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A Second Life: The Companies Helping Brands Engage in Textile Recycling

Today’s fast fashion cycle, growing consumer demands and overseas labor have weighed heavily on the environment. But despite this position, a more sustainable solution could help brands at least generate a second life for damaged, used and worn apparel.

At the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Summer Institute earlier this month, industry members gathered to discuss the benefits of textile recycling and how it could remedy the sector’s waste dilemma. By engaging in this sustainable practice, brands can facilitate take-back recycling programs, recycle materials from the pre-production stages and establish a better future for the planet.

“We need to bring everyone who is working in this space together and figure out a way to collectively scale these solutions,” Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) senior consultant and panelist Marisa Adler said. “You have to have convenient collection, efficient processing, strong end markets and engage consumers.”

As an environmental consulting firm, Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) helps industries, including apparel, efficiently manage sustainability, resource management and waste recovery. The company works with brands to plan recycling systems, provides risk assessment services for material supply chains and assists with textile waste recovery communications. With RRS, brands can tackle recycling issues from sourcing to finished product, while ensuring they are engaging in more sustainable practices when it comes to textile waste.

Despite efforts to curb apparel in landfills, clothing isn’t staying in everyone’s closets forever. In fact, consumers are purchasing three times the amount of clothing compared to those in the 1950’s, due to fast fashion’s hold on the industry. What’s more, U.S. consumers throw away 25 billion pounds of apparel annually.

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Nir Katz, operating partner at Tidewater Textile Recycling and panelist, highlighted how recycling take-back programs could remedy this issue. Based in Virginia, Tidewater Textile Recycling works with local municipalities, private businesses, non-profits and schools to provide clothing a second life. The company supports existing efforts to increase diversion rates and raises awareness about purchasing used clothing.

“In the post-consumer textile industry, there is a saying that smart was green before green was smart,” Katz said. “We are trying to divert the clothing out of the landfill and do something with it.”

Once Tidewater Textile Recycling collects discarded clothing, the company sends them through a recycling and reuse supply chain. U.S. thrift stores purchase used clothing from non-profit and for-profit recyclers, global sorting companies buy surplus thrift shop inventory to sell to international consumers, overseas thrift shops in developing nations import 40 percent of clothing processed by sorting businesses and fiber processors buy 50 percent of used clothing to make other textile products.

While much textile recycling is focused on post-consumer, New York-based Fabscrap is tackling waste from the garment production process.

Commercial textile waste has become a huge problem for the industry. Unlike residential textile waste, commercial textile waste is handled by private carters. Fabscrap is remedying this problem by providing convenient recycling services to New York City businesses, including apparel brands.

First, Fabscrap picks up textile scraps from businesses, including fabric headers, cutting room waste, mock-ups and rolls of fabric. Once textile waste items are brought to Fabscrap’s processing warehouse in Queens, they are sorted by local volunteers and organized according to fiber content. Fabscrap provides consolidation services that help connect businesses with brands that want unused materials. Materials in good condition are made available for pick-up at the warehouse or sold online. Smaller scraps, including those with proprietary patterns, are recycled with fiber-to-fiber technologies when possible.

Fabscrap currently works with 46 different brands and programs, including BF+DA, Eileen Fisher, Express and Mara Hoffman. By partnering with Fabscrap, brands have a more sustainable method of textile recycling and can monitor their eco-friendly efforts.

“One of the benefits is the data that comes from this project,” Fabscrap founder Jessica Schreiber said. “Every brand that signs up gets an annual report on total weight collected, percent down cycled, percent upcycled, percent to landfill and percent to header and hardware.”