Recycled fabrics: which are the best for sale and how to select them
In 2018, the phases of cultivation and production of the raw material necessary for the creation of the fabrics alone accounted for 38% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the entire fashion industry. For Kering, in 2019, they were responsible for 36% of total greenhouse gas emissions and 32% of land consumption. In a logic of decarbonization, the choice of recycled materials is therefore essential to reduce the sector’s impact: for instance, recycled polyester (rPET) guarantees 40% fewer emissions than its traditional equivalent.
What to consider when choosing recycled fabrics?
Recycled fabrics: with what percentage?
When choosing recycled fabrics, it is crucial to check the percentage of recycled material case-by-case since different certifications correspond to different minimum percentages of recycled materials, which can, for instance, go down to 5% in the case of the Recycled Claim Standard Blended. The more the percentage is significant, the more the fabrics do not require producing new raw materials and significantly reduce the impact. Lower percentages of recycled material, on the other hand, imply greater use of virgin materials. An example is that of bio-based leather: in some cases, in fact, for the creation of the fabric, organic waste is combined with polyurethane (PU), a material derived from non-renewable sources. One of the most stringent certificates is the GRS. All products that are composed of at least 20% recycled materials can be certified according to the GRS standard but only products that contain at least 50% recycled materials can be labeled as GRS. This certification also guarantees compliance with high chemical standards.
Recycled fabrics: through which production process?
Recycled alternatives are not free from impact: knowing the different production processes is essential to choose the one which best suits business needs. There are two main methods of producing recycled fabrics: mechanical and chemical recycling. The mechanic method consists of shredding the material to make it take on a fibrous-like shape. Through this process, however, the fiber can lose quality and has to be mixed with virgin one (especially in the case of cotton), thus weakening the reduction in impacts. The chemical method, on the other hand, allows the recovery of a more valuable product. In this regard, however, it is crucial to verify the chemical process of production. In the case of cupro, a cellulose fiber regenerated from pre-consumer cotton waste and completely biodegradable this process involves potentially impacting heavy metals but closed-loop, therefore without dispersions and negative effects for the environment.
Recycled fabrics: end-of-life recyclability
Choosing recycled fabrics that are recyclable is essential to further optimize the impacts and achieve a greater degree of sustainability. In this sense, mono-materiality is the main criterion to keep in mind: if made from a single material, the product that enters the recycling stream can be recycled without waste, manipulation, time, or additional costs. To promote recyclability it is therefore recommended to adopt mono-material fabrics (composed of at least 97% of the same fiber) or which in any case have a dominant one (at least 80%). Again, is useful to choose fibers with higher recyclability profiles (among synthetic fibers, for example, instead of PVC it is better to prefer nylon 6). One way to make garments more easily recyclable – whether they are made of recycled fabrics or not – is to design the garments by minimizing seams and making external components such as zippers, buttons, or labels removable.
Recycled fabrics from plastic, cotton, wool: list of producers
- Brunello SpA.: founded in 1927, Brunello S.p.A. is committed to the sustainability of products and their traceability. Among their raw materials the aforementioned cupro, but also recycled polyamide and polyester.
- Gianni Crespi foderami: specialized in the production of clothing linings, this company strictly controls the entire supply chain and all processes. It also favors recycled raw materials.
- Gruppo Cinque SpA.: among the innovative raw materials offered by this company are regenerated polyester and nylon.
- REFIBRA™: this pioneering technology created by Lenzing involves upcycling cotton scraps from garment production, partially used in the creation of TENCEL™ Lyocell.
- Mapel S.p.A: specialized in the production of knitted fabrics in wool, mohair wool, and synthetics for the fashion sector Mapel is part of the Re-Verso™ project that we introduced here.
- De Martini Bayart & Textifibra SpA: this company uses recycled fibers starting from wool and cotton.
- Comistra: this company from Prato, which has been active for almost a hundred years, is famous for its regenerated wool.
Do you want to discover other producers of sustainable, recycled fabrics? We mentioned others in this article. Companies that want to donate their textile waste, besides Re-Verso™, can rely on other virtuous systems: Project53 by Manteco and the projects carried out by Astri, the Italian recycled textile association. Astri stemmed out the desire to enhance the production of fabrics regenerated carried out in the Prato area for decades.
The limits of recycled fabrics
- Market availability:
A limitation of recycled fabrics is the offer that is still too low. Concerning recycled polyester, the market share is increasing and reached 14% in 2019, but it is not yet advancing at the required speed. In the case of rPET, the industry has historically been dependent on rPET from plastic bottles, but supply is increasingly pressured by demand from the packaging industry. That could keep the share of rPET used by fashion at around 20% in 2030.
- Conditions of workers:
While the social conditions in factories are the object of increasing attention by companies, the living and subsistence conditions of the communities involved in collecting waste are often not yet sufficiently considered.
- Limited recyclability:
Another limitation is that of the limited recyclability of the mechanical process, as explained above.
- Creative compromises:
In terms of comfort, elasticity, and durability most recycled fabrics achieve more than satisfactory performances. However, there are some limitations concerning decorative effects normally achievable on the fabric. We talked about it in an interview with Flavio Berto, CEO of Berto Industria Tessile.
- The necessity of other levers:
Adopting recycled fabrics without acting on other levers does not allow a sufficient reduction of emissions. The increase in the use of recycled polyester in a given year has a lower emission reduction potential than the adoption of 100% renewable energy in production countries, as evidenced by the Fashion on Climate report.
Recycled, regenerated, organic or bio-based fabrics? Ask Cikis
In addition to recycled fabrics, less impactful textile alternatives include regenerated, organic, or bio-based fibers. Making the best choice in terms of sustainability is not easy, especially when is also necessary to combine it with company needs and priorities. Cikis takes care of guiding companies in choosing the least impacting fabrics and at the same time more suitable for the desired performance for the collections.
Do you need support in choosing the most sustainable fabrics for your company?
Dopo esperienze di lavoro in Mango, dove ho sperimentato in prima persona la complessità del sistema produttivo del Fast Fashion, e in una tech Company americana, mi sono dedicata allo studio delle criticità ambientali e sociali della filiera di produzione delle aziende di moda e di come la tecnologia potesse supportarle nello sviluppo sostenibile.