What is Recycled Fashion

If you want to live a more sustainable life and have an ethical wardrobe, recycling clothing is excellent. It can be not easy to know where to begin. Because most products and materials are not circularly designed, there is no way to recycle them all. Although most clothing made of synthetic fibres can be recycled, it wasn’t intended to.

Most consumers will buy a polyester dress and donate it to charity or throw it away. It will then be thrown in the trash, biodegrade over hundreds of years, releasing microplastics to the atmosphere and ground.

The UK government rejected a proposal in June 2019 to ban textiles being thrown away. Instead, our government is focusing on recycled clothing. This means that shoppers must know what it is and how it was made and where it can be found.

What is the process of reusing clothes?

There are four ways to create recycled clothing:

  1. Upcycling and resale via UK charity shops or design projects.
  2. Resale abroad for used clothing markets.
  3. Raw material recycling for natural fabric.

There is also raw material recycling for synthetic materials like rayon, polyester and polyamide.

Natural materials such as wool and cotton are separated and cleaned. The fibers are then spun into yarn to create new fabrics. This process is more complicated if a garment is made with a blend of cotton and polyester.

Polyester textiles need to be broken down into small pieces that can be melted down to make new fabrics. Chemical processes can break down other synthetic materials, but the raw materials can be used in other industries like car manufacturing.

The rapid fashion industry has led to a market not conducive to circular business practices and investment in proper recycling. It is cheaper to make, sell and purchase cheap clothing that can be quickly disposed of and replaced than to make clothing that lasts and can be safely recycled or remade. The latter option leads to an inevitable cycle of production, which puts strain on garment workers, and irreversibly damages the environment.

Frankie Phillips is the founder of TOBEFRANK, a sustainable fashion brand. We talked to her about her experiences in Asia’s garment sector and the inspiration behind her label.

We want to know more about your brand. What’s the story?

When I was 22, the first TOBEFRANK version was created. It was completely transparent, but extremely expensive, and made in England. I was able to show the entire supply chain, including the pattern cutters and machinists.

After three years of working full-time and pushing the brand, I realized how little I knew about the industry and how much I needed learning. I decided to move to Beijing to become a designer at Jack and Jones. After two years learning about supply chain management, I moved to Hong Kong and began developing new ideas to relaunch TOBEFRANK.

Once you have made friends with the people working in factories and witnessed the effects of poor factory management on the environment, you can’t turn your back. In 2018, I fled Asia to establish TOBEFRANK, and show that clothing can be made without costing the earth.

What influence did your experience in the industry have on your interest in sustainable fashion design?

My first job was the part I loved most about it. It was the people I worked alongside. The pattern cutters, merchandisers, and machinists. It was amazing to see how many people were needed to make clothes and how talented everyone was.

It was my passion to communicate the logistics of the supply chain. I believed customers would like to know the origin of their clothes. I found that no matter where the clothes were purchased, whether they were at Liberty or House of Fraser.

My life was changed by living in Asia. I traveled a lot and saw the destruction to the environment firsthand. My first Christmas in Beijing was the turning point. There was a threat to Westerners in South Chaoyang, and the army was called to evacuate us. Although it was not proven, it was reported that a rebellion had been started in a northern Chinese village. The clothing pollution had made their lives and lands so difficult that they were desperate. They wanted to fight.

I detoured this village on a sourcing mission a month later. I saw rivers with purple soil dried up from denim dye houses. I also saw crumbling houses and an empty, deserted place. This day will always be with me. Although I wasn’t directly responsible for this damage, my hands still feel dirty.

Even though we had a good supply chain for high street UK stores, I saw water gushing from factories and people living in tiny weather-beaten huts. It tore me apart. How could they have given me a roof over my head when I had none? They were probably working more hours than me, and that is a fact I can bet on. Part-time courses were offered to me to gain more knowledge about sustainability, ethics, and the changing of agriculture.

My time in Beijing was spent implementing different methods to reduce water consumption and production waste. After two years, I moved to Hong Kong to oversee Next’s Asia production development. I developed a new method of working in the sourcing process.

It took six months for the entire office to switch to BCI cotton. Even then, it was not a common practice. My coworkers wanted to see the world change, but it was too slow. I thought, “If I can’t convince retailers to push for sustainable development, then I’ll be the one leading the way.”

Please tell us how you approach things differently. How can one make ethical and sustainable clothing?

TO BE FRANK started with fabric scraps. This fabric is taken to a recycling plant where it is made into new fibre that can be spun.

