Catching up with Upcycle LA’s Tabitha Vogelsong

Photo courtesy of Upcycle LA

It takes five water bottles make one Upcycle L.A. T-shirt. The brand spent two years of research and development to figure out how to convert water bottles into yarn as part of its mission to make sustainability attainable for all.

“How can the cost of a T-shirt be less than the cost of coffee?” That is one of many questions that motivated Tabitha Vogelsong, vice president of branding and sales at Upcycle, to launch her brand.

“We saw a problem,” Vogelsong said. “We saw how much water is used in the production of cotton and wanted to find a way to save the water, as people need the water to survive.”

The brand only uses recycled resources instead of new ones, converting water bottles into polyester or cotton. Cotton takes a ton of water to grow. The world is covered in water; however, only about 2% is fresh water, and only about 1% is available on the Earth’s surface. Over 80% of available water already goes to agriculture in the United States.

“The more this business grows, I’m not only helping other brands, I’m helping the environment,” Vogelsong said. “Everyone who is invested and signs up to do business with Upcycle is helping offset their footprint. You are creating recycling streams to keep water bottles out of landfills and the ocean.”

Vogelsong credits her previous post at American Apparel as the best education in the apparel industry, since the company was — at least in its heyday — proving that you can have a successful “Made in the U.S.A.” brand. To join American Apparel, you had to pass the test of knowing every product. Vogelsong wanted to continue the movement while adding the element of sustainability.

“It’s more than apparel,” she said, “I make clothing from recycled water bottles. I go into other businesses to figure out how to create a recycling stream to make sure their waste goes into the stream that I get my textiles from.”

Upcycle carries key items in stock and is always ready to ship, so partner brands don’t need to worry about fit or the availability of the yarn. At Magic Las Vegas, Upcycle offered screen printing demos and received inquiries from larger companies looking to incorporate sustainability into their mix.

The brand keeps all production within a five-mile radius. Everything is cut, sewn and shipped at its downtown L.A. factory. Inside that office is a wall-sized posted of a model dressed head-to-toe in Upcycle, which equates to 30 water bottles.

“If everyone does 1% or 10% better to reduce waste, the landfills will contain less harmful waste,” Vogelsong said. “Our goal is to leave a legacy of building a better world. How we do our part is through apparel and educating the consumers.”

As the brand’s manager, Vogelsong shops based on quality and timelessness.

“I wish I could tell you I have an elaborate couture house designing all this,” she said. “However, I handle the sales and branding development. I try to understand what’s possible with recycled components, how it translates into fabric and drape on a garment. And keeping things basic is important in fashion — to curate your closet.”

The tour ended with a look at Upcycle’s “beanie machine,” which converts scraps into fabric to make beanies.

“When you go shopping, I’d like for people to question whether they will have that in their closet in 10 years from now,” Vogelsong said. “If your answer is no, re-think about purchasing it.”

Vogelsong’s drive to make the planet better comes from her two sons. She hopes to instill the values in her kids and the next generation.

“Everything in my life, I try to give the best version of me,” she said. “My kids don’t want Upcycle mom that is saving the planet, even though they get what I do; they want mom. I’m conscious of everything I do and I give it my best version of me.”