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4 Things You Need to Know About Recycling in Fashion


How the Fashion Industry is Turning to Recycling Textile Waste

The world’s fashion addiction has undoubtedly had major negative impacts and consequences on the environment, with the fashion industry being the second largest polluter in the world. New clothes are being made at an alarming rate that consumers just can’t keep up with, leading to both old garments and new garments ending up in landfills before their time.

The clothing industry’s impact and carbon footprint have quickly become serious topics that endanger lives, and so we’re happy to see the growing rise of sustainable fashion that gives new life to old clothes and other textiles, creates jobs with liveable wages and conditions, and overall shows us a system wherein a circular economy, or a closed-loop of raw materials, natural fibres, and sustainable materials are circulated and regenerated, can become the norm.

One aspect of sustainable fashion that has become key in fighting against textile waste is recycling. So many usable fabrics, raw materials, and even new materials get discarded, and many sustainable brands are turning to recycling as their main source to reuse and give new life to unwanted clothes and create today things that we can continue wearing for a long time. 

Here are the reasons why recycling is the future of fashion, and how you can do it yourself.

What is Recycling and Upcycling in Fashion?

Recycling and upcycling in fashion have different meanings, but both are of equal importance in conserving fabric and used apparel. Upcycling refers to reusing the same fabric and turning it into something else, while recycling entails breaking materials and fabrics down and reconstituting them into something else, either through mechanical recycling or chemical recycling.

While recycling and upcycling have become buzzwords within the clothing industry for the past few years and have had an incredibly powerful business effect, convincing many consumers that their clothes made with reused materials like recycled cashmere and recycled polyester improve sustainability and combat waste production, the truth is that many big fashion brands oversell their recycling initiatives.

How Much of the Material Used for Clothing Gets Recycled?

Currently, only 12% of the material used in the clothing production supply chain is given new life for recycling purposes. In the US, only 13.6% of clothes and shoes thrown away end up being recycled, despite the average American throwing away 37 kg of clothes every year. In fact, recycling clothes has a lower percentage than that of recycled plastic bottles, paper, and glass, with the latter having recycling rates of 66%, 27%, and 29% respectively.

Sustainable fashion brands and major individual designers like North Face, Stella McCartney, and Bethany Williams, among many others, however, are attempting to shift this narrative that fast fashion has created and are finding new and innovative ways to permanently integrate upcycling and recycling technologies and waste collection in their garment production, turning what would otherwise be garbage today into a high-quality product tomorrow.

What Are the Recycled Materials Used for in Fashion?

Thanks to modern-day innovations and technology, recycling clothing textiles and materials has become a more sustainable and circular model that many brands are picking up and solely utilising in the creation of their garments. Collected clothing and other items like discarded shoes are broken down to create reconstituted, new materials to create a new line of cloth. 

Sustainable textiles and recycled synthetic materials taken from unwanted clothing are used regularly by brands to create new clothing in replacement of virgin material, which is depleting our natural resources unnecessarily. In addition to using sustainably sourced materials for their textiles like organic cotton, brands, such as those in the European Union, are moving towards prioritising the use of textiles like recycled polyester, nylon/polyamide, cotton, wool, and polycotton in their value chain.

How Can I Recycle My Clothing?

Donate and Buy Second-Hand Clothes

Just because used clothing is used doesn’t mean that no one else can reuse it. Donating and buying garments second-hand is one of the most popular methods to recycle and gives a circular life to fashion and fabric. 

Becoming a regular of thrift stores is a fantastic way to support local communities and abstain from the unsustainable cycle of fast fashion. In addition to giving your own unwanted clothing to those that do want them, you also at the same time get to find new clothing for yourself like a unique t-shirt or fun pair of trousers that you’ve saved from becoming waste.

Give Your Clothes A Different, Functional Purpose

Instead of throwing your unwanted home textiles directly into the bin, you can find practical uses for that fabric outside of wear. Many people turn their old t-shirts into cleaning cloths and other clothing like denim into bags. Old garments like t-shirts, socks, trousers, and more that you can no longer reuse or wear can also turn into your next art project like a patchwork quilt or rug. Whatever you’re wearing today can easily turn into something useful later on.

Donate Your Clothes to Brand Initiatives

If you do enjoy buying new clothing from larger brands, consider shopping from places that have initiatives to save and recycle your garment. Bigger brand names like Patagonia, North Face, Bethany Williams, and many others have textile donation programs that keep your clothes from turning into waste, and instead, be recycled and turned into brand new products. 

Best of all, you also get incentives like discounts for every garment you donate and have recycled by these brands, so shopping from these types of companies can also serve as a bit of an investment for those that do support the recycle movement.

Slippers have been making their way outside of the home these past two years, and that includes clogs. We’re loving how these comfy shoes have turned into dual-purpose footwear, easily making their way from home to a party seamlessly. Faux fur clogs are a practical statement shoe you can wear all winter long.

Final Note

While fashion’s impact on the planet has turned into a detrimental problem that threatens everyone, there is still hope for reversing its effects. Recycling in fashion is one aspect of sustainability that is helping reduce unnecessary waste and creating a circular economy that benefits everyone involved in the long term. 

If you have something you no longer deem wearable, consider creating something new out of it, donating it, or having it recycled to help contribute to a bigger cause.

Ellora Sharma

Ellora Sharma is a 26-year-old fashionmonger from Leeds. She discovered her love for fashion through the many intricate and flashy designs found in the Bollywood films she religiously watched when she was younger (and continues to watch to this day). She has since developed an affinity for colourful and distinctive clothing, and loves to experiment with her style on the daily. She wants to help others find the same kind of joy and fun in clothing as she has.

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