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7 Ways to Resell, Recycle, or Reuse Your Old Jeans

A pair of jeans, scissors, thread, a thimble, and a denim flower brooch on a table.

If you’re cleaning out your closet and have a pile of old jeans to get rid of, you have quite a few options. From donating your denim to transforming it into something else, here are some ways you can unload those old jeans.

Getting rid of old clothes is pretty standard decluttering advice, but with denim, you have even more places that will take it off your hands. Because denim is so durable, a lot of companies will be happy to use that material to make something else.

So next time you’re decluttering your closet, consider one of these options for the jeans you don’t want anymore.

Resell Them to a Secondhand Denim Program

There are many more options for used denim than there used to be. If you’re looking to clear out your closet and get something new in return, a secondhand denim program might be the way to go.

Typically affiliated with both retailers and textile recycling organizations, these programs allow customers to donate their used jeans in exchange for store credit. The jeans are then resold secondhand at a significant discount or reused in other ways.

One such program comes from one of the most popular denim brands. Madewell recently launched Madewell Forever, in partnership with the secondhand clothing company, ThredUP, and Cotton Incorporated.

It’s a simple process:

  1. You take your jeans (whether they’re Madewell brand or not) to any Madewell location. For every pair you donate, you’ll get $20 off your next denim purchase.
  2. ThredUP then evaluates the quality of the jeans. If they’re in good enough condition, they’re put in the “Preloved” shopping section of Madewell Forever’s site if they’re Madewell brand. If they’re not, they’ll go on ThredUP and sold at a discount.
  3. Any jeans that are too worn to be resold are donated to Cotton Incorporated to be turned into housing insulation.

Donate Them to Be Repurposed

A dog in a denim dog bed.
Maria Sidelnikova/Shutterstock.com

If your jeans are too far gone for anyone to wear again (even secondhand), you can donate them to a company that will reuse them as something else.

For example, Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green program can turn anything that’s at least 90% cotton into pet bed cushions, or insulation for homes and buildings, or for packaging temperature-sensitive foods.

Donate Them to a Local Charity

Four pairs of jeans labeled to be kept or donated

Donating your jeans to a local charity is a classic option that’s still a solid choice. Jeans are, by design, long-lasting and hard-wearing pieces of clothing. Unless you’re especially hard on them, or perform manual labor in them, there’s a good chance you’ll tire of your jeans before they actually become unwearable.

By donating your used jeans to charity, you’re freeing up space in your closet, but also helping those in your community. You can donate to a smaller local organization, or find a local chapter of  one of these national charities:

Plenty of people will be delighted to find a decent pair of affordable jeans, especially as most secondhand stores offer higher-quality denim at below box-store prices.

Turn Them into Shorts

If you’re in a crafty mood and want to transform your denim rather than give it away, turn your jeans into shorts. There are plenty of tips, tricks, and patterns online, but you don’t even need in-depth instructions to create a basic pair of shorts.

Check out the tutorial above or follow these simple instructions:

  1. Put on your jeans and mark them with a Sharpie wherever you’d like the bottom of the shorts to fall on your legs
  2. Take them off and double-check the length to ensure it’s even all the way around.
  3. Use a pair of sturdy scissors, preferably, fabric scissors, to cut along the lines you’ve made.
  4. You can either hem the edges or leave them deliberately frayed and distressed.

Another option to consider is shaping the shorts a bit by leaving the inseam sides a bit longer than the outer sides. As you can see in the tutorial above by MakeupByMaddieJohnn, it just takes a few extra minutes and cuts to give your new shorts a little more tailoring and detail!

No matter what, a pair of strong fabric scissors are a must-have, because they’re specifically designed to handle thicker, tougher materials, including denim. The LIVINGO Premium Tailor Scissors, for instance, feature stainless steel blades manufactured for extra strength, coated with titanium to resist rust, and sharp enough to cut through layers of even the toughest materials.

If you’re planning to properly hem your shorts, rather than just leaving the frayed edges, be sure to factor that in and leave some extra material for hemming. The same applies if you want to cuff them at the bottom.

Tip: Throw your “new” shorts straight into the washer, and then tumble-dry them if you want to fray those edges even more.

Turn Them into a Purse

You can keep your denim in your closet by turning it into an accessory! Denim purses have been in and out of fashion for decades, and luckily, they’re back in right now. A handmade denim purse makes a wonderful, quirky accessory for those who love a vintage vibe.

Plus, because you’re making it yourself from your own jeans, you can totally customize it to your taste and personality.

The tutorial above by TaLe Germany provides quick, easy instructions for repurposing an old pair of jeans into a denim crossbody purse with some really cute detailing.

However, if you decide to browse for other tutorials on making a denim purse, look for instructions that primarily involve sewing, rather than gluing, as the method of joining the pieces. Not only will it look nicer, but it will also last longer!

Make a Rug or Tapestry

If you love the colors and textures of denim, then incorporating it into your home décor can be a great way to recycle old jeans. The varied washes, textures, and layers of denim can translate into an easy-to-personalize textile piece for your walls or floor.

This is a colorful, creative option for jeans that have no life left in them.

In Craft Hour’s tutorial above, old jeans of varied washes are cut and torn into long strips or “ribbons.” They’re then tied together to make longer strands. With the assistance of large knitting needles, they’re literally knitted together the same way yarn would be.

A crochet hook then joins in to help attach smaller pieces to create a fringe effect. The final product is a colorful tapestry that can work as a rug or a wall hanging.

Craft Them into a Stuffed Animal

Give your old jeans an adorable new life as a small stuffed animal! You don’t even have to be super crafty to take on one of these projects. All you really need is some patience and basic sewing skills.

There are plenty of patterns out there, but we love the teddy bear tutorial above by DIY HandyMum Lin TV. The upcycling tutorial (which comes with its own templates) involves both reused denim and a bit of patterned extra fabric of your choice.

After some handy stitching and stuffing with cotton batting, the end result is a sweet stuffed animal you can customize in several ways.

As you can see, if you’re looking to get rid of or reuse your old denim, there are plenty of ways you can do so, especially if you wanna get crafty. Just be prepared for everyone to ask where you got that adorable “new” denim purse.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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