The Textile Monster hiding in your closet

I don’t know about you, but my digital media bubble is currently full of news and editorials about sustainable clothing and fast fashion.

Neither of these subjects is particularly new, but the sharp increase in more mindful,  shoppers shows that opinions about what we should be wearing are changing.

Personally, I struggle with finding truly sustainable clothing options. There’s little choice, and of that even less appeals to me aesthetically or fits me all that well. Also, although I periodically purge my closet, and have many well-worn pieces which I take care of to prolong their life, I am ashamed to admit that many are from fast fashion retailers. However, I don’t buy trends, only pieces which fit my minimalistic, mostly grey, black and beige colour palette. I mend and refit pieces as my weight fluctuates, and yet, and yet…
Undoubtedly, my shopping habits have changed over the years. I stopped buying synthetic basics (I’ll expand on the subject of high-tech fabrics another time), pieces I know won’t stand the test of time, and shoes which I can’t walk at least 5 miles in. But what of all the other things that I own, and will eventually become so worn I will have to dispose of? Can clothing be recycled? The simple answer is ‘yes’, but here’s the detailed answer too.

If you’re embarking on a closet clearout, first categorise your clothes into three groups: ‘Like new’, ‘Used but good condition’, and ‘Beyond use’.

The first and second are anything you’d sell on, or donate to a charity or clothing bank. The third is all items with holes or stain, or things you just wouldn’t buy yourself in a second-hand or consignment store. Despite the saying ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ some clothes are truly trash, or rather ‘raw recyclable material’.

Firstly, in order for any materials to be recycled, they need to be sorted and clean. Processing plants discard wet and soiled clothing, which then end up in the landfill. Here, depending on the type of fiber, it’ll take between 30 and 200 years to fully decompose.

Different processes are applied to different fabrics, but all eventually end up shredded and then either spun again and baled, or used as fiberfill/stuffing. Some materials are cut into rags, or once shredded and blended, used to produce new fabrics. Unsurprisingly, recycled cotton is very versatile and is often used to make paper (like banknotes), or as mushroom compost. However textiles, unlike glass or metal, especially those made of natural fibers, lose quality through recycling. Hence the need of blending more than one type of material for reuse. Cotton-polyester is the blend most commonly used in recycled fabrics.

In spite of the fact that textiles can be recycled, purchasing new clothes is more complex than ever. Things to consider are: the origin of the raw materials, how were they processed in order to produce the fabric, how far did they travel, who cuts and sews the clothes, and last but not least, what’s the corporate social responsibility of the company selling us the finished product.

All this is making my head spin, and clearly, there’s no one easy answer as to how we should manage our wardrobes. Buy second hand whenever possible, look after your clothes better, move to a warmer climate and wear less? All plausible answers 🙂 While I figure that out, tell me about your wardrobe revolutions!



Fast Fashion Tax?

Is it ok to buy fast fashion secondhand?

Don’t feed the monster – conscious shoppers on the rise

Textile Recycling Wiki

How old clothes become new clothes – video

Basics of textile recycling

How to recycle clothing and accessories

Fashion waste

Why t-shirts can’t be recycled into new t-shirts

Most toxic fabrics for your skin

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