In a world of excess, innovation comes not just in designing something new and different, but also designing something new and different with something old. In this case, textile waste. In just 20 years, our taste for fast fashion has doubled our textile waste; today the average American discards around 70 pounds of textiles per year, the majority of it ending up in landfills.
Faced with the mounting issue of textile waste, designers and entrepreneurs are rethinking our discards, changing how we think about waste and what we do with it. From mending apparel to turning it from old to new to recycling garment waste into renewable fiber, these 10 companies are showing the rest of the industry what can be done when we rethink products and resources that otherwise would have been destined for the rubbish bin.
Of all the textile waste that is generated, only a very small percentage of it is recycled. Stacy Flynn launched Evrnu to provide a solution, developing technology to recycle cotton garment waste and turn it into an entirely new fiber. The new fiber, made by first converting cotton garment waste into a pulp, is finer than silk and stronger than cotton, but more importantly, not only reduces overall textile waste, but creates an entirely new resource to designers and fashion brands.
Recycling textiles isn’t always simple, but Fabscrap wants to change that. Aimed at designers and fashion brands in New York City, Fabscrap simplifies the textile recycling process, providing pickup services for textile waste. The fabric that is collected is then available to anyone who is interested in using it – from designers to quilters – and can both be purchased in the New York City warehouse, as well as larger pieces which are available online.
Using technology to innovate, Etology is leading the way in incorporating information technology to help us to better facilitate what happens at the end of its lifecycle, and beyond. Using Radio Frequency Identification Tags, Etology creates “smart products,” these smart items can do a variety of things, from informing the upcycling of textiles to automating sorting textiles. In this way, Etology applies a regenerative approach to the supply chain, taking advantage of the potential of technology to help us in not simply sending textiles to the landfill, but to better put them to use.
For individuals, recycling garments can be a complex process, and it’s often easier to simply throw an old item of clothing into the rubbish bin than it is to find somewhere to dispose of it properly. Wearable Collections does for textile waste what compost pickup does for food scraps, placing collection bins for textiles in apartment buildings. Individuals can request bins and can also sign up to host textile collection drives, helping to keep textile waste out of landfills and repurpose it instead.
Reroll by Zero Waste Daniel
With Zero Waste Daniel, designer Daniel Silverstein launched the world’s first zero waste fashion line, all made from 100% pre-consumer cutting room scraps. Using these scraps that otherwise would have been destined for the landfill, the result is bright and fun designs which are striking as they are sustainable.
The Renewal Workshop
Minor defects (like broken zippers and seam tears) can keep a garment from making it out of the factory, presenting brands with the problem of not only waste, but unsold goods. Thanks to the recently launched Renewal Workshop, now those brands have a place to go. Refurbishing apparel, Renewal Workshop brings “renewed” garments to the marketplace, providing conscious customers with an alternative to traditional items, and providing a sustainable channel for brands to ensure that they minimize their overall waste.
Even when designing with textile waste as a resource, there is still a certain about of waste in the production process. Designing textiles out of waste from garment factories in Cambodia, Tonlé wanted to eliminate this final 2-3% of waste to make their company truly zero waste. All of the small scraps of fabric that aren’t used in their designs are used to make recycled paper, which is in turn used to create the Tonlé hangtags.
With Ecotec, Italian company Marchi & Fildi developed not only a recycled yarn, made from pre-dyed cotton textile clippings from fashion houses, but also a traceable yarn. Made in Italy, the textile-waste-turned-yarn can be used in everything from clothing to upholstery to carpeting. Because it is all pre-dyed, production of the yarn also consumes 77.9 percent less water than similar textiles, thereby increasing its positive impact. Marchi & Fildi produce several different yarns which incorporate the Ecotec fiber.
While most of us focus on fashion waste in the form of garments, accessories are another culprit. Trmtab works to source leather scraps from production facilities in India, specifically the leather trims that are the byproduct of leather goods production, and turns them into woven and chevron stitched accessories like wallets and clutches.
Patagonia has long been a leader in sustainable textiles, and they were the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to incorporate recycled plastic bottles into their line of fleece products, back in 1993. Today they work with their factories to repurpose cotton scraps, weaving it into new fibers and garments; leftovers from 16 virgin cotton shirts can be turned into one reclaimed cotton shirt. Patagonia also uses reclaimed wool and recycled nylon and down.
To learn more about how brands are taking on sustainable strategies, check out our Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool.