Scraps to shirts: How recycling is changing the textile landscape!

Scraps to shirts: How recycling is changing the textile landscape!
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Gone are those days when fashion meant designing for high end haute couture, and novelty. The fashion experts put out collections every season, using fresh materials and forecasting upcoming collections. But as we grow more conscious about sustainable clothing, the concept of fast and plain consumptive fashion has started to lose its charm. In times today, brands are rethinking their approach to fashion and made way to greener and more sustainable fashion.

The Environmental Footprint

Textile waste is the second biggest pollution industry. While the term fast fashion entails producing trendy, fashionable clothing in response to latest styles and demands. The speed and affordability come at a great cost, and it is far from glamorous.

What’s the challenge with fast fashion?

The term “fast” fashion first came to picture in 1980 in a bid to bring out collections in response to fast-changing consumer preferences.
Fast fashion, as a concept, has taken charge. It believes in the rapid production and quick turnaround time of clothing collections in reaction to the latest trends and designs. Most fashion brands have adopted this fashion language and are bringing out collections from time to time. Fast fashion also includes delivering new and inexpensive styles to its customers at a rapid pace. It implies that the clothing items move swiftly from conception stage to delivery and retail stores in a short span of time. Some of the biggest fast fashion brands include Uniqlo, Forever 21, Zara, H&M, Stradivarius, Topshop, Victoria’s Secret etc. Some of them even deliver up to 50 collections a year.
But our newly loved collections come at a price. First and foremost, it leads to tonnes of waste creation. The collections are pretty large in number which then leads to pile of dump creation. Also, with the mass production of these collections the fashion industry promotes impulse buying. Haven’t you been amazed by the latest wrapover satin blouse and sequined skirt displayed at a H&M store that fits the mannequin like a glove? This also means that more and more clothes are also being disposed of by the customers.
The environment goes for a toss. Lower prices cause factories to use cheap, toxic textile dyes which pollutes the environment. The constant speed and demand go to show that there is an inherent stress on the environmental concerns such as soil quality, land clearing and biodiversity. In fast fashion factories, workers are constantly exposed to these toxic chemicals and are breathing in their fumes. The wastewater emitted from factories flows into our waterways and seeps into our agricultural fields.
Other than this, mass production leads to reduction in quality collection. With the growing bent towards newer designs, wear and throw psychology, the quality of clothing collection is thoroughly compromised to sell the products at throwaway prices in retail shops. Therefore, low quality products are something that doesn’t last longer than a season and find its way in the piles of textile garbage.

Asian markets have followed suit

Talk fashion, can the Asian trio be far behind?
China, Bangladesh and Vietnam at the top have contributed endlessly to the manufacturing sector. According to the statistics in the year 2021, top exporter of textiles is China at $286 billion followed by Bangladesh featuring second at $46.2 billion and Vietnam at $43.7 billion respectively. The factors driving the industry are – low-cost production, raw material quality, industrial structure, modern high-tech machinery, label development and work process in domestic consumer and global market.
From Uniqlo to H&M, Bangladesh and China are the top manufacturing choices for these brands. Mass manufacturing of global scale thus gives way to scraps in heaps and bounds. Therefore, these countries are also the highest contributors to carbon footprint and greenhouse gases.

Sustainable clothing

When fashion has expanded its meaning to everyday clothing with brands like H&M coming up with back-to-back collections within a week at throwaway prices, the brands are also moving towards curating conscious collections. H&M has launched Conscious clothing collections with the use of sustainable fabrics that have moved steps towards sustainable fashion.
There are different types of recycling techniques that is being followed:
Upcycling: An innovative approach to waste management, where old or discarded products or materials are transformed into new products of higher value or quality. Unlike recycling, which often involves breaking down materials and remanufacturing them, upcycling aims to repurpose the original item or material in a way that adds value and extends its useful life. This would mean
Reuse: This involves using a product or material multiple times without significant alteration to its original form. Instead of throwing away a product after one use, it is kept in circulation for as long as possible, reducing the need for constant production of new items.
High quality clothes made of natural fibers, cotton, linen and leather. Average lifespan of garments is three years; therefore, the textile industry produces a lot of waste.
Recycling: The process of reusing materials from old or discarded garments and textiles to create new products. It is a practice that aims to reduce waste, conserve resources, and minimize the environmental impact of the fashion sector. H&M has been bringing out a new sustainable collection known as their Conscious collection.
There are different models of recycling that is being followed:
Mechanical Recycling: Commonly used for cotton and polyester materials, this process involves shredding or cutting old textiles into smaller pieces, which are then processed to create new fibers or fabrics.
Chemical Recycling: Chemical recycling involves breaking down textiles into their basic chemical components, which can then be used to create new fibers or materials. Various techniques, such as hydrolysis or solvolysis, are used to dissolve and separate the fibers.
3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing: Some companies are experimenting with 3D printing technologies that use recycled textile materials as feedstock. This approach has the potential to create customizable clothing items with minimal waste.
Nanotechnology and Nanofibers: Nanotechnology can be used to break down textiles into nanofibers, which can have various applications, including in the creation of new textiles or advanced materials.
Hydrothermal Processing: This technology uses high temperatures and pressure in the presence of water to break down textiles into their constituent fibers. The resulting fibers can be used to create new fabrics.

What are the steps taken by fashion companies so far?

Brands have undertaken recycling partnerships and initiatives to promote sustainability in the industry.
Picking the pieces: quite literally!
Adidas Parley for the Oceans: Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans to create shoes and clothing using recycled plastic collected from the ocean. Through this effort, the brand aims to come up with a sustainable collection of its own.
Levi's Water<Less®: Levi's introduced the Water<Less® technique to reduce water usage in the production of jeans. They also offer a recycling program where customers can drop off old denim for recycling. This conscious collection is motivated to contribute to a collection that is sustainable and contributes consciously to the fashion industry.
Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe: Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program collects old athletic shoes to recycle and repurpose them into sports surfaces and new shoes. Such innovative methods are ways through which Nike is bringing out new collections for shoes.
Reselling and Donation: Another technique is to sell the clothes at throwaway prices or offer old clothes for donation. Reselling contributes to the circular economy as a particular piece of clothing remains in circulation for longer terminals in the market. There are second-hand markets, which allow consumers to purchase pre-owned clothing at a lower cost, reducing the demand for new production.
Therefore, moving to a more sustainable outlook is the fashion industry’s need of the hour. By promoting sustainable clothing, the industry is not only moving forward to a circular economy, rather fabric recycling presents a huge opportunity to the fashion stakeholders to experiment, reinvent and ensure clothing output is sustainable and presents an array of options for consumers across geographical boundaries. On the other hand, the consumers have the options to gauge the difference between regular clothing and responsible clothing, without having to compromise on the options.
At Lal10, we are walking the talk. As stakeholders in the fashion industry, we are motivated to put through sustainable collections, be it soft-home or apparels. We are putting our bit to contribute to the environment and minimize the ecological impact.