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Fabric Scraps, Flint Water Bottles Being Recycled into New Textiles

This year has already seen some great steps forward in the uphill battle against fashion and textile waste: industry agreements and action plans have been announced; sustainable fashion startups are receiving support from the Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator and the Nike Circular Innovation Challenge; and collaborations have produced a collection program at Target stores, campaign from Unilever and Savers, and forthcoming collections from G-Star RAW and H&M.

But there’s still a long way to go. Luckily, solutions are still coming to the fore.

Clothing brands, designers, tailors and others in the New York City fashion industry are invited to sign up for textile pickup and recycling through non-profit FABSCRAP. The organization provides reusable bags in two colors – black for proprietary materials and brown for everything else – that any business creating textile waste can order as needed. Pickup can then be scheduled with FABSCRAP, and fabrics are sorted by a small army of volunteers (an estimated 150 per month).

The non-profit is able to process fabric scraps, cuttings, headers, mock-ups, samples, overstock bolts, production remnants, and any other unwanted excess fabric for recycling or reuse. So far, FABSCRAP has recycled discarded textiles from New York designers such as J.Crew, Eileen Fisher, Marc Jacobs, Nautica, Oscar de la Renta and more.

Proprietary material and small scraps are shredded to create insulation, carpet padding, furniture lining, moving blankets, etc. Whenever possible, FABSCRAP utilizes fiber-to-fiber technologies; currently this is possible for 100% cotton, 100% polyester, and 100% wool materials. Collected material that is not propriety is open to students, artists, crafters, quilters, sewers, teachers, and of course, other designers for “shopping” by appointment at FABSCRAP’s warehouse, or online through Queen of Raw.

Founded in 2015 by Jessica Schreiber, FABSCRAP recently announced it is moving to a 4,100 square foot space at Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT) in Sunset Park, the second largest garment manufacturing hub in NYC outside of the Garment Center. BAT is home to a range of garment manufacturing firms and has hosted several Fashion Institute of Technology classes, directly connecting emerging fashion entrepreneurs to the fashion manufacturing industry.


Meanwhile, fashion-tech innovation agency ​BRIA and fashion brand ​SABINNA have collaborated to transform a fashion capsule collection of wardrobe “staples” into new 100% biodegradable materials for use in garment packaging and shop interiors.

With the aim to maximize the circular aspects of production and recycling, the teams co-designed and made the garments solely from cotton and viscose. Non-toxic chemical processes were chosen to dissolve the garments and reclaim the fibres for use in other 100% cellulose-based materials, which are biodegradable. Compared to mechanical recycling, chemical processes use less water, generate less waste, and require no bleaching. The resulting materials are similar to paper, card, plastics and even wood, and can be used for a variety of applications.

Roberts-Islam noted that input is needed from both brands and their customers. “It would require the consumer to identify the point at which the garment will no longer be used and to return it to the brand for recycling,” he said. “However, we would also hope that the brands would have systems in place to make this as easy and painless as possible for consumers, with the added possibility of “incentivising” the consumers to participate in the process by way of rewards, in the form of “loyalty points” or a potential discount on future purchases from the brand, for example.”

Producing new materials from garments already in landfills is also an option; it would not require consumer engagement but would still provide an environmentally beneficial way for brands to produce packaging or store material. However, it may be easier for brands to face the challenges of customer engagement depending on the measures and infrastructure they already have in place. “Most brands already have robust systems in place for customer returns, including printing postage labels or identifying local collection points, so it would be a case of incorporating the end-of-life returns into these existing processes,” Roberts-Islam added.


Another sort of waste management issue is on the minds of Flint, MI residents. Lead contamination remains an issue despite that the water testing results were in the news back in October 2015, so residents still rely on bottled water for cooking, washing and drinking. Millions of plastic bottles now add to the community’s burdens.

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When award-winning artist Mel Chin learned about the issue, he knew he wanted to help. The result: a fashion project called Flint Fit, which brought partners in Flint, New York City, and Greensboro, NC, together in time, function and fashion.

At Chin’s instigation, more than 90,000 used water bottles were collected by the people of Flint over the course of six weeks. Once sorted, the bottles were sent to Greensboro-based textile manufacturer Unifi, Inc., where they were cleaned, shredded and transformed into REPREVE® recycled performance fiber. The REPREVE fiber was then sent to Mount Vernon Mills and Texollini where it was woven and knit into fabric.

“We’re proud to be a part of this exciting moment in art-fashion history,” said Jay Hertwig, Unifi’s Group Vice President Global Brand Sales. “At Unifi, we’re able to transform plastic bottles into REPREVE for products that people enjoy every day, and we’re thrilled that REPREVE is playing a key role in such a positive movement that came from something so catastrophic.”

Using this fabric, renowned New York fashion designer and Michigan native Tracy Reese designed a capsule collection for Flint Fit inspired by the power and necessity of water, manufacturing history of Flint, and resiliency of the Flint community. Reese’s designs were brought to life by at-risk women in the commercial sewing program at St Luke N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, who sewed the recycled fabric into rainwear and swim garments.

“By opening the door for new ideas, Flint Fit aims to stimulate creative production, economic opportunity and empowerment on a local scale,” said Chin.

The Flint Fit designs debuted April 8 at the opening of Chin’s All Over the Place exhibit at the Queens Museum’s Watershed Gallery, where they will remain on display until August 12, 2018.

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