end of life
Sadly the majority of clothing waste is incinerated or ends up in landfills. The latter is not a good solution: natural fibres take hundreds of years to decompose and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and synthetic materials are not designed to decompose at all and may release toxic substances. We clearly need better solutions for the end of the life of garments.
DURABILITY AND NEW BUSINESS MODELS
What if there was no need to end the life of a pair of jeans at all? The concept of durability looks at eliminating waste by making items that last much longer, which can be achieved by using resistant materials, not applying processes that destroy the fibres, and reducing the amount of times a garment has to be washed.
How does one measure this? The Jeans Redesign project is an initiative by the Ellen McArthur foundation, the world’s leading research centre for Circular Economy, and it suggests measuring jeans durability through the number of washes a pair of jeans can go through without being damaged.
What if I get bored of a style, or my denim piece doesn’t fit me anymore? Depop, ThredUp, Vinted, Ebay, second hand stores, and many more models are great solutions to allow people to exchange clothes. These systems need strong garments that can be shipped around the world, exchanged, worn, washed, and resold, which ties back to the concept of durability.
DESIGN FOR CIRCULARITY
Circularity is a concept which completely eliminates the concept of waste, both in terms of materials and value. Basically the end of life of a pair of jeans is the beginning of something else.
We have a huge respect for denim designers who are doing all they can to design the best jeans they possibly can because like we've heard before, 80% of the impact of a garment comes from the design stage! But, not all designers have the knowledge to produce circular jeans.
But how are circular jeans actually different? As stated by the Jeans Redesign.
+ All should have metal rivets in the jeans removed entirely or reduced to a minimum - as they are hard for recyclers to remove, large parts of the upper fabric of jeans are usually cut off and subsequently landfilled or incinerated (Lil tip: look to historic pocket designs and their use of clever bartacks)
+ All must have recyclable materials which can be kept in use once a product and its components can no longer be reused or repaired
+ All must be identifiable and traceable
+ No hazardous chemicals should be used in the manufacture of the jeans as they can cause allergic reactions and respiratory diseases etc. in the garment workers and consumers
When designing for longevity, durability, and reparability, the aim is to extend the use of a garment. On the other hand, when designing for disassembly, recyclability, or biodegradability, the aim is to ensure that products and materials return to the system and can be regenerated through a biological or technical cycle. But in order to cycle products successfully, we need to know EVERYthing that went into making it. Traceable supply chains and materials make this much easier to do so.
RECYCLING INTO NEW YARN AND FABRIC
The best solution is to keep jeans being used as jeans. Ideally forever. Brands like Atelier and Repair have taken fashionable repairs to the next level, however sometimes there is no hope for your clothes to be used any further, they could be too torn or stained. That is when recycling comes into place. It conserves natural resources, saves energy, and reduces the need for landfill space. What are the options?
+ Mechanical recycling of cotton means that fibres are extracted and spun again, without using any water. The issue is that the length of the fibres becomes much shorter, therefore of lower quality and strength, so they have to be combined either with virgin cotton or with polyester.
+ Chemical recycling of cotton is the newest area of research, examples of companies doing this are Renewcell and Infinited Fibre. Pulp is extracted using chemical processes, and this material is used to make new textiles such as Viscose. The limitation here is that the chemical process only works on fabrics that have minimum 98% cotton content.
RECYCLING INTO NON-FABRIC
Surely there must be a solution to the problem of fabric waste. Is there no other industry that would be happy to collaborate? The construction industry is always looking for large volumes of cheap materials right? Downcycling is a concept which describes how a material loses its value through a recycling process, and is repurposed as a lower quality item. This is often the case for textile waste reused in construction, mostly as an insulating material to fill walls. Textile waste is also used to fill mattresses and make rugs, however they are considered low quality items.
(Slightly off topic) Have you ever heard of Precious Plastics? It is a wonderful initiative which is present in lots of countries around the world, based on open source information on how to recycle plastic through shredding, heating, pressing or moulding. What if the same was done for fabric waste?
What if we used fabric waste instead of other materials that have a high impact? Check out two amazing projects that turn fabric waste into tiles and furniture:
+ C2C Gold
+ Jeans Redesign member
+ 98+ % cotton content on content labels
what can you do about it?
Let's ditch our take - make - waste model and move towards a circular one where we design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, and regenerate the natural world. For the fashion industry, this means rethinking and redesigning clothing so that old clothes can be used to make new, textiles are made with safe and renewable materials, and garments are worn more.
Think about this: if it ends with you, how can it be circular?
Need help finding where to take back your take-backs? Get in touch with Simply Suzette here.