Worn Out: Repurposing Old Shirts for a Sustainable Lifestyle

T-shirts are some of the most dominant pieces of clothing in anybody’s closet. But, just like every other apparel, it has its own lifetime. It can go from brand new to worn out in a matter of months, just weeks even. Especially with fast fashion, trends tend to change instantly, leaving you with a bundle of used, old, tattered shirts. What else can you do but throw them out? They’re no longer in style anyway.

This is exactly the kind of consumer culture that can prove to be unsustainable in the long run. So it’s not as soft as it used to be, or it already has holes in it from all the wear and tear. That shouldn’t be a reason for you to dispose of them right away. Besides, clothing can also have some sentimental value. Wouldn’t you want to preserve that favorite go-to shirt that was always sure to bring some fun into your life whenever you wore it?

Reuse, Not Recycle

When dealing with old clothes, it’s also important to distinguish the differences between repurposing and recycling. Only about an estimated 13.6% of clothes that Americans throw away end up being recycled instead of other materials, which have recycling rates of 20% or higher. This is less than ideal considering that the average American throws away 37kgs of clothes every year.

Recycling clothes is problematic because the blend of all the different fabrics, fibers, and material types has to be sorted before the actual process can begin. Doing this with a skilled labor force, or even mechanically, is hard enough as it is. This is why most people choose to donate or, better yet, upcycle their old t-shirts since it’s a more sustainable way to go. So here are some creative ideas for you to reconsider before throwing anything away.


Plain and Simple

It is impossible for plain white tees to not exist in a person’s wardrobe. Literally, everybody has at least one or two. But these shirts are often the most overlooked pieces of clothing. Old plain white shirts can go a long way with the right help.

Making tie-dye shirts is one of the simplest ways to upcycle white shirts. All you’ll need are some dye and rubber bands. You could even use fruits and vegetables as natural dyes. Just tie your shirts in a particular pattern using the rubber bands and soak them for at least 24 hours in the dye. Wring out any excess water, and you’ll have yourself some groovy looking shirts.

You could also bring them to businesses that do T-shirt screen printing for more detailed designs. All you have to do is provide them with a layout or draft of what you want, and they’ll do the rest. The same can go for any relatively plain shirt, really, even old jerseys or gym apparel. Perfect for adding a little personality to your closet.

Fashion for Your Home

However, if you’ve already outgrown your shirts or don’t really want to wear them anymore, there are still plenty of other uses for them. Home decoration is one of the best avenues to show off your creativity and design sense.

If you’d rather not destroy your old shirts into pieces because of the sentimentality, you could always turn them into a sort of art piece. That way, you’ll still be able to appreciate them visually. For instance, you could cut the main designs or logos of your favorite shirts, nail them onto square pieces of plywood, and lay them out on a larger panel of plywood before hanging the entire thing on your wall. You could show off your favorite teams, your taste in music, and the like with such a simple piece.

For more utility, you could also turn them into throw pillows to display on your sofa. Essentially, you’ll be doing the same thing. Cutting them up into squares, but instead of nailing them, you’ll have to sew the pieces together and eventually fit them over your pillow stuffing. Larger sized shirts would be ideal for this type of project.

Even the smallest parts of a t-shirt, from the collar to the sleeves, can be upcycled in their own ways. Ultimately, there are countless ways for you to repurpose your old shirts, or any piece of clothing really. Jeans, shoes, accessories, you name it. Wanting to live a sustainable lifestyle is a choice you have to make for yourself. In the end, it’ll all be worthwhile.

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