Textile Innovation – Part 3: Recycling

Did you know that there are already solutions to the waste problem in fashion? From cutting room scraps to trash in the oceans to the clothes that we just don’t want anymore, creative minds everywhere have found another use for rubbish.

Chemical Recycling

Until recently, the only textile recycling our industry could muster was “mechanical recycling.” That means literally cutting our old textiles up into rags or chopping them up into shorter, lower quality fibres and using what remains in insulation and upholstery fill. Now, innovators like Trash to Cash, an EU-funded collection of 18 groups from 10 countries, are developing ways to turn pre- and post-consumer waste back into fibres using chemistry. Recover®is another innovative organization providing a variety of recycled textile blends. The Lenzing Group has already brought one solution to market building on the success and innovation of their cellulosic fibre from wood, Tencel™ (aka lyocell). The new textile, Refibra™, blends recycled cotton with Tencel™.


Upcycling means creating something of greater value from something of lesser value. It’s a great way for smaller brands and artisans to get involved in diverting waste from landfill. Daniel Silverstein of ZWDhas developed a new textile he calls “ReRoll” to solve the waste problem. By using cutting room scraps, new yardage is created like patchwork. Sounds shabby on paper, but ZWD has an undeniable cool factor. Leather is a textile that is painful to waste. Brands like Looptworksand TRMTABrecycle pre-consumer scraps into accessories. New York brand, The Sway upcycles old leather jackets into current styles.

Textiles made from Food Crop Waste

Agrilooptechnology uses abundant agricultural waste from food crops to generate new textiles. Pineapple leaves and stalk fibre from hemp, flax and sugarcane once viewed as waste residue are viewed as valuable resources.

Plastic waste

Although energy-intensive and derived from fossil fuels, recycling plastic waste into fabric is a great substitute to virgin polyesters. The new fibre is referred to as rPET or recycled PET (Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate).  Repreve is the leader in supplying rPET to the fashion industry.

In-store collection

Brands like H&M, Puma and The North Face now have collection bins in their stores, encouraging consumers to bring their unwanted textiles instead of throwing them in the trash. The company providing the bins, i:co, collects, sorts and redirects the textiles so they can be resold, upcycled or recycled. Customers get a coupon for a discount on new clothing.


Deadstock is excess fabric or bolt ends that designers sell off to jobbers at the end of a season. Reformation sources deadstock for many of their styles. Deadstock can also refer to unsold inventory. H&M keeps getting caught incinerating theirs—ugh, isn’t there a better way? Two Guys in Rags buy deadstock—unworn and unsold clothes—and distribute it around the world to those in need. It’s an all-around win!Waste prevention

Just as some doctors treat the symptom instead of the cause of illness, some brands are designing with waste in mind. Zero waste design is, quite possibly, the holy grail of waste management in textiles. Study NY is a great example of a beautiful, edgy brand utilizing zero waste design techniques. Founder, Tara St. James, is a very active member in the sustainable fashion community and an instructor with several college and university design programs, putting zero waste design on the radar of the next generation of creatives.


Some brands, like Patagonia, are encouraging customers to mend apparel, extending the amount of time before it ends up recycled or in landfill. Even Prince Charles recently shared his support of sustainability in fashion and admitted his obsession with mending.

Vintage / Secondhand

Secondhand sales are on the rise according to a new report by online secondhand shop, ThredUp. In fact, their research tells us that resale growth was 24 TIMES that of retail between 2017-2018! Re-wearing already-produced apparel is the single most sustainable fashion option.

Image by Becca McHaffie

It’s hard to believe it took us so long to begin thinking about the waste issue. All the same, it’s amazing how quickly all these innovations have popped up. What are your views on waste? Is your organization doing anything to help combat the problem? Please comment or share with a friend or colleague to keep the conversation going!

I hope you’ve had the chance to have a look at the two related pieces in this series about Organic Textiles and Biosynthetics?

Title Image Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash



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