The Global Fashion Agenda's report, Pulse of the Fashion Industry stated the fashion industry generates 4% of the worlds waste.

Waste has become the growing elephant in the room, that is threatening to trample the fashion industry. This waste comprises of post-consumer clothes sent to landfill but also waste produced during development and throughout the supply chain.

showing clothes waste

Designing out waste is a key opportunity for the next decade and beyond. About 35% of materials are wasted during processes in the supply chain, on top of that, around 57% of garments bought are sent to landfill after use.

sketch of women's legging with descriptives annotations

There are many deliberations when designing, fit, fabric, trims, prints, as well as functionality. This is the part of the job I love. Looking and evaluating different solutions to make the perfect garment for the customer. We should add to this brief, how the garment will be transferred to its next life, how can it be dissembled and travel back round to a new use.

Designing is a job where problems are solved and decisions are continually made throughout the process. Designing along the guidance of the circular economy is no different. We need to look at the 360* view. Over my next couple of blog posts I will be highlighting different areas to consider.

The first I want to look at, are fabrics and how your choice of fabric can have a major influence on how the garment can be re-purposed. The longevity of the fabric, is it recyclable, easy to reassemble into another garment ?

At present mono materials, single fibre compostion, can be recycled more readily, although a mixture of cellulose fibres or cotton and polyester blended fabrics are also possible. At present, I believe fabrics with lycra can not be recycled, unless they are shredded for fillings etc but I would be interested to hear if anyone knows this statement to be wrong. As well as the main fabric, trims and prints, unless removed can stop garments being recycled. Laser engraving and embroidery will ensure ease of recycling. If other ways of embellishment are used, some thought about disassemble needs to be considered.

sweatshirt with embroidered and beaded decoration

Choosing natural fibres is often thought to be a more sustainable choice but using recycled natural fibres is the most planet friendly way to go.

A cotton jean, while the fibres are grown and also when the garment is being manufactured, use a tremendous amount of water. For example producing 1kg of cotton in India, uses over 22,000 litres of water. Once the cotton is woven and made into jeans, dying and finishing just 1 pair can use 300 litres of water.

So if we can reuse jeans and make into new jeans like Re-done or shred garments and produce yarn to make more garments, like H&M, this can reduce the amount of water used dramatically.

H&M dress made from recycled fibres
Photo H&M
Instagram image from Re Done, who make jeans from old discarded denim.
Instagram @shopredone

Recycling polyester reduces oil consumption and energy, making it more sustainable than virgin polyester. It is still plastic and can lead to microfibre pollution, the amount depends on the fabric construction but when polyester is recycled less energy is needed to process the fibres. More importantly no raw materials have to be extracted.

Aquafil's Econyl, Sequal and Parley for the Oceans have looked at a circular model that includes all plastic waste, collecting plastic from the oceans, to then manufacture new fibres. Does this have a finite future or will we be forever creating waste, that migrates to our seas ?

Companies that are recycling polyester fibres into new yarn are Ambercycle and Cordura but these are still in their infancy and not always available in smaller minimums. Worn Again, in the UK are working with cotton and polyester blends. Exciting times with innovative new possibilities. How long it will take these to become mainstream is yet unknown.

A responsible, thoughtful choice of fabric and components can help to minimise environmental impact and enable recycling.