Thanks to a fast-fashion based industry model, coupled with consumer desire to pay the least possible price for product, we have been left to deal with over-consumption, waste, and a plethora of “Frankenstein” fabrics.These low-grade, synthetic and petroleum based textiles are on the rise with stores like H&M and Forever 21 knocking off larger design houses as well as indie designers.
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Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion says even the used clothing market is getting junked up with these creepy clothes from fast fashion venues. This is driving up the price of vintage clothes, because there’s hardly any “good” clothing made of natural materials being made today.
“Wool, which used to be the dominant fiber, is now hard to find in a mainstream store and is almost considered a luxury textile. My generation and the one behind me is not familiar with the feel and inherent beauty of many natural fibers, including linen, silk, wool, and high-grade cashmere.”
Cline adds that because this cheap fashion is mostly made of polyester and its cousins, fast fashion is environmentally unsustainable on a shocking number of levels.
“It’s poorly made and designed to fall apart, it’s largely made from non-biodegradable petroleum-based fabrics and lastly, a lot of it can’t be recycled. It’s really not a flattering combination.”
But by recycling and combining natural and synthetic, there’s hope for continued reuse.
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With the textile fiber of post-consumer garments oftentimes wasted and worn, Dutch consortium Textiles 4 Textiles says recycling them often poses challenges.
Marc Fredriksz, Textiles 4 Textiles’ Project Manager for Recycling says after the textile has gone through their textile pulling line, and “re-fibered,” a test often shows the fiber is sometimes too short to spin into a yarn, while woven fabrics are harder to pull and re-fiber, than knitted fabric.
“Garments are not always made from only one material. In jeans we see more and more elastane, lycra and polyester in the jeans fabric. The contamination can’t be separated, after re-fibering and this contamination will give problems with the rotor during the spinning of the yarn process,” says Fredriksz.
While many of these fibers can be remade clothing, inferior fabric blends can be used for other sustainable purposes such as textile reinforced plastics or composites for wall panels, clothing hangers, street name signs as well as sound or temperature isolation for housing or automotive industry.
Pickering International, a sustainable textile supplier in San Francisco says the afterlife of fabrics they sell begin with salvaging scrap fabrics from cutting rooms, collections of off-grade materials from other fabric mills and sewing factories. Once the fabrics are gathered, they are sorted out by fiber categories, then shredded and processed to the fiber form, spun into yarns again and made to be recycled fabrics.
“We pretty much have to do blends from the very beginning as fabric scraps almost always come in many blended forms in their previous life,” says Dawn Pickering, owner of Pickering International, on modern-day fabric non-homogeneity.
“However, some recycled yarns might not be as strong as new yarns, we have to blend some new fibers to improve overall performance though,” she adds.
Entering the fashion stream from a different start point is Nin Castle, founder of London based fashion line Goodone, Castle has been working with upcycled fabrics since the launch of her line in 2006. In addition to designing from a very mature place with the blended fabrics, Castle offers up a useful fact: If every Briton purchased one item made from recycled wool a year, it would save 371 million gallons of water, 480 tons of chemical dyes and 4571 million days of an average family’s electricity needs.
“Our aim is to use as much reclaimed fabric as possible in every garment but it has to always compliment the design. Somebody once said as a company we are informed by the reuse of textiles and not restrained by them, which I liked very much.”
Castle is son to start working with a local mill and friend Daniel Harris at the London Cloth Company making new fabric from discontinued dead-stock yarns.
Castle says when she first started designing she made 100% up-cycled garments but just couldn’t keep the quality and standardize it enough for shops wanting to buy the same color combinations in a good size break down.
“Now we mix sustainable fabrics with locally made fabrics and reclaimed textiles…its always our aim to use as much reclaimed fabric as possible as to us it is the greenest fiber around. There is no additional strain on the environment or use of chemicals to make it as it already exists.”