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UPCYCLING TEXTILES

Is Upcycling textile waste the next frontier of environmentally responsible clothing and accessories?

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.

It’s tough to say if upcycling textile waste will be the next frontier. It’s definitely a necessary step in closing the loop on textile manufacturing. Human beings are the only species on the planet capable of creating excess, and the amount of excess we create was magnified by the rise of the industrial revolution. What we need to do now as a society is get that excess under control and eliminate it whenever possible.

There are two types of excess created when you buy a product. Pre-consumer excess is what gets wasted in the process of manufacturing an item for sale and consumption. Post-consumer excess is what is left over after you consume the item you bought - the packaging, the item itself, or other leftover items. According to Annie Leonard (http://www.storyofstuff.com/), if you take one garbage can out to the curb a week full of post-consumer excess, it took 70 garbage cans of pre-consumer excess to make those items you threw away in that one can of post-consumer excess. So finding ways to re-use or use up the resources already created is the most important way to create an endless supply of materials without further depleting natural resources. The two most popular fabrics in the world, polyester and cotton, are already putting a strain on the environment, and this situation will only get worse.

Polyester is the #1 manufactured fabric on the planet. It is a petroleum-based product and accounts for about 2% of the world’s use of petroleum. As oil becomes more and more precious, the industries that are at the bottom end of the spectrum in use, such as textiles, will get the lowest priority in access to petroleum, the raw material needed to make their products. Translation - polyester is going to become more and more expensive and harder to come by.

Cotton is the second-most used fabric on the planet, and it is a very water-reliant product. It takes 400-715 gallons of water to make a single organic cotton t-shirt. An example of the environmental impact of cotton production can be found in the Aral Sea. It is, or at least was, the fourth largest body of fresh water on the planet. It is now 90% dry due to diversion of its tributaries in the Soviet Union, chiefly to grow cotton. As the world’s water becomes scarcer, we will have less access to cotton as well.

I worked in the apparel industry for years at traditional companies and saw the waste that went on, and so did my colleagues here at Looptworks. That’s why we founded the company. We want to lead the way for an overall change in the industry with our message of “use what’s already there.” The average apparel factory throws away 60,000 pounds of usable, pre-consumer excess EVERY week. That’s brand new thread, fabric, buttons, etc. that is simply leftover after a product is made. We are actively seeking out this excess and tailoring our designs to efficiently use what is available while creating a long-lasting product. The days of disposable fashion must end if we truly want to create sustainable products.

So if it takes turning all of this excess material into cool, hip and fashionable products to get people to wake up to these facts, then yes, textile waste truly is the next frontier in environmentally responsible clothing and many other products!

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