Sustainable Fashion 101: Recycled Fabrics

Reduce, reuse, recycle never looked this good.
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Welcome back to our Sustainable Fashion 101 column! I'm so excited to be reporting on recycled fabrics today, one form of re-purposed clothing and another stellar option for sustainable shopping.

Recycled fabrics can actually refer to two quite different things, either fabrics made from recycled plastics like water bottles, or those made from discarded clothing scraps. Both are useful, effective, and exciting! Let's break it down.

Old Fabrics to New

In 2015, the total textile waste in the US was 16,030,000 tons - and only 2,450,000 tons of that were recycled or composted! Where does the rest go? Much of this waste clothing contributes to our landfills, taking up almost 5% of all landfill space in the US.

What about your closet clean-out? You've finally sorted through your wardrobe and picked out the bits you'll never wear again (hopefully not from last season!), then distributed it to your local charity.

In reality, 10-20% of that clothing is sieved for quality, which thrift stores can then use and sell. The rest - 30% are made into industrial rags, and 20% are down-cycled for use in carpets, insulation, etc. - doesn't become a brand new t-shirt. The fibers in fabrics like cotton, rayon, tencel, and modal at this point have become too worn out to be re-purposed like this.

The cloth that is used actually comes from the scraps of fabric-cutting rooms in clothing factories. Here, the cotton (also termed "post-industrial") is still durable enough to be recycled, though not without the addition of stronger and softer recycled polyester - more on that below!

So while it might not be the recycled cotton you think, the act of saving what would become waste is always a plus for the environment.

Plus, recycling any of your old clothes is already saving the landfills of valuable space. Check out FabScrap to learn how to recycle clothing scraps if you happen to be in the industry, and this helpful article by Recycle Nation for what to do with unwanted clothing!

Plastic Bottles Can Do So Much More

Most of our plastic water bottles are made from PET, or polyester, the same fiber in a lot of our clothing! This makes the connection quite easy.

Recycled water bottles are cleaned, sorted, shredded, melted, and then finally spun into a thin fiber yarn that can be woven into wearable polyester. It's the amount of processing that determines how soft the final product feels.

Because of that, it's so important to recycle when you're done with a drink, or better yet, to find a reusable water bottle! The plastic you're discarding could come back in a cute skirt on the rack in no time, and save a ton of resources in the meanwhile.

Recycled polyester can also be woven into recycled cotton, as we mentioned before. This makes the process of recycling old fabric scraps possible from the get-go!

Totally check out Ecoalf, a Spanish fashion brand that focuses on developing recycled fabrics from not only plastic bottles, but old tires, fishing nets, and the works!

Seaqual is also doing some inspiring work in upcycling plastic from the ocean into polyester yarn, so they're cleaning up and repurposing all in one process!

What do you think?

Excited about recycled fabrics? Will you try buying recycled clothing in the future? Or - is it in your closet already? Know any great brands that use recycled fabrics? We'd love to know more. Stop by in the comments to connect with us!

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