Recycled Textiles – Short Cuts to Fashion

Published on February 1, 2009 in General

EcoTextile News

A recycled garment collection is not just about garments made with recycled yarns. Here, Karla Magruder finds out how some U.S. firms make clothes from the traditional second-hand route.

The first thing that pops into most U.S. buyers’ heads with the mention of recycled textiles is Wellman’s EcoSpun yarn, first developed in 1993. Together with Patagonia, they created the world’s first fleece garment made from recycled soda bottles.

Since then, many improvements have been made with fine deniers, more consistent polymers, and the inclusion of pre-consumer waste. This has all led to more appealing fabrics, but the real excitement in recycling comes from entirely different recycling streams, where both designers and textile recyclers are taking short cuts to the latest fashions.

So what about these short cuts? First, let’s talk trash. Individually, we throw away textiles in the form of old clothes and linens and in the apparel business; there is all kinds of waste throughout the textile chain – from weaving and knitting to scraps on the cutting room floor.

Martex Fiber Southern Corp. has been cleaning up the cutting room floor for over 35 years. Currently, it has facilities in both the U.S. and Central America, where its recycling system takes advantage of garment and textile manufacturing facilities’ waste products. Stefanie Zeldin, Director of Marketing and Sustainability for Martex Fiber Southern Corp. (MFSC) told us: “the largest part of our business is in shoddy fiber, which goes into fill products and nonwovens.” But some of the more difficult types of waste that MFSC recycles is the seam waste from sewing t-shirts together and toe clippings from the sock making process, which are then ‘refiberized’ back into fluff.

Part of the MFSC family of companies is Jimtex Yarns, sold under the ECO2cotton® brand. These fibers have been made by combining their recycled cotton and blending with synthetic fibers for strength. Ms. Zeldin went on to say that “recycled blue cotton t-shirt turns back into fluff, which is then spun into new blue yarn.” Steps missing from typical yarn production are growing, ginning, spinning and dyeing, which creates significant environmental savings. Interestingly, though, cut and sew waste is becoming hard to get as the apparel industry has become more aware of the cost of waste to both the bottom line and the environment. Still, there are plenty of textiles in the U.S. waste stream. According to the EPA, more than 11.9 million tons of textile waste was created in 2007 from pre- and post-consumer waste.

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