24 Mar

Recycling your textiles

Do you buy your clothes after consideration or can there be found clothes with price tags in your closet? In this world where fashion and trends change rapidly, have you ever thought how much fabric is thrown to the trash when manufacturing clothes? Or does it even matter to you?

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It has been estimated that the current clothing industry produces fabric waste during cutting and sewing approximately 15-20 %. Even though the figure does not sound a lot, the loss is massive when we consider how often the trends in the stores change! According to the New York Times it is cheaper to dump the scraps than to recycle them. How crazy is that?

Solutions for preventing massive textile waste mountains are being searched. This is partly due to the growing interest of consumers also. The business logic of “doing as much as possible as cheap as possible” does not fit into our minds anymore. We are more and more interested in the origins of the products we buy or the working conditions and the social problems of those people who make our clothes. The words recycling, responsibility and sustainability cover the magazines more and more often.

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But how textiles can be recycled then? At the moment, circular economy is being promoted a lot at least here in Finland. This means that materials and products are designed so that its materials are separable and can be recycled, used again.

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra believes that circular economy has huge opportunities and the term is related to fast fashion industry as well. A piece of clothing could be recycled again after use. Actually, a just started project in Europe, called Trash-2-Cash, tries to figure out how different textile fibers, such as cotton and polyester, could be recycled and processed into new fabrics.

VTT is developing methods where old fabrics are processed so that they will have a new life in new fabrics.

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In addition, the idea of Zero-waste fashion has also been discussed for some time now. The idea of this technique is to generate little or no textile waste at all in the manufacturing process.

In fact, the technique is not new at all. Decades and centuries ago fabrics and materials for clothes were very expensive and they were used sparingly. As excellent examples of nearly waste-free clothes are Kimonos and Saris made in Japan. It can be said that due to ecological and environmentally friendly attitudes, this designing style or method has risen again.

Minimizing the textile waste requires a new way of thinking and creativity from a designer. According to Susanna Toivanen, the other designer of Tuuni & Loru, creates imaginative clothes. Their Dress with butterfly sleeves and the Pilvi-bolero sleeves are both made by the principle of zero-waste, creating no more than 3 % of cutting waste.

Tuuni&Loru zero waste sleeves

Toivanen says, though, that using this principle is challenging – especially when it comes to making clothes for women. The fit is hard to make since there are no or just a few actual cutted shapes. Therefore, the fit is made by pleats. Because the technique is not very commercial, only a few decide to use it.

There are, however, some designers who have become internationally famous by using the zero-waste technique. To name a few: Timo Rissanen, Mark LiuJulian Roberts and Yeohlee Teng.

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The other way to approach zero-waste fashion is called post-consumerism or upcycling. This means that instead of throwing textiles just in landfill, designers use the surplus materials and leftovers of the textile industry. Many designers at Weecos too use recycled and surplus materials giving them a new life as beautiful, quality clothes. The leather products sold in Weecos are often made from the surplus material of furniture industry or the leftover pieces from footwear industry.

Proudly we can say that the designers of TAUKOMila Moisio and Kaisa Rissanen, actively do research on how the amount of textile waste could be reduced, for example. In their own production Moisio and Rissanen use recycled hospital textiles.


TAUKO dress from recycled hospital textiles
TAUKO dress from recycled hospital textiles

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One might imagine that in the future large companies would be also interested in cutting their amount of waste. If not for environmental reasons, then at least for monetary reasons. For example, a 10 % decrease in the amount of cutting waste would be a huge leap for a more ecological and environmentally friendly future in the clothing industry.

The international clothing giants are also challenged to change the whole logic of their business. The founder of Facory45:n Shannon Whitehead just wrote to Huffington Post that “as long as the fast fashion business model remains the same, any attempt at a more sustainable future is simply a wash.” By this she meant, using the H&M as her example, that a clear conscience is bought by conscious collections and campaigns.

In our opinion, eventually, making the production chain more transparent and keeping up the public discussion will lead to changes. What do you think of recycling textiles? How it could be done?

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