Recycling and upcycling: Five ethical labels that turn waste into fashion

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Circularity in fashion –  A very promising aspect of the incredibly creative and beautiful but also very wasteful and dirty fashion industry. During our visit to the Ethical Fashion Show & Greenshowroom in Berlin in January we had the opportunity to get first-hand information about it. At the new conference FASHIONSUSTAIN innovative companies such as Ecoalf and Vaude shared their current developments of circular processes for a more sustainable fashion industry. Circular concepts aim to reduce, reuse, recycle und upcycle the resources that go into making a product, with Cradle to Cradle® being the most holistic, waste-free approach.

If you are interested in the different FASHIONSUSTAIN presentations and discussions, they are all available at the FASHIONSUSTAIN YouTube channel. Besides all those incredibly interesting insights, my highlight was the emotional opening speech of the environmental activist Alexandra Cousteau.

Now, here comes the introduction of  five forward-thinking fashion brands that recycle and up-cycle.


Looking at the Fremdformat necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, we fell in love with their new collection right away! The two founders Julia and Steffi have started their sustainable jewelry label in 2014. They recycle and upcycle as much as possible by using reycled gold and silver, and mostly left-over materials from the metal-working industry – like brass, copper and stainless steel. Each of their upcycling jewelry are unique pieces of exceptional simplicity and beautiful design work.

The current Fremdformat collection // Photo: © Mary Schmidt


During the conference FASHIONSUSTAIN the founder of Ecoalf, Javier Goyeneche, gave a super interesting presentation: He shared how the company cleans the oceans before Spain and Thailand from plastic waste and upcycles this resource into yarn for jackets, sneakers and accessories. The idea for the Spanish label was born in 2009, out of Javier’s frustration about the unsustainable use of natural resources and the growing amount of garbage. Up to now, Ecoalf has recycled 70 Millions of plastic bottles and more than 90 tons of discarded fishing nets. Other recycled materials that Ecoalf works with are coffee grounds, used car tires for flip flops as well as recycled wool and recycled cotton for t-shirts, dresses, sweatshirts and pants. Fashionable and cool design plays a big role for their collections and Ecoalf regularly launches limited editions, for example in collaboration with Apple,, Cool Hunting or currently with the designer Sybilla.

“Ecoalf is about technology, R&D and innovation.”

Javier Goyeneche, Founder of Ecoalf

Ecoalf has received many awards for their innovations throughout the years. It is also a Certified B-Corporation, for which it has to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

The goal of the Ecoalf ‘Upcycling The Oceans’ Project: Collecting the trash that’s destroying the oceans and turning it into top-quality thread.
Photo: © Ecoalf

Better World Fashion

We became aware of Better World Fashion – and their upcycled leather jackets – during the Fashion Changers X PrePEEK and made it to their stand just shortly before the end of the show. Luckily! Because the circular fashion business model behind the label is pretty amazing. All their leather jackets are made from used leather that is sourced in Denmark from NGO partners. These then get upcycled into new leather jackets in a small family-owned production site in Poland. Ready for you to buy. Or to lease! Each jacket is unique as the leather is different from one jacket to the next. And even after the life of a Better World Fashion jacket comes to an ultimate end, the leather is re-used again by making bags and backpacks from it. 

„Leather is meant to be used – and reused. It’s getting even better over time.“

Better World Fashion

The five-headed team behind Better World Fashion that sold their first jacket in December 2016 takes sustainability seriously: All leather jackets get chemically tested, the linen is made from 100% premium recycled polyester, also the buttons and zippers are recycled. As a Certified B-Corporation Better World Fashion was awarded “Best for the World” by B-Corp in 2017, being among the 10% best B-Corps in the world and the first company with this certificate in Denmark.

Outfit worn at Fashion Changers x PrePEEK Event Berlin (PR samples)
Leather Jacket: Better World Fashion // Pants: Studio JUX // T-Shirt: MYRKA Studios // Necklace: Fremdformat
Photo: Lydia Hersberger


To continue the life of leather is also the mission of the Korean brand Continew. After a car accident, the founder Ian Choi kept one seat of his smashed car as a souvenir and later created a bag out of it. The idea for upcycling leather was born and after more than a year of research into the 6-steps upcycling process, Continew now transforms leather waste into high-quality leather goods. For that, the team sources small pieces of leather from Korean car-seat leather manufacturers and from Korean end-of life vehicles. Just recently, Continew launched a limited edition made from 1st class airplane seat leather. The clean, timeless design of all the Continew bags, backpacks and accessories is great and hopefully they will be available in Europe soon. If you don’t want to wait, you can order from their Korean website.

greenlooksgreat-continew_Everyday Crossbody Bag _1 (1)
Everyday Cross-Body Bag // Photo: © Continew


During a press tour at the Ethical Fashion Show, we came across the VAUDE booth and were pretty impressed with the company’s passion for functionality, design and material development. Well, VAUDE has been known as pioneer for fair, sustainable and innovative outdoor equipment for decades. Still, we loved to hear that recycled materials are at the top of their list. The criteria for recycled VAUDE Green Shape products range from 30% recycled content of the finished product (for shoes) up to 90% (for clothing). For that, VAUDE uses fishing nets, coffee grounds and PET bottles and wants to further promote the use of recycled materials. At the stand we had a look at the pretty cool Green Shape Core Collection that consists of 19 products including apparel, shoes and backpacks. The textile materials used for this collection are recycled, bio-based or pure natural materials – including unconventional materials such as cow’s milk, kapok or castor oil. For its Green Shape Core Collection, VAUDE has received several awards, among them the GreenTec Award 2018 in the category “Sports by Jack Wolfskin”.

The complete VAUDE Green Shape Core Collection // Photo: © VAUDE