A woman seen in profile lifts a semi-transparent trash bag filled with clothes into a large metal recycling container. The woman has dark hair pulled back into a bun and she's wearing a black-and-white crop top. The recycling container is taller than the woman and about the same width as a Dumpster. It's colored dark gray, except for the wide disposal opening, which is orange.
Only about 1% of discarded clothing is actually recycled. Some small businesses aim to expand recycling by reusing fabrics and other materials in their products. — Getty Images/Elva Etienne

The fashion industry produces over 100 billion garments each year with only about 1% of them being recycled upon disposal. These independent artisans have proven that there’s a way to make more sustainable clothing and accessories through the “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy.

Zero Waste Daniel

Daniel Silverstein, a New York–based conscientious clothing designer, is the force behind Zero Waste Daniel (ZWD). Using pre-consumer waste and hard-to-recycle materials, ZWD strives to avoid sending anything to landfills. All of the scraps ZWD sources have never been previously used or worn and are fashioned into distinctive patterns.

ZWD’s closed-loop production system and patchwork technique called ReRoll ensures that all scraps are kept until they’ve been used. Silverstein told Global Garbs, “we have saved literal tons of scrap material from hitting landfills in the greater New York area.” The ReRoll process also dictates unique fabric placement so no two garments are exactly alike. Nevertheless, ZWD assures consumers that what they receive in the mail will be similar to what they order online.

ZWD opened its first shop in 2017 but pivoted to e-commerce during the pandemic. Silverstein decided to open up shop again in Brooklyn this year.

Psychic Outlaw

Years of making clothes for herself led Rebecca Wright of Austin, Texas, to salvage vintage fabrics and create one-of-a-kind pieces under the label Psychic Outlaw. Wright and her team find vintage quilts and bandanas at rag houses and turn them into dresses, outerwear, and matching sets. By repurposing these discarded items, Psychic Outlaw is part of the zero waste movement and is giving these textiles “at least two new chances at life.”

Carrying this mentality into each design, the seamstresses utilize every last scrap. That means using the bits and pieces leftover from a quilted jacket to make a bucket hat, fanny pack, or even Christmas stockings. “Nothing goes to waste in our studio. We save the tiniest of scraps to make our holiday ornaments,” said the Head of Photography Mikaela Friedman.

Psychic Outlaw offers a ready-made collection on its website. Alternatively, customers can choose a style and mail in their heirloom quilts or bandanas that hold sentimental value.

Assemblage Studio

Centered around the preservation of the historical significance certain textiles hold, Assemblage Studio repurposes vintage military and workwear garb into one-of-a-kind pieces. Emma Stubbs founded this sustainable slow fashion brand after graduating college in 2021.

Having grown up in the Midwest, Stubbs draws inspiration from the industrial, rugged, and worn. She finds discarded or damaged military uniforms, denim, feed sacks, quilts, and blankets to clean, mend, and incorporate into unique designs. As an independent designer, Stubbs makes all of the garments by hand in her Michigan sewing studio.

All of the materials, including zippers and buttons, are ethically sourced and each design is unisex. Through thoughtful and intentional construction, Assemblage Studio revives these unwanted remnants without producing any excess waste.

ZWD’s closed-loop production system and patchwork technique called ReRoll ensures that all scraps are kept until they’ve been used.


Cled is a jewelry brand based in Los Angeles that upcycles donated wine bottles from local restaurants into sleek, minimalistic rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Knowing that less than 35% of glass actually gets recycled in the United States, Founder Seulye Jo felt it was the most ecological material to use without compromising quality or purity.

Seulye Jo was drawn to design from a young age, and her love of animals catalyzed a need to depart from traditional jewelry-making methods. Counter to industry standards, she doesn’t use any plastic or animal materials. Staying true to sustainability efforts, Cled also only sources recycled solid sterling silver and as much secondhand or refurbished equipment as possible.

Jo chose the name Cled as an homage to the brand’s roots (the last syllable of recycled and upcycled), for its simple yet luxurious sound, and as a short form of “conscious lifestyle, earth friendly, and ethical design.” With circularity at its core, everything is earth friendly, renewable, handmade in downtown LA, and cruelty free.

Sage Silver Jewelry

Danielle Ortiz of Sage Silver Jewelry has been handcrafting jewelry since 2014. Her main mediums are billiard balls, slag glass, turquoise, vintage or antique dice, and any other nontraditional items she can repurpose.

Possibly her most unique material choice is old billiard balls. Ortiz collects them from flea markets, garage sales, or generous customers. She then transforms them into cuff bracelets, bolo ties, belt buckles, jumbo safety pins, money clips, shoelace plates, and even inlays for lighter sleeves. In an effort to waste as little as possible, she fuses any leftover scraps into ombre rings or builds pendants of beloved cartoon characters. She recently started making custom etched pendants out of vintage cue balls, too.

As a one-woman show, Sage Silver Jewelry restocks each Saturday based on the pieces Ortiz has crafted that week.


Ben Ross and Jeff Plotner partnered up in 2007 to launch Brackish, a feathered bow tie line that honors nature. This journey began after Ross designed and gifted turkey feather bow ties to his groomsmen, one of whom was Plotner. After receiving dozens of compliments on his tie, Plotner quit law school to turn this into a full-fledged operation.

While Plotner manages the administrative aspects, Ross helms the creative side of things. Drawn to feathers at a young age, Ross began upcycling this organic by-product by incorporating them into his own fishing flies and arrow fletchings. He attributes his artful eye to his mother, with whom he grew up arranging flowers. “She taught me to find beauty in the details,” he said.

With such a reverence for plumage, Brackish obtains its feathers from molting in nature or purchases them from free-range farmers. Eight people spend about four to five hours on each piece to ensure that the repurposing process is handled with care and respect.

Primarily a men’s accessories line, Brackish makes feathered lapels, belt buckles, and cummerbunds. In 2019, the company expanded to offer women’s jewelry. Plans for the future include purses, hats, and even home goods.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.