What am I wearing composite illustration, showing male and female mannequins surrounded by organic and recycled clothing

Sustainable fashion and recycled clothing: can you tell what I’m wearing?

Plastic bottles for shoes. Fishing lines for t-shirts. There are great developments in the world of fashion and recycling.

Fashion is fluid and dynamic, and the clothing industry is always looking for the next big thing, with new interpretations, materials and textures introduced to the public every season. One of the fastest-growing trends is recycled clothing.

It is more than just reusing old pieces, or taking offcuts to create new items. It is the technique of processing rubbish, such as plastic and glass that you throw away, to manufacture your favourite fashions and help the environment.

Plastic is one of the most prolific types of waste. It is extremely hard to break down, so the best way to reduce landfill and make use of the material is by melting and repurposing it. The fashion industry does this by making our unwanted plastic into polyester yarn. Plastic bottles are among the most common items repurposed for the yarn, as most of them are clear so make the best base for dyeing.

The process of recycling bottles can vary, but the plastic is usually shredded and turned into pellets. This way, any liquid left over in the bottle can be removed, as moisture can be detrimental to the process.

The pellets are then melted and spun into polyester yarn. This is normally done by flowing the molten plastic into small holes to make filaments. It is then torn into a fluffy substance and changed into the stronger polyester thread, in a technique similar to cotton production.

Shreds of plastic are sorted based on their colours. Clear bottles create white thread, which can be dyed. Yarn produced from blue and green bottles can be harder to dye, so is often used for ‘denim’ and other colour-appropriate clothing.

After dyeing, the spools of coloured yarn are knitted or woven to produce fabric, which is then sold to garment manufacturers.

Here we take a look at the clothing that’s designed to look good as well as to help the evironment.

Men

Shirt

Ecoalf’s recycled T-shirt for men is made of 75 per cent regenerated cotton and 25 per cent polyester.

Ecoalf processes discarded fishing nets, post-consumer plastic bottles, worn-out tyres, post-industrial cotton, and even used coffee grounds for the company’s clothes, swimsuits, shoes and accessories.

The company has over 14 active alliances throughout the world in places in Taiwan, Korea, Portugal, Mexico, Japan and Spain to develop all necessary elements to manufacture with recycled materials.

With help from fishermen, the company’s Upcycling the Oceans project (UTO) collects the rubbish that is destroying our oceans and turns it into quality yarn to produce fabrics and products.

UTO started in September 2015 and, as a result of the project, Ecoalf has created a 100 per cent recycled filament, Sea Yarn, which is made from plastic bottles collected from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Trousers

ASOS’s recycled denim tapered jeans are a mix of non-stretch recycled denim and Cotton made in Africa (CmiA). Each pair of jeans has saved about 623 litres of water. There’s a label inside the clothing that you can scan to find out about its recycled content and the CO2 and energy saved.

ASOS is working with eco-friendly brands and global initiatives, and offers clothing, accessories and beauty products that fit in its ‘criteria of sustainability’ – the Eco Edit. The firm says all items sold in the Eco Edit support people and the environment by building communities, alleviating poverty, removing waste and addressing climate change challenges. 

The company also has a Fairtrade clothing label ‘ASOS Made In Kenya’, in partnership with SOKO Kenya, a self-​sustaining manufacturing operation that pays fair wages, provides social services and is committed to limiting its environmental impact.

Socks

These Purbeck recycled socks by Thought were once plastic bottles. The company processed unwanted waste into soft knee-length socks. They are 98 per cent recycled polyester and 2 per cent elastane.

Thought sources natural, sustainable and recycled organic cotton, bamboo and hemp from China. The clothing is made in one place, reducing the carbon footprint, and products are transported slowly.

The company also has a mantra: ‘Wear Me, Love Me, Mend Me, Pass Me On’, and urges customers to wear clothing more than once before washing, repair (rather than replace) items, and give unwanted clothes to friends, family or charity.

Thought is also a founding partner of the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF), a not-for-profit network championing ethical production. EFF’s goal is to bring together 500 pioneers and innovators dedicated to better sustainability in the fashion industry.

Shoes

Adidas Ultraboost Uncaged Parley shoes are made with yarn made in collaboration with the Parley for the Oceans initiative (parley.tv/#fortheoceans). Some of the yarn has Parley Ocean Plastic made from recycled waste taken from beaches and coastal communities before it reaches the ocean.

