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International Recycling Day: Clothes Well Lived Project


May 17 is International Recycle Day. We are all well aware of the importance of recycling- it’s been drilled into us repeatedly over the last decade, and heralded as the easy, DIY way to save the planet- or least do your bit.

Of course, recycling does have its merits- recycling a single run of a Sunday paper, for example, saves over 70,000 trees- and it’s something simple and easy that anyone can do at home: it’s just a case of putting waste in a different bin, right? But how do the facts add up in relation to clothes waste? And, in terms of fashion, what does ‘recycling’ really mean?

First- some facts. An estimated £140 million worth, or around 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes into landfill in the UK each year. Even more shocking, perhaps, is the fact that mixed rags have a resale value of £410 per tonne, and wearable garments are worth considerably more. According to a 2012 survey carried out by WRAP for the report ‘Valuing our Clothes,’ nearly 50% of adults have put at least some clothing ‘in the bin,’ with 7% discarding most of their unwanted clothing in this way. The total tragedy here is that when you carelessly and unthinkingly throw your old t-shirt, jumper, pair of jeans, socks in the bin, you are also throwing the cotton or polyester or whatever it’s made of, plus the water used to grow said cotton, and dye it and wash it, plus the human time and effort that went into making it in the bin. Worse still, most of these clothes are in a completely wearable condition. When you think about it like that, throwing that old dress that you haven’t worn in years in the bin seems like a complete crime.

So what can you do? The best way to reduce the amount of textile waste you produce is, quite obviously, to not throw your clothes away. According to WRAP, extending the life of clothes by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints. Only buy things you love, take care of them properly, and wear them for as long as you can. Of course, this isn’t an entirely realistic expectation. Tastes and body sizes change, and things wear out. But that doesn’t mean that that has to be the end of the road for your once-loved garment.

CSF are currently running Clothes Well Lived for the second year, a project designed to raise awareness of the possibilities of second hand clothes, with students from the London College of Fashion Design and Jewellery students in conjunction with H&M. H&M has been running their well known garment collecting scheme since 2013, the aim of which, they claim, is to collect old garments that can be reused or recycled. The truth about garment recycling, unfortunately, is that it isn’t possible- at least not yet- for textile fibres to be completely recycled, at least in the traditional sense that you think of regarding, say, plastic bottles. But the technology to separate and extract polyster and cotton fibres is currently in development, and, despite the widespread criticism of H&M’s takeback scheme, which is, admittedly, not flawless, they are working with such organisations as Worn Again to develop this technology. So, while it isn’t possible now to recycle textile fibres, it may soon be- and of course, this doesn’t mean that clothing itself can’t be reused.

Last week, H&M donated a huge amount of the second hand clothes they’ve collected in this takeback scheme to the London College of Fashion. A group of nearly 170 first year students were invited to rummage through the clothes, fish out the colours, materials, textures, patterns they wanted and create a collection using the used garments as the starting point. The project is highlighting both the sheer quantity of clothing that is discarded by the UK consumer- particularly when tempted by the promise of money off more clothes- as well as the innovations in design that are offered by looking at second hand clothes in a new light. The students are now busy cutting, unraveling, dying, stitching the old clothes to create a whole new collection out of what was once deemed ‘waste.’

You don’t need to be a fashion student to reuse and recreate your old clothes. Even wearing an old garment that you haven’t worn- or seen!- for ages is a step in the right direction. On International Recycling Day – and every day – think twice before throwing away your old clothes. Before you consign anything to landfill, there are numerous ways that its life can be lengthened. Recycling clothes can take a number of forms, from rewearing something old, to handing something down, from donating something to charity to repairing or recrafting something into something new.

Watch this space for updates on how the students are getting on – and to see the finish results!


Valuing Our Clothes: The True Cost of how we Design, Use and Dispose of Clothing in the UK,’ WRAP, 2012

Please note this is an archive blog.


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