The Upcycler

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photo by Sarah Whiting

Kristen McCoy, known to friends as “The Upcycler,” has a simple mission: to rescue used garments from the landfill and invigorate them with new life. She has even adopted a superhero persona, and released a  series of short videos on Facebook titled “The Adventures of the Upcycler.”

“Everyone has garments in the closet that they can’t let go of, but can’t wear,” she explains. “Those are the garments I love to rescue: family hand-me-downs, rad secondhand finds, your ripped favorite jeans.”

Currently, clients contact McCoy over email, sending her messages with subjects like “old beloved hoodie” or “teeny tiny vintage dress.” McCoy’s first brick-and-mortar storefront will open in early 2020, called reTHINK Tailoring, in Minneapolis. She hopes the shop will foster a community for those passionate about clothing reuse and sustainable fashion.

McCoy recalls one client who brought in her grandfather’s old cigar jacket. He had recently passed away, and she wanted to wear the jacket to his memorial. When the client came in for a fitting, an oversized bright red men’s jacket hung loosely on her shoulders. McCoy saw something completely different, or at least, the fashion ghost of what could be. She redesigned the jacket into a fitted vest with a peplum in the back.

“I can’t even describe how much joy I had watching her see the finished design for the first time,” McCoy says.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans send more than 11 million tons of textile waste to the landfill every year, and the main source of textiles in municipal solid waste is discarded clothing. Upcyclers, like McCoy, hope to make a dent in that number.

After her daughter was born, McCoy took time away from tailoring to invent a line of re-sizeable  baby  clothing  “to  battle  what I felt was one of the most wasteful parts of the fashion industry,” she explains, “[baby] garments are outgrown so quickly and aren’t made to last because they don’t need to.”

In November 2019, Hennepin County discontinued their clothing recycling collection. In response, McCoy and a network of other upcyclers have begun accepting these donations. McCoy also plans to offer sewing and repair classes at her soon-to-be storefront. “By teaching others we can get somewhere a whole heck of a lot faster.”


Where to donate used clothing

• Read/listen to this NPR story: “The best thing you can do is not buy more stuff”

Joseph’s Coat: A free store that accepts new and lightly used clothing. josephscoatmn.org

• Goodwill: A national chain of thrift stores that accept used clothing and accessories. goodwill.org

•Buffalo Exchange: A consignment shop that buys used clothing. You can also trade your used clothing for items in the store. buffaloexchange.com

• Arc’s Value Village: A Minnesota-based thrift store chain, accepting gently used clothing. arcsvaluevillage.org

• Savers: A global thrift retailer accepting donations on behalf of local nonprofits. savers.com

Where to donate rags or unwearable clothing

Eureka Recycling accepts worn and torn clothing, as long as it is clean and dry. Local animal shelters often accept rag garments and use them to make beds for the animals. eurekarecycling.org

Where to fix household items

•Hennepin County Fix-It Clinics are monthly opportunities for free guided assistance in disassembling, troubleshooting, and repairing household items. tinyurl.com/MWPFixIt

•Minneapolis Leather and Vinyl Repair repairs scuffs, scratches, gouges, scrapes, rips, tears, color fading, and water-damaged leather furniture. wecanfixthat.com/minneapolis

•Michael’s Lamp Studio repairs lamps, lampshades, mirrors, wall art, and clocks. michaelslamps.com

• Niola Furniture Upholstery & Restoration specializes in dining room, wall, and sofa reupholstery. niolafurniture.com

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