Recycling is a big deal in Okinawa. It's a small island and managing waste is a part of the lifestyle. While I was there, not only did I have to sort my trash, but I also had to ensure that bottles were rinsed and placed in clear bags, while bottle caps were sorted into another. Therefore, when I say it's a big deal, it's not an exaggeration. It really is a big deal. This practice also applies to clothing. Thrift shops that resell all kinds of products ranging from apparel to home goods can be found all over the southern, most metropolitan part of the island. The desire to own or disown used clothing is so customary in fact, that many of the larger shops are open for 24 hours.
Personally, I've never been drawn to vintage shopping. I've always found the price of goods at vintage shops to be somewhat questionable. Okinawa, however, is a vintage shopper's dream and a great way to introduce a skeptic like me to the benefits of wearing what was essentially someone else's clothing. The best part is, the items in the shops were reasonably priced. Case in point, I bought the most beautiful and well-made vintage suede coat for only 40 USD. I'm no expert on the matter, but I'm pretty certain that was a great deal for an old coat.
In addition, it seems the prevalence of thrift shops has led to a cottage industry consisting of repurposed clothing. Especially, repurposed clothing made out of old jeans. Makes perfect sense when you think about it. Denim is one of the most durable fabrics and therefore the easiest to recycle. Many small, no-name shops collect used jeans and create something altogether new. Some of the best items I saw throughout my entire vacation were created in this way. Sometimes the denim was used head to toe to produce a new item. For example, denim button-downs were updated with embroidery details, hand drawn prints or had large swathes of printed fabric sewn onto them. My favorites were the prints of old Life Magazine photographs on the front or back of the button-downs. It's a clever way to introduce a new generation to the iconic Life Magazine while adding character to a basic item. If I hadn't spent so much money in the mall (ugh) I would have bought one, but I digress. In other cases, I found that the old jean was broken down into strips of varying sizes and used to add creative patchwork details such as lettering on other articles of vintage clothing.
The idea of recycling or repurposing denim isn't unheard of in the States. There are several brands that are trying to popularize this concept, rebranding it as upcycling. In spite of all the coverage and attention upcycling has gotten, it still has been slow to catch on. In Okinawa, however, it's a time-tested process and they are expert at making the old look new…and cooler.