Old carpet and fishing nets: Why you should be wearing clothes made from rubbish

When it comes to sustainability credentials, the world of fashion has, to put it mildly, got some work to do.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year – that’s second only to the oil industry.

But with consumers increasingly demanding more environmentally-considerate fashion, brands are having to take notice.

And, one of the biggest trends this season is to be found not in the realms of colour or cut, but when you dig deep into the fabric that garments are being made from.

Whether it’s plastic bottles rescued from the ocean, old fishing nets, or previously worn T-shirts, it’s all about junk couture, with companies looking to traditional waste products to create something new.

Yana Active is a British-based women’s activewear brand with designs that could go head to head with the likes of Sweaty Betty or Lululemon.

But what you might not realise, as you pull on a pair of their shorts or a crop top, is that the fabric you’re wearing used to be an old carpet or fishing net.

‘Our 2.0 shorts and crops are made with 78% recycled nylon and 22% Lycra,’ explains co-founder Sophie Wilson. ‘We purchase the fabric from a UK supplier, who gets it from an Italian manufacturer called Econyl, which is the industry leader in this sort of thing.

The nylon comes from a variety of sources – old carpets from the Netherlands and the US, old fishing nets from volunteer divers who swim down to collect them and direct from the fishing industry – as well as from fashion brands such as Speedo and Gucci who, like us, keep and recycle the scraps that are left over from the production process.’

The nylon is separated from other waste and shredded before undergoing what is known as a depolymerisation process. This is where pressure and heat are used to break the large molecules down to their component parts, which are identical to those sourced from crude oil.

These components can then be used to make nylon that is utterly indistinguishable from brand-new nylon – the only difference is that no fossil fuels have been used.

In fact, every 10,000 tonnes of this recycled nylon that’s produced saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoids 65,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. And any new products can be recycled in the same way – indefinitely.

But it’s not just fishing nets and carpets that are being recycled to make clothes.

Plastic bottles and other ocean waste can undergo a similar depolymerising process to become all manner of synthetic clothing.

Parley For The Oceans is an environmental organisation founded in 2012 to raise awareness of the fragility of the oceans. One of their projects involves recovering plastic waste from oceans and beaches – mainly plastic bottles – in places such as the Maldives before turning it into yarn that you’ll find in a range of Adidas clothing and footwear.

And British childrenswear brand Frugi does similar, taking plastic bottles and transforming them into polyester yarn that is used to make coats, backpacks, lunch bags and pencil cases – one coat saves 36 plastic bottles from going into landfill.

Elsewhere, a Swedish company called Renewcell is making a fibre called Circulose from worn-out cotton clothing.

Brands including Levi’s and H&M have incorporated it into their collections in recent years, while outdoor brand Patagonia, which has been quietly flying the flag for sustainable clothing for years, uses recycled wool (from factory scraps and returned garments) to make its clothes.

For the spring 2021 season, 12% of its wool materials were made with recycled wool.

Other companies are getting smarter about ensuring they use every single bit of fabric. London-based brand Nobody’s Child uses the scraps that are left after cutting the patterns for their main collection to make limited-edition accessories such as collars, bags, scrunchies and masks.

While it’s definitely a step forward to see the rag trade looking to make fashion a more circular industry, it’s not a silver bullet to sustainability.

We need to remember that when it comes to making environmental choices, while there’s a lot of focus on recycling, we shouldn’t forget the other two Rs – reduce the amount of stuff we use, and reuse what we do have for as long as possible.

To start your junk-wearing journey, check out these sustainable finds…

Yana Active 2.0 Purple Haze shorts

Made from 78% recycled nylon with 22% Lycra for stretch.

Buy it for £44 from Yana Active

The White Company recycled faux-fur snood

100% Polyester faux fur made from pre-consumer and post-consumer polyamides and polyesters, such as PET bottles.

Buy it for £14.70 from The White Company

Baukjen Grace recycled wool jumper

Made from recycled wool and cashmere from a fashion brand that also sells its products second-hand and rents them out.

Buy it for £99 from Baukjen

Frugi Explorer waterproof all-in-one

Made from recycled polyester, it takes 35 plastic bottles to create a suit like this for a child aged three to four years old.

Buy it for £55 from Frugi

Patagonia women’s nano puff jacket

A 100% recycled polyester shell filled with post-consumer recycled polyester insulation.

Buy it for £180 from Patagonia

Recycled organic T-shirt

Composed of 50% post-consumer remanufactured organic cotton and 50% organic cotton.

Buy it for £18 from Rapanui

Scamp & Dude Supercharged weekender bag

The outer is made from 100% recycled polyester, meaning 23 plastic bottles destined for landfill made this bag.

Buy it for £65 from Scamp & Dude

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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