Five questions with Danny Calero, clothes upcycling supremo!

Photo of Danny Calero

Five questions with Danny Calero, clothes upcycling supremo!

I recently found out about Danny Calero (@dannnycalero), a clothes upcycling designer based in Tacoma, Washington. He started creating upcycled designs last year as a hobby and it’s amazing to see the interest he’s received in just a year since he started!

I’m fascinated to learn more about what he does. We always talk about upcycling being a great option on Good Maker Tales, but here is someone upcycling clothes as a business and just seeing roaring success!

Booming interest in upcycled fashion

Danny’s Instagram account has grown to over 36,000 followers since he started and it reached a staggering 850,000 accounts in the last month alone! As he puts it himself, “social media has proven to me that what I’m doing is catching fire” and “it has climbed to levels beyond my imagination”!

Everything he creates is hand-stitched and completely exclusive. AND, his items have been selling before he can even finish them!

We are in love with Danny's collection!
Examples of Danny Calero's upcycled pants
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Images courtesy of Danny Calero

In our recent article 101 ethical & sustainable fashion statistics and trends 2022, we reported that as of 2021 there had been a 117% yearly increase in demand for upcycled, recycled, repurposed and reworked items. Not only that but a 321% year on year increase in searches for “upcycled jeans”!

The benefits of upcycled fashion

It’s great to see the upcycled clothes market “catching fire” as Danny said. Not only does upcycled fashion save unwanted clothes from landfill, but it stops us from buying new clothes made from virgin and often unsustainable raw materials. 

By investing in these special and unique pieces of art, we reduce our carbon footprint and emissions at the same time. And we help reduce the fashion industry’s environmental impact caused by things like water pollution, textile waste and use of natural resources. 

It also gives us a new relationship with our clothes. Upcycled fashion aficionados can enjoy an appreciation for their special unique piece that they would never get for a rock bottom cheap t-shirt, shirt, dress or pretty much anything from a fast-fashion brand.

In the world of fashion overconsumption, overproduction and the huge clothing waste crisis in which we find ourselves, having a newfound appreciation for our clothes is essential for us to get out of this mess. And Danny is proving that people are fed up with the status quo and are craving this special relationship.

I truly believe sustainable fashion is the future. There is nothing better than owning a one of a kind piece that is not only fashionable but also good for the environment.

Even big fashion names such as Stella McCartney, Eileen Fisher and Urban Outfitters are getting in on the act of taking old items and recycling them into new designs. It only has to be a matter of time before other fashion brands cotton on to the benefits of using upcycled materials if they really want to be part of the circular economy. 

So Danny has decided to expand his reach and is launching his new website the first half of May 2022. 

But what about the upcycling process, what’s the best way to do it? Do I have to be an expert in fashion design, do I have to use vintage fabric or just any old garments and where do I find them?

If you’re looking to start your own clothes upcycling business or just fancy having a go to create some new clothing for yourself, he has some great advice:

The interview

How do I get started with upcycling?

Upcycling is simply taking something that is no longer in use and giving it a second life

Anyone can get started with upcycling! It is all about finding something you are passionate about and creating a new life for it whether it is clothes, furniture, or appliances. In my specific case, I take old clothes from goodwill, vintage shops, garage sales, or donations from friends and sew them together in order for them to create a new life.

Fast fashion is becoming less and less popular, so I truly believe sustainable fashion is the future. There is nothing better than owning a one of a kind piece that is not only fashionable but also good for the environment.

Examples of Danny Calero's upcycled clothes North Face gilet

Do I need a sewing machine for upcycling?

A sewing machine is not required when it comes to upcycling clothes. Upcycling is simply taking something that is no longer in use and giving it a second life. If you want to upcycle clothes, just going through goodwill or a yard sale then wearing those new pieces counts as upcycling. For my business specifically, I need to use a sewing machine because that is what makes my pieces unique and/or functional.

What is your favourite piece to upcycle?

My favourite piece to upcycle is a flannel shirt because there are so many ways to style that piece. You can extend the sleeves, add pockets/zippers, crop the length, bleach parts of it, or even cut and sew them with other flannels. It is a perfect piece that can be worn around the house or even year-round in most parts of the world.

My favourite article to upcycle is an old fishing vest. These can be sewn onto tops such as hoodies or crewnecks and the pockets make them super functional too. Don’t be surprised if one of my future collections revolves around the theme of fishing vests 🙂

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What is your vision for your brand for the rest of 2022?

I hope to launch at least four more collections, while continuing to improve my designing skills. The website will be up the first half of May. I am hoping to make custom pieces for more musicians, actors, or other artists.

My dream would be to collaborate with brands such as Madhappy, Frankiecollective, and Carhartt WIP. Ultimately, I just want to inspire others to create and chase their passion.

What is your advice to people who want to start a small business?

There is no better time to start a small upcycling clothes business than 2022

Something I learned quickly was that with social media no one is out of reach and the room for growth is exponential. That being said, if you believe in your product just post consistently on Instagram and TikTok. As you continue to post the following will come.

There is no better time to start a small upcycling clothes business than 2022. If anyone reading this has any questions about my story please don’t hesitate to reach out.

So if you think upcycling second-hand clothes is the next big thing like Danny does (we do) or want to start your own recycled clothing brand, get in touch with him, he’s waiting to hear from you. You can find him @dannnycalero (yes 3 n’s!), or on his new website from early-mid May 2022 and we’d love to know what you think too, post your comments below…

* Danny is also raffling off one of his pieces and donating the proceeds to the Jed Foundation. It’s a great organisation centred around young people and mental health. Find out more on his Instagram account.


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