By guest bloggers Sam and Michelle, owners of Leeds' zero waste shop - Ecotopia

Upcycling - not recycling

But what is upcycling? And is it really so good?

"Upcycling" is when you take an object that already exists and either make it better, or change it into something completely new. Upcycling is a fantastic way to put your own mark on something whilst simultaneously helping to reduce demand on the planet.

Take fabric for example. For those who want to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle, natural fabrics are the optimal choice. But even those can come at a cost. Cotton is one of the more commonly used natural fabrics available. It's a lovely and soft fabric which is also quite cheap in comparison to other natural fabric. The downside to the cotton is how much water it takes to grow.

Cotton production is really hard on the planet. It takes a WHOPPING 3250 litres to grow enough cotton for a SINGLE cotton t-shirt!!

What can we do to counteract this problem? Upcycle!

Check your cupboards, drawers and wardrobes for something you don't really like anymore and jazz it up! Tatty old jeans can be taken up and changed into summer shorts. You can take that dress you don't wear anymore and snip it up into something useful like a cushion cover or two.

Or you could take a duvet cover and transform it into a skirt, just like Sam did!

SAM - If you're anything like me, you'll hate shopping for clothes. All that effort finding the right style in the right size, checking if it's the right fit and fumbling around where other people have left a mess. But don't you just love finding hidden gems at charity shops? I found recently that my favourite section is actually curtains and bedsheets! (All Leeds charity shops are listed on Zero Waste Leeds fashion map).

This "fabric section" at charity shops is the best place to go in my opinion. There are some lovely and unexpected patterns on duvet or curtain fabric which you can upcycle into anything you can think of.

No one wanted those bed sheets, but I wanted a new skirt. And in doing a bit of upcycling, I saved the production of yet more fabric when there was already some available right in front of me!

If you enjoy making things out of textiles, I'm sure you'll know how brand new fabrics can get quite pricey. But just the other day I got 2 lots of 230x220cm for only a fiver! This may have come in the form of a king size duvet cover, but I tell you, it's the cheapest form of fabric you can find! Only a few hours after buying this duvet cover, even with a very small amount of technical sewing knowledge, I had transformed it into a gorgeous, high street shop worthy swing skirt!

I have a particular favourite charity shop now, where literally every time I go in there's something new to find. It's almost like a different shop on every visit. I love it!

Michelle also had a go at some upcycling

MICHELLE - I run a small business where the focus is upcycling. I wanted to make reusable face pads and baby wipes but the environmental cost of virgin fabrics weighed on my mind. I looked to my collection of old and worn out clothes and spotted a pair of curtains I'd bought years ago from a charity shop that I ended up never using myself. The print on the curtains was a pattern of bicycles in cream and lime green. The curtain fabric was actually ideal for making small face pads from!

I now spend a few hours a week stopping by my local charity shops, scouring the racks for curtains, duvet covers, table cloths, towels and any other racks with fabrics (sometimes even clothes), just so I'm not putting more pressure on the world's resources in running a business. Some of the best prints are on pre-loved items waiting to be RE-loved! A nice bonus is that these fabric items come at a fraction of the cost of buying brand new fabrics."

Being brought up in a single parent family, we were always a bit frugal with spending money, and we think that's been drilled into us so much we only spend where necessary even to this day. Repairing holes in clothing was a very normal thing in our childhood home. Luckily covering our grazed knee jeans with smiley face patches was highly acceptable when we were growing up in the 90s!

"Why wouldn't you want to wear your clothes AND for them to last as long as possible to at least save money?"

If you want to try a bit of fabric upcycling, YouTube and Pinterest are both treasure troves for straightforward sewing tutorials if you aren't sure where to start. You don't have to have sewing machine experience to upcycle with fabrics. Hand sewing works a treat too, or failing that, maybe have a go with fabric glue for smaller projects.

You don't even have to spend a single penny to upcycle. Old shirts in the bottom of your drawer, the dress you've been holding onto for years. Maybe they could be put to better use? Is there something else that could be more use to you? Even if it's changing a cushion cover into a tote bag (or vice versa!)

The upcycling community is abuzz, and we all love to share our ideas to the novice upcycler as well as the veterans. There's always something new and different to try.

As part of our Leeds Fashion Futures project, we'll be featuring more guest bloggers over the coming weeks and months.