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Waste Not
How the Circular Economy Continues to Clean Up Fashion

Striving toward sustainability is an ongoing trend in the fashion industry, as companies and consumers continue to find alternatives to cheap, disposable clothing and wasteful production practices.

The latest: American textile manufacturer Polartec this week celebrated recycling its billionth plastic bottle.

Polartec supplies recycled fabrics to major brands such as Patagonia, L.L. Bean, The North Face, Arc’Teryx, Cabela’s, Eastern Mountain Sports, Carhartt and Eddie Bauer, for everything from base layers to outer protection wear. In 2014, over 60 percent of Polartec’s domestic production used recycled yarns.

One such recycled yarn is REPREVE 100, which Polartec developed in partnership with Unifi, Inc. The yarn is made entirely from clear plastic bottles and is “identical in terms of quality from fabrics using virgin polyester.” REPREVE 100 is used in Polartec’s fleece; about 27 million new fleece jackets could have been created with the one billion bottles that the company has recycled.

“We knew that recycled textiles could not sacrifice performance if they were to gain widespread adoption from global brands,” said Polartec CEO Gary Smith. “A billion bottles is a good start but we feel there is still ample opportunity for innovation and we look forward to helping our brands create eco-conscious garments for many years to come.”

Polartec’s European Marketing Manager, Alessandro Perseo, echoed the sentiment that the company needs to continue to build on this success. “In the US over 40 billion plastic bottles are destined for landfill this year. One fortieth of this total amount seems a drop in the ocean, but it’s a start,” he said.

For its part, Philadelphia-based startup Thread, which creates upcycled fabric from plastic bottle waste collected in Haiti and Honduras, revealed in its 2014 Impact Report that it had diverted and upcycled 1.26M pounds of bottles in its first four years.

Meanwhile, Zero Waste Scotland launched two residency positions in August as part of its Love Your Clothes campaign, an initiative by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to make the public think about the way they purchase, use and discard clothing.

In partnership with the Salvation Army Trading Company, Zero Waste Scotland is seeking one fashion designer and one textile designer for 12-week, full-time, paid (£3,500 each) residencies to create two new collections from unwanted garments.

The Salvation Army Trading Company will donate five metric tonnes of clothing worth up to £1,500, from which the designers will each be able to select 150 kilograms. The fashion designer will turn the donated items into items with increased value, and the textile designer will create new fabric pieces.

The clothing and fabrics created by the designers will be individually and independently valued, to demonstrate the true value of the redesigns. The initiative plays into the larger message of the Love Your Clothes campaign, which stresses the importance of both upcycling and the donation of clothes.

“This exciting new project with the Salvation Army Trading Company aims to show Scots the true value of their clothes and how, with a little love and attention, the item they may intend to throw out could in fact be turned in to something more valuable for the current or new owner,” said Lynn Wilson, Textiles Manager at Zero Waste Scotland.

Zero Waste Scotland is looking for designers with a minimum of three years of experience, among other requirements, and will be accepting applications through September 18.

The initiative follows the WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan Extending the Life of Clothes Design Awards (SCAP ELC Awards), launched last fall, which sought designers to develop innovative solutions to clothes that are wearable for longer. WRAP research shows that if the active life of clothes were extended by just nine months it could reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30 percent each, and save roughly £5 billion worth of the resources used to supply, launder and dispose of clothing.