Here at Clothes2Order, we understand the impact textile waste can have on the environment and the difficulty of what to do what to do with old work shirts.

When synthetic clothing can take up to 40 years to biodegrade, but 95% of textiles are recyclable, it only makes sense that we should do whatever we can to repurpose old pieces and save them from the landfill. 

That’s why we, as a company, donate our excess garments to Change 1’s Life and encourage you to send old clothes to your local charities as well.

But what if your clothing is a little more niche? Say, a hi-vis jacket or cargo trousers?

No problem at all. There are still so many ways you can save your old workwear (and thus the planet) and have fun with it as well. 

10 Ways to Upcycle Your Old Workwear

1. Safety First

If you own any gear with reflective bands, you can always adapt this practical detail to more casual yet equally useful contexts.

Grab a sturdy pair of scissors and cut the strips off your old workwear, then attach them to whatever accessory or item of clothing suits you best. You might want to sew these strips to bags such as backpacks or jackets for a safer stroll after dark, or even tie them around your ankles (with some snap buttons or hook-and-loop tape to fasten) for some night-time cycling.

Cycle Wraps via like Exchange
Cycle Wraps via Bike Exchange

And if you’re feeling a bit more crafty, you could fashion a reflective jacket for your pet — a little like this one — using either Velcro or stitches.

Reflective Dog Coat by Canine Concepts
Reflective Dog Coat by Canine Concepts

2. Stay Warm and Lower those Bills

No one likes paying more for their bills than they have to, and one easy way to reduce overall heating expenditure is by investing in draught excluders. But if you could customise yours for virtually no additional cost, wouldn’t that be even better?

Follow the steps in this video by Claire Heart Handmade UK to transform your old uniform into a very personalised draught excluder (whether or not you include the pom-poms).

3. Make Some Extra Money

If you’re particularly gifted with sewing and D.I.Y. (or someone you know is) you can experiment with your excess fabrics and create your own products to sell online, similarly to the team behind the Bike Project charity.

The proceeds from products on their site actually go towards helping refugees, and there are plenty more ways to support their efforts that you can read about here. 

Upcycled Messenger Bag by The Bike Project
Upcycled Messenger Bag by The Bike Project

4. Scrub Up and Save Up

According to a survey, the average U.K. household spends £125 on cleaning products every year — money they would likely rather spend on other, more exciting items, I’m sure. 

But there are some products we can easily avoid buying. Like, for example, disposable cloths and wet wipes. Not only is it a shame for them to end up as waste, but it is also incredibly easy to fashion reusable alternatives at home. If you have any old uniforms in a softer fabric (or other worn t-shirts, underwear, you name it) simply cut them up into the necessary sizes, scrub whatever you need to scrub, and wash when used. 

5. Help a Creative

With sites like depop (self-described as the “creative community’s mobile marketplace”) hosting 10 million independent merchants, these creatives aren’t exactly hard to find. And on top of that, many of them refuse to buy virgin fabrics — which is where you come in. 

When you find a designer known for reworking old clothes, ask them if they’d be interested in any cargo trousers or neon (both very trendy in the fashion world, especially for festival season) and carry on from there. 

6. Pass Them Down to Younger Generations

You don’t have to completely reinvent hi-vis wear. If you have enough usable, undamaged fabric, you can simply save the best bits and fashion a new, child-sized vest. These are always useful to daycare centres and schools that take their kids on field trips. They would definitely appreciate the gift. 

Hi Vis via Spectrum
Hi Vis Kids via Spectrum

7. Good Things Come in Small Packages

Make a bum bag following the steps and pattern in this inspiring video by ProperFit Clothing. 

8. Get Cosy

Too much fabric for your current bum bag needs? No worries.

You might want to get involved in a bigger D.I.Y. project, like working on a patchwork quilt or throw blanket similar to the one below. All you have to do is save the best or most exciting bits of each garment and let your artistic instincts take over. 

T Shirt Quilt by Elaine Schmidt
T Shirt Quilt by Elaine Schmidt

If you need a little more guidance, follow the steps to one of these three quilt-making techniques by WikiHow

9. Fun for Your Furry Friend

Ever heard of snuffle mats? Well, they look a little something like this: 

Snuffle Mat by AK KYC
Snuffle Mat by AK KYC

And if you want to see your own four-legged friend have some snuffly fun, you can make one of these toys at home. 

All you’ll need is a pair of scissors, some old fabric, and a drain mat. 

Non-Slip Mat by BiGDUG
Non-Slip Mat by BiGDUG

Once you’ve collected these materials:

  1. Cut your fabric into long strips. You can vary the size if you like, but make sure they’re long enough to complete the following steps.
  2. Loop each strip through two neighbouring holes, with the long ends facing upwards (away from the ground). Tie them in a knot.
  3. Repeat this until you have filled every hole — going over holes multiple times if necessary. 
  4. Tie any remaining strips around the perimeter of the mat in order to hide the rubber edge.
  5. Let your dog loose!

10. Reinvent the Look

For years, the world of fashion has taken inspiration from labourers’ uniforms, but we’re now starting to see it go a step further than that for the sake of the planet.

In a refreshing feature by INDIE magazine, Creative Director of the fashion brand, Cheap Monday, Carl Malmgren, discusses the motivation behind their recent initiative to turn old workwear into fashionable and sustainable items.

He says they “discovered a significant source of garments that would otherwise be discarded as trash,” and therefore saved them from the landfill. And you can do the same.

Even if you don’t have a production team to support your vision, little tweaks here and there can transform a look.

For example, try jumping on the current cargo pant trend by attaching a decorative chain to the belt loops of your work trousers. Any colour works.

Chains like these only cost £1.39 on eBay, whereas a brand new pair of cargo trousers can cost up to £45. So even if you’d rather gift this look than wear it yourself, it’s worth a try. 

Giuliana Cargo Pants by YesStyle

Whether you’re looking for a quick, fashionable fix or want to dedicate a few hours a day to a crafting project, there are so many ways you can upcycle your old workwear. 

The items in this list are just a few examples to help inspire you, but don’t feel like you have to stick to these specific ideas. Creativity has no limits, so just experiment and have fun with it. 

Need inspiration for your next workwear look? Get in touch with our friendly team.