What do you do with your clothes once you’re done using them? Do you stuff them into the depths of your closet, throw them in the trash or give them a second life? Most people would say yes to either of the first two options, and they may not even consider the last one.
This common practice of sending used clothes to landfill isn’t good for two main reasons. Firstly, textiles are solid waste that take time and environmental resources to break down or degrade. Secondly, more than 80% of textile waste can be reclaimed and given a new life, thus considerably reducing the environmental impact.
As designers, we can do our part to ensure that unwanted products, particularly garments, are reused. When we design with an idea of what our customers can do with their purchase when they no longer want it, it is easier to give our products an after-life.
Textile Recycling: What Does It Really Mean?
There are two wise things that can be done with used garments:
A textile product that you no longer want may still be usable. In such a case, you can sell it, hand it down or give it away as second-hand. Many organisations like Oxfam or Goodwill accept such donations and give your clothes and nicknacks a new home. You can also repurpose items to create new and unique pieces. Converting your favourite pair of jeans into a shoulder bag is a creative example of this concept. This is sometimes called “Upcycling”.
The other option is Recycling. Turn your used goods into something that has a new use. Depending on the condition of the product, it could be converted into rags or cleaning cloths. Those that are entirely worn out can be used as insulation or broken down into threads and used to create new fabric.
Who Will Do It And How?
If you can sew, it is easy to convert clothing that is no longer wearable into wipes, cloth bags or quilts. This may not, however, be possible with clothes that are beyond worn out or when customers just aren’t sewers or makers. In this case, you should encourage your customers to dispose of them without sending them to landfill.
One method would be to simply ask your customer to deliver their unwanted goods to council recycling centres that accept used clothing and distribute them to those who need it. Why not include a useful “end of life” bag with an address?
When giving items to charity, there have been many damning reports into the oversaturation of second hand western clothes into markets of Sub-Saharan Africa. Western clothes have obliterated cultural traditions in many places, when consumers think they are giving clothes away to be reused here, they don’t realise that actually many of these clothes are bundled and sold overseas. This has had a postive and negative effect on these places, it’s not as clear cut as just giving your item to charity and forgetting about it.
Many garment manufacturers like H&M allow you to drop off used clothes in any condition, and they recycle them. Why not take a leaf out of their book and offer the same? I suggest that you take a look at this article on their Garment Collecting Program, to find out all about it.
Taking clothes back is a step in the right direction, but the tricky part is encouraging customers to give up their used clothes instead of sending them to landfill in the first place. There are some brands that have come up with solutions. Let us find out what they are.
Ideas For Second Use
Simply asking a customer to send back their used clothes is not always going to work. A customer may be reluctant to go through all this trouble, unless he considers it necessary. In many cases, customers may be bored of their clothes even before it wears out, and may find that throwing it in the bin is easier than carrying it down to a collection centre.
So, what we need is develop a strategy to entice even those customers who aren’t environment-conscious to recycle their used clothes. Riz Board Shorts manages to do this by offering a 25% discount on new shorts to customers who send their used shorts back in after they are worn out. This also encourages brand loyalty.
Organisations like Marks & Spencer and their “Shwopping Scheme” and H&M (mentioned above) also promote zero waste programs by offering discount vouchers for clothes that are brought to their collection centres.
You may begin to question the ethics of this: By offering monetary rewards are we just encouraging customers to buy more? We are lulled into a false sense that we are doing the right thing. As ethical fashion activist Timo Rissanen suggests, is it simply ignoring the core ethical issue of over-consumption?
One of the areas where end of life processsing and reusing is making giant leaps is with corporatewear. When uniforms become obsolete, brands and companies are reluctant to sell off their uniforms for reuse as this may tarnish the brand. In the past this was a huge issue and often uniforms would go straight to landfill. Happily, many companies like The Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse are developing technology and ideas on how to recycle these uniforms effectively; whether that is by strategically placing the logo somewhere it can be easily removed, so that the rest of the garment can be used again, or by using fibres that can be completely reformed and recycled.
Unlike fashion brands who rely on their customers actively engaging and returning their used clothing, corporatewear stays in the control of the company, who can return every item back to the manufactuer. The question is, can fashion brands follow this lead?
What Can Designers Do To Encourage Responsible Recycling
You may be surprised to learn that not all consumers are aware of the fact that clothing and textiles are almost always 100% recyclable. As those who belong to the fashion industry, we can take initiatives to educate our customers of this fact through our website, blogs and advertisements. Encourage your customers to donate their used clothes to charity or sell them off at garage sales or online, and reduce their environmental footprint. The article “What to do with Clothing and Textiles” on Recycle Now provides more information on this topic.
We can assume greater responsibility in educating our customers about the efficiency of textile recycling and the massive demand for used clothing and reprocessed fibres. Also, as environmentally responsible citizens, we should focus on designs that are easy to recycle. We can begin by using only pure and sustainable fibres in our designs.
Ultimately, the customer decides what they should do, but they should know that the option of throwing their clothes in the bin and sending it to landfill isn’t the only one. The least we can do is to convince them of the importance of recycling, and make them aware of the environmental impact of their choice and the best we can do is offer recycling and re-use solutions.
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