We use organic cotton and make dresses using leftover cotton seeds. This mill is the only one that has vegan certification. They use vegetable dyes, and they don’t use enzyme washing – enzyme washing is small bacteria that eats away the fabric base to smoothen it.

We are also working towards becoming circular. Although we are circular in many aspects, until we have full production runs with all waste being reused and clothing still usable after the wearer has used it, we won’t be officially circular. However this is our business goal.

All of our trims are made with remelted scrap metal from other brands. All of our thread is either recycled or organic, and all interlining is also recycled. We have many other projects in the pipeline, some of which will work, others might not. But that’s the beauty of a brand like this. We can be innovative and push the boundaries.

What is the concept of recycling clothing?

There are two types of recycled clothing: pre-consumer, where fabric leftovers from previous production runs can be used to make new items; and post-consumer, which reuses worn garments and then thrown away.

We currently create pre-consumer, recycled clothing. We take fabric from previous productions of other brands and bag them up in plastic bags. These are taken and made into new fabrics. After production, the dust is donated for insulation to a chimney company.

Although our mission is to work with post-consumer recycling clothing, the problem is logistical. Once the clothing has been collected, it must be unpicked, removed all trimmings, and cleaned. Although it is possible, the cost of hiring someone to pick the clothing and make the clothes into new clothing is prohibitive. This is something that we are looking into.

How do you create clothes using recycled or recyclable materials?

On average, our recycling plant receives 800 tons of fabric each month. This is a lot of fabric that would otherwise go to landfill. Cotton is the most water-intensive crop, so it’s not just fabric that gets thrown away, but also all the water used and the time taken to grow it.

The fabric is sorted by its colour and then made into fluffy fibre. Once it arrives at the recycling facility, it can be spun into yarn that can be used to make new fabric. It’s important to remember including the thread and trims in the recycling fabric. For a piece of clothing to be labeled’recycled clothing,’ it must also walk the talk.

What are the potential benefits for both people and the planet?

First, profit is important to any business. Profit is essential throughout the supply chain to ensure people thrive and prosper. A business must be sustainable by earning fair wages from the cotton farm to the packaging worker.

Sustainability is more than using organic fabrics. It’s also about people. All factories are audited, but that is not what we rely upon. My framework has been developed over the years. It is based on three areas: Innovation, Responsibly, and Transparency. This framework is used throughout product development.

The environment and people will be greatly benefited by well-made clothing. People don’t have to inhale chemicals at work. Paying people fairly ensures that people and communities are healthy and happy.

Organic cotton is free of pesticides and water waste. This helps communities grow their food crops. `

Tell us about your latest collection

The latest collection is all about fighting for the world we want. The world is changing rapidly – fires, floods, and now a pandemic are all examples of becoming more vulnerable to the outside world. What did we expect? For decades, we have treated our planet so badly.

Fashion industry changes must be made. Fashion is the second most polluting industry worldwide and the largest employer globally. We are creating a “change the world” tribe, a group of people who want to take a stand for bettering the world.

Our 100% recycled statement T-shirts are made with honest and bold messaging to help the wearer make a stand for peace. It can be difficult to stand up for your beliefs in these situations. Our clothing makes it easy to make a statement and is creative and fun.

The Don’t be a Donald Tshirt is our most loved piece. I believe it’s because it addresses race, sex, and climate change on so many levels. It’s something many people can relate to. “In a world that allows you to be anyone, don’t be Donald” is what we say.

What’s next? What are you hoping to accomplish?

There are many exciting projects in the works, including our new ‘rubbish collection’ of recycled clothing that will be available in August. Additionally, we will be dyeing with natural dyes and supporting local women’s empowerment projects. We will also introduce zero-waste facial masks.

One extremely concerning in this tragic incident is the number of disposable plastic facemasks that will be thrown out over the next few weeks. This is going to continue to pollute the environment.

We worked closely with our supply chain to create a zero-waste mask. We used recycled material leftovers, and reused any wasted in the next production.

They exist, despite what retailers and brands might believe. We have the power to make things better. My favorite way to see our customers is as our investors. Every penny we receive from them is an investment in growing as a company. We must be transparent about what we do and how our clothes are made, as investors have the right of knowing where their money is going.

So, when we, as consumers, spend money with brands that don’t uphold our values, it is investing in a company and supporting them in their work. We can impact the world by changing how we shop and how we think about where our money goes.

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