The Parley AIR Strategy is “a plan that can end plastic pollution”: Avoid – no plastic bags and micro beads, and no more virgin plastic in the supply chain; Intercept – to retrieve plastic before it enters the ocean; and Redesign – driving eco-innovation around materials, products and new ways of using them (‘New methods. New mindsets. New future.’).

The shoes feature Primeknit made from up to 95 per cent Parley Ocean Plastic, which wraps the foot. The heel construction is from natural materials, the ‘torsion system’ – which supports the foot’s flex – from a renewable source, and the rubber outsole is natural material.

Coat

The Nano Puff men’s jacket from Patagonia has a 100 per cent recycled polyester shell and lining, which is made from used drinks bottles, manufacturing waste and worn-out garments, including the company’s own.

Patagonia’s jacket also has insulation containing 55 per cent post-consumer recycled content called 60-g PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Eco. It is water-repellent, highly compressible and maintains 98 per cent of warmth, even when wet.

Patagonia’s declared mission is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”.

Gloves

Manufactured in the USA by Worldwide Protective Products, the lightweight ECO-10-BL gloves are from recycled water bottles, hence the blue colour, while the green variant (-GR) comes from soda bottles. The Gray Eco Gloves, made from recycled cotton and polyester textile fibres, can have custom palm design or custom logos applied.

Women

Hat

The Boat Yard Outdoor Fedora from Conner Handmade Hats is made from recycled plastic bottles and has an inner pocket with a floating device. It also comes with a cotton chin cord, mesh ventilation and anti-glare under the brim.

Handcrafted in Sri Lanka, the fedora is waterproof, won’t shrink or fade, floats, is crushable, comes in biodegradable packaging and has 100 per cent recycled paper tags.

Bill and Will Conner is the father and son team behind the hat company. Bill manufactures his BC HAT range in New South Wales, Australia, and Will, who created the Conner Hat brand, distributes both brands from his solar-powered warehouse in Florida, USA.

Trousers

Howies’ Cwrw women’s slim cut 5-pocket jean is from Cone Denim’s Sustainblue Collection, which is environmentally friendly and uses recycled cotton and polyester, and sustainable yarns. 

The jeans are mixed cotton (54 per cent) with polyester from recycled beer bottles collected from stadiums after American football matches (45 per cent).

Cone Denim’s fabric uses Earthspun yarns made of domestic plastic containers like brown beer bottles, green soda bottles, black food trays and clear and blue water bottles.

The company says “the proprietary spinning process for Earthspun yarns blends these delicate recycled and renewable fibres into yarns, creating fabrics that provide superior performance, softness and wear ability while helping protect our environment”.

Shoes

Rothy’s shoes are constructed on 3D knitting machines with recycled fibres from plastic water bottles. Each pair is hand-assembled, soft and strong, and there is little waste.

The shoes fit true-to-size, are machine washable and have a removable insole, and the company encourages re-use of the resealable shipping box.

The California business recently introduced Rothy’s Recycling, a programme that lets the shoe owners send in their used Rothy’s free and turns them into yoga mats, outsoles, insoles, and other environmentally-friendly products.

Top

The Salvage Women’s Slim Fit T-Shirt from Continental Clothing Co. is made from offcuts of organic cotton T-shirts and recycled plastic bottles. They are produced to Global Recycle Standard (GRS), organic certified cotton and Fair Wear Foundation certification standards.

Continental Clothing owns three brands: Continental, EarthPositive and Salvage.

The company ensures full traceability of all fibres, choosing low-impact cotton, Tencel lyocell, bamboo viscose and recycled polyester in the Continental range, and recycled organic cotton blended with recycled polyester in the Salvage range.

As well as recycling, Continental Clothing Co. has a social responsibility policy that includes no use of child labour, no forced labour, safe and healthy working conditions, payment of living wage, no excessive working hours, and no discrimination against employees.

All fabrics are knitted at Continental in-house and dyed using low-water and controlled waste discharge processes. The company says it has reduced the carbon footprint of EarthPositive products by around 90 per cent through product design, low-impact organic agriculture, manufacturing efficiency, and by using renewable wind power.

Coat

All jackets, vests and coats from Ecoalf, including the Niagara Raincoat Hooded Parka, are recycled materials rescued from the sea, and have the same quality as non-recycled garments.

The long coat is made from 44 per cent recycled bottles. 

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