How Fashion Is Transforming Clothes Waste into Wearable Clothing

How Fashion Is Transforming Clothes Waste into Wearable Clothing | MakersValley Blog
Chastiny Walker

Chastiny Walker

Huge factories and massive land waste are impacting the Earth at an increasingly dramatic rate. We collectively dump about 2.12 billion in waste annually, but how much of this is old clothing? 

The average American throws away about 81 pounds of clothing each year, and most of that clothing will arrive in the landfills where it will produce methane as it decomposes. However, if it doesn’t end up in a landfill, it will likely end up in some other litter heap on land or in the ocean. Fortunately, with the help of some fashion brands and fashion recycling companies, garments are now able to be reused rather than wasted. These companies are now seeking businesses and individuals who can donate unwanted clothing and materials to help Earth become a little cleaner.

Man laying in trashFast Fashion: Recycling The Old

Fast fashion allows brands to create looks based on the catwalk and produce them at a lower cost. While this arm of the fashion industry has consistently grown the number of products produced and purchased, it’s also increased the amount of old clothing becoming trash.  

Fashion brands and individuals will always look for new ideas and trends, so fast fashion will probably never die out anytime soon. But, what can fast and luxury fashion brands do to minimize the impact their waste has on the planet? One tactic is to reduce clothing waste by recycling old, unwanted clothing and turning it into something new and fashionable.

Pile of garbage

Clothing companies like FABSCRAP save thrown-away clothing from landfills and even work with other brands to seek solutions to leftover material waste. They keep the textiles and save buttons, zippers, and leather from clothing. FABSCRAP then separates the unusable fabrics and materials from the usable and are able to sell approximately 60% of the material to fashion brands and individuals looking for materials.

Old Clothing’s Second Life: Fine Fiber & New Clothing

Mattress stuffing

While fashion recycling companies' sanitation of material may come before or after the process of dismantling zippers, buttons, leather pieces, stickers, and more from the garment, some of them work transform old clothing into mattress stuffing instead of new garment materials.

In Italy, some fashion recycling companies sell fine fluffy fibers that come from shredded recycled clothing fabric to mattress makers. First, the recycling factory receives donated clothing and clothing that is too old for charity shops from around the world. Next, it sorts the clothing by color and material and dismantles the clothing. Next, it cleans impurities from the material using a sanitizing machine. After the clothing is sanitized, it is sent to a washing machine, then shredded into fine pieces and dried. Finally, after the material is made into mattress filling, it is separated by material and color and then put into a tray waiting for an order to fulfill.

Shredded clothingLarge fashion companies that recycle old fabric, like H&M, use a similar process. In their case, they partner with a recycling and processing facility based in Hong Kong. 

Other fashion brands use a similar process to turn old clothing and accessories fibers into fibers that can be used to create new clothing. This process works similarly to the recycling process for mattress stuffing, however, after the shedding stage, the factory mixes in extra cotton fiber to strengthen the material. After that material is strengthened and fused in a machine, it will become a fiber web. From there, the factory transfers it to a machine that will bunch the fibers to make it into ply yarn for a new garment. 

At this point, this process takes about three or more days to complete enough material to manufacture one piece of apparel. However, hopefully more businesses will find it worthwhile to invest in this process to make it easier and more efficient to factor into their supply chains.

Popular Recyclable Fabrics

Clothes on clothing rack

Recycling companies that source and produce garment and textile goods report that their most popular materials to work with include cotton, wool, and even polyester, a common fast fashion material

Here are two reason why recycled cotton works well:

  1. Cotton is eco-friendly because it is biodegradable, renewable, and sustainable
  2. Cotton offers the largest fiber supply

As for wool:

  1. Wool is soft and durable when used in clothing
  2. It is a breathable material

Thirdly, polyester is a popular material choice among fashion recycling companies because:

  1. Lots of garments are made from polyester
  2. Polyester is also made from plastic. Plastic is also found in landfills and oceans, so sourcing and recycling plastic materials to make into fabric allows brands to reduce that amount of plastic litter polluting the Earth and its oceans.

Fashion Brands That Sell Recycled Clothing 

Fashion recycling is slowly becoming part of the fashion world, but do individuals, and other brands know which fashion companies recycle old clothing? Here are a few transparent brands and how they work with recycled garments.

  • H&M – H&M asks customers to donate clothing and offers customers who purchase Conscious clothing items from their stores the chance to receive extra membership points.
  • Levi – Customers can receive $5–$35 for trading in old clothing depending on how old it is.
  • Reformation – Customers can ship unwanted clothing to Reformation, which in turn ships the clothes to other parts of the world to be recycled. They even allow customers to track and see where their donations go and when they arrive.
  • North Face – Customers who donate unwanted clothing here receive $10 dollars off on their next purchase of $100 dollars or higher.

Now that clothing brands are integrating old clothing and other materials from landfills into their fabric sourcing process, donating clothing is one way their customers can have an impact on making the Earth clean. It is time for other brands to do their part, and help customers do theirs, to help the Earth survive. When individuals and fashion brands collaborate to reduce, reuse, and recycle clothing and leftover material in fashion companies, they can create a new look with old fabric and drive positive consumer sentiment from an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base.

clothes in a boutique

Learn More

Interested in recycled fashion? Check out our blog on how fashion brands can reuse old garments to make new ones.

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