming. 

  • Photograph: Pangaia

    A Lounge Set With a Mission

    Pangaia Re-Color Loungewear

    Everything Pangaia makes is crafted using some sort of incredible technology. To name a few, the brand uses insulation made from wildflowers, water-based ink harvested from air pollution particles, and leather made from grapes leftover from wineries. This Re-color line is dyed using Recycrom, which comes from old textiles crushed into powder pigments. Ninety-eight percent of the brand’s pigments come from their own production leftovers. 

    Most of Pangaia’s clothes advertise the new tech prominently, which can be a little off-putting. The first T-shirt I tried from the brand had this writing very large across the front, which felt like I was screaming that I was better than everyone. However, if I saw it on someone else in the wild, it would make me ask them where I could find it. The brand has a bunch of other tees, sweaters, and even beautiful pink pants. Everything is perfectly unisex too.

  • Photograph: Everywhere

    Plain Tees

    Recycled Shirts

    • For Days Recycled Ribbed Jersey Oversized Tee for $52: We recommend For Day’s joggers and bomber jackets, and the brand also has a bunch of T-shirts made of recycled materials too. This one comes from 22 percent recycled cotton, and the colors are nice and muted.
    • Everywhere 100% Recycled T-Shirt for $36 in unisex and women’s fits: Everywhere’s recycled cotton tees are comfy, slimming, and stay put. Some unisex T-shirts are cut for men’s bodies, but this one looks good on all body types. The white version could be a bit thicker, as you can see a slight outline of a bra underneath, but it’s better than most women’s white tees.
    • 30A Shirts for $30-$40: 30A’s beachy apparel is made of recycled plastic bottles and water-based inks. The stock changes frequently, but we’ve tried a few basics and liked them all. They’re cute, comfy, and reasonably priced.
  • Photograph: Tentree

    A Perfect Parka

    Tentree Daily Parka

    Winter coats typically make me feel a little like Randy from A Christmas Story, but I actually like wearing Tentree’s parka. It’s warm and comfortable, and I feel like I look, maybe, kinda cool even. 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. And the name Tentree comes from the fact that the brand plants 10 trees for every purchase. 

    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 don’t like is the awkwardly shaped hood. Senior reviews associate editor Adrienne So also likes Tentree’s Bentley trousers ($88). They are also made from a fabric blend using Repreve and feel basically like work-appropriate pajama pants. 

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