Circular Tees Take on Textile Waste
If you’ve never recycled your clothes before, don’t fret — you’re not alone. In fact, over 70% of clothes in the US end up in the trash. Dirt-cheap fast fashion is largely to blame, with shopping becoming a short-lived, disposable pastime. But with landfills spilling over and the effects of climate change getting far too close for comfort, brands are finally beginning to take on the responsibility of adopting more sustainable manufacturing practices.
While cheap clothing is easy on the wallet, most fast fashion is designed to fall apart quickly, making it easy to toss out and replace with yet another flimsy garment. As it goes… more clothing is produced, more clothing is thrown away, and our land, water, and air end up shouldering the ultimate price. We call this price the hidden cost of fashion, and its effects on our planet have reached a tipping point.
To break it down, let’s look at the life of an average cotton t-shirt.
Long before a t-shirt hits the shelf, its life starts on the farm. Much of the world’s cotton is farmed in China and India, with the two countries together churning out a whopping 13 million tons of cotton every year. U.S. production slides into third with nearly 3.5 million tons of cotton annually. Add up cotton production across the globe and the total hits close to 84 million acres of agricultural land dedicated to growing this lucrative crop.
Cotton is a notoriously thirsty crop, demanding upwards of 1,350 gallons of water to produce just one pound of the fluffy fiber. And it takes nearly 400 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make just one t-shirt, which is enough water for a person to drink for two years. The impact of cotton crops stretch beyond water demands to the effect of pesticides in our soil, problematic labor practices for farm workers, and carbon emissions that warm our climate.
Studies show that the fashion industry contributes to 2-10% of total global carbon emissions, with up to 70% of those emissions happening during the production and processing stages. This is because the vast majority of clothing is still made from farmed cotton or from chemically-derived plastics, both requiring significant resources to both create the raw material and then transform it into workable fibers.
Although daunting, these stats have led us toward a powerful alternative — to make new clothes from clothing that already exists. Today, a few companies like Looptworks and Patagonia are leading the movement to end the reliance on raw virgin materials. It’s now possible to take back existing clothing, shred it, respin it into new fibers, and create brand-new clothing made with 95% less resources.
This model is called circularity — a regenerative cycle where every product is designed to go back into the supply chain instead of the landfill at the end of its life. So when you’re done with your recycled clothing, you can send it back so it can be made into the next generation of sustainable clothes.
Clothing has always been notoriously hard to recycle because the infrastructure for doing so still doesn’t exist at scale. While it’s possible to deconstruct and shred used clothes for things like insulation, this practice isn’t the norm. And in many cases donated clothes are resold for profit, dumped into developing countries, or incinerated.
Our new fully circular tees and sweatshirts have been made with 100% recycled and recyclable fibers. Our ultimate goal? To build a US-based fiber recycling facility to scale this technology for widespread use across the textile industry.