New clothes have proliferated in parallel with the emergence of resale options. According to McKinsey, the amount of clothing produced worldwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2014, and the number of garments bought by the average customer each year increased by 60%. Nonetheless, relative to 15 years ago, buyers now wear their clothing for roughly half as long.
This model is essentially the product of a fashion supply chain that specialises in mass-producing clothes at low prices, often at the expense of jobs. Consumers, drawn in by a flood of imagery and information available online, crave constant novelty and increasingly regard clothing as a source of disposable, low-cost entertainment. According to a new survey of 2,002 adults in the United Kingdom conducted by credit card company Barclaycard, nearly one in ten confessed to purchasing clothing solely to take a photo for social media before returning it.
The fashion industry has begun to realise the need for reform. The solution is usually found in a circular economy, which reuses and repurposes existing garments while eliminating waste and virgin resources. It would necessitate several steps, one of which would be the opportunity to repurpose old clothes by separating them down into new materials and manufacturing them into textiles for future garments. Unfortunately, it is not a simple task.
Some polyester and other plastics can be recycled because they can be melted down and spun into new fibres. Brands like Zara, H&M, Adidas, and Nike have now vowed to use more or solely recycled polyester in their products, but much of it comes from reused ocean plastic rather than old garments. (While the procedure is worthwhile, it is unlikely to be sufficient to clean up the plastic in our oceans.) Other materials, such as cotton, the most widely used natural fibre in clothes, are more difficult to recycle.
Cotton is usually recycled by mechanically pulping it to break it down into raw material reused. However, this process chops and shortens the fibres. Cotton fabrics’ strength and softness are determined by the length of the fibres, with longer being better, suggesting that pulping degrades the material’s consistency. Because of this, a lot of recycled cotton is used for items like making rags or stuffing cushions, and clothing Brands that use recycled cotton in clothing are only utilising a small amount of recycled cotton.
There’s also the issue of fibre blends to consider. A lot of clothing nowadays is made from a variety of materials, such as cotton and polyester. To recycle it, you must first isolate the fibres, which is currently not feasible on a large scale.