Have you ever wondered what happens after your favourite brand of T-shirt or kurta is manufactured? What is done to all the fabric leftovers? Have you pondered what textile manufacturers end up doing with these leftovers? Do they opt for fabric upcycling?
The leftovers and scraps generated post textile manufacturing are collectively known as pre-consumer fabric waste. Post-consumer waste is the waste generated after the consumer has used the product. Usually, the pre consumer fabric waste gets sold to become chindi or shredded or in the case of some big brands, even incinerated. In India, a lot of post-consumer fabric waste ends up in landfills or incinerated. What can be used to recreate and have a renewed purpose instead consumes more energy and resources to be destroyed!
During garment production, as much as 25 to 40 per cent of the total fabric used ends up as fabric leftovers and textile waste. And of this waste 50-80% per cent can be upcycled into new garments.
According to a McKinsey report, in the last two decades or so, thanks to the growing middle class population and the rise in expendable incomes, textile production has approximately doubled between 2000 and 2014. The trend of fast fashion has exacerbated the problem. Industry has stepped up production of newer garment designs at breakneck speed and more frequently than before. Clothing lines are no longer restricted to a season. Fueling this demand is low-cost clothing which, more often than not, ends up unused or discarded. Right now, the industry is functioning in a linear way – use a humungous amount of limited natural resources like water, land, fossil fuels to create clothes, wear it for a while, discard, repeat – which is, without a doubt, very detrimental to the environment.
But did you know that these discarded textiles can be given a second life by the process of fabric upcycling?
What is Fabric Upcycling?
Fabric upcycling is when pre- or post-consumer textile waste material, or a combination of the two, is repurposed and given a new lease of life to create newer garments / products with better quality and a higher environmental value.
For example, we at Rimagined make use of denim fabric that has been discarded by manufacturers. We add more value to it and transform it into a tote bag, laptop bags, furnishings or an apron.
Which Fabrics Can Be Upcycled?
Commonly, yarns and fibres and cut of fabrics like cotton, wool, and denim . Cotton and denim are some of the popular choices as they are dependable for their tensile strength.
The Difference between Upcycling and Recycling Fabric
Fabric upcycling is different from fabric recycling.
Simply put, upcycling is reusing the same fabric and transforming it into something else, something better. On the other hand, fabric recycling is all about first breaking down the materials and then reconstituting them into something different. Recycling of fabric is usually done using two methods – mechanical recycling and chemical recycling.
Mechanical recycling is the process of shredding a fabric, such as cotton or wool, into fibre. This fibre is then woven into a new fabric.
In chemical recycling, chemicals are used to treat the fabric and then they are dissolved. A new fabric is made from mixing the resulting fibre with other fibres.
The downside is that recycling processes uses a lot of resources. Especially in the case of chemical recycling, which uses harmful substances.
On the other hand, upcycling processes are not as damaging to the environment as they use existing resources and not any new raw materials from the environment. Thus, lesser material make its way into landfills.
Methods of Fabric upcycling
There are multiple techniques in use for fabric or textile upcycling. The most commonly used methods are Weaving, Quilting and Stitching.
Weaving works best for fabrics that are cut in equal strips. In this technique, a hole is cut in one of the fabric strips and the other strip is looped through this hole.
Then pulling it tight, a knot is created securing the loop and attaching the fabric strips. Our wonderfully weaved durries give you an insight to our process.
This technique involves a layering method like sewing a quilt, wherein two or three layers of fabric bits are sewn together. Look how our artisans have quilted these cool denim bed covers.
Simply put, stitching involves putting multiple pieces of fabric bits or scraps together and securing them using yarn or thread. Our impressive apparel line is all about this textile upcycling method.
Some fibres that cannot be used using the above methods are compressed to be used as textile filling, like in mattresses.
Converting Fabric into Home Décor
There is no limit to what you can do with fabric. And the principle holds true with upcycled fabric as well. Not just clothing and accessories, repurposed textiles can transform beautifully into home décor pieces, furnishings, and furniture accents.
Rugs, stools, sofa throws, cushion covers, bed covers, and carpets are just some of the wonderful fabric products that can be generated from upcycled fabric.
Benefits of Fabric Upcycled
Dumping and burning this waste also takes up energy, fuel, and manpower. Incinerating the waste also results in air pollution as it releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which exacerbates global warming.
When dumped in landfills, natural fibres take years to decompose whereas artificial or man-made fibres like nylon, polyester, spandex, etc., do not decompose at all. Instead they breakdown into micro fibres that end up contaminating soil and ground water with the poly materials (not visible to the naked eye) seeping into the ground.
But when we put this waste to good use and creatively repurpose it with the help of fabric upcycling, it saves all the time, effort and resources needed just to discard it.
Traditionally, production of textiles requires a substantial amount of land, water, non-renewable energy sources, chemicals, labour and other resources. Not to forget that ten per cent of global carbon emissions can be credited to the fashion industry. (Source: World Bank) It is also the second largest industrial polluter; first being the oil industry (Source: onegreenplanet.org)
During production a majority of the textile factories cause pollution that remains untreated for a very long time.
When we upcycle fabric waste, we already have a material in hand, thereby reducing the need for new raw materials, in turn reducing the use of resources like fuel, water, and lower generation of air pollution, water pollution and CO2 emissions.
‘Best out of waste’ – is the mantra for any true upcycler. When upcyclers see waste, they don’t see it as just ‘waste’. In fact, their creative juices start flowing and they can visualise how they can inventively repurpose the waste into a better and more substantial products. The don’t see ‘waste’; they see ‘potential’.
You will find it hard to believe that most of the products that our talented artisans create from fabric leftovers were once deemed as ‘waste’.
Disadvantages of Fabric Upcycling
Upcycling or repurposing fabrics has a lot of pros, but it currently meets many challenges that act like cons.
- One of the main hurdles is time and effort in sorting and reprocessing the textile waste. Post-consumer waste clothing and fabrics is made out of different fibres.
- Also, not all fabrics can be easily upcycled. The possibility of textile recycling or upcycling of petroleum based fabrics like polyester is quite slim.
- The other challenge in fabric upcycling is also the limitation in terms of creating replicas. Since the design is constraint driven, the final product is an outcome of what is available at the time. So it is not always possible to create exact replicas of a design.
Why You Should Embrace Upcycled Fabric Based Products
The good news is that the trend for upcycled and recycled clothing is taking off. However, we have a long way to go. Fashion designers are beginning to see the potential of sustainable and eco- fashion and are open to experiment.
Likewise, there is a steady stream of entrepreneurs building start-ups on the principle of fabric upcycling and related sustainable products. Their vision involves making the best out of the existing resource pool and keep tonnes of textile excess out of the waste stream.
The duty of consumers like you and me is to take a progressive step towards sustainability by making meaningful choices when we buy the next product.