Why It's Important To Do Your Research Into Fashion Trends...

Why It's Important To Do Your Research Into Fashion Trends...

September 08, 2016

It is so ridiculously easy to latch onto an idea that sounds good and roll with it - Trust me, I would know.

"You say there's recycled plastic bottles in my leggings? Sweeeeeeet gimme some of them do-gooder pants!"

And off I go believing my leggings are going to change the world - and that I am awesome for wearing them.

roll on blindly satisfied with myself "Hey, did you know my pants are made from recycled plastic bottles?" I state more than ask to friends at a party. Smiling smugly I wait for fan-praise.

Instead the token smartass pipes up.

"Yah... but what about the process to change the bottles into fabric? Wouldn’t there be a lot of chemicals involved to break them down?" pipes up the token smart-ass.

[Stunned face]

Why oh why does there have to be one in every group? Secretly I love these people, the way they make me check myself and go searching for answers to their annoyingly smart questions, because I honestly have no bleeping idea how to answer their question. I don't know.

How do hard plastic bottles = soft and supple leggings?

It becomes apparent I had missed a few steps in concluding the environmental goodness of my pants, such as…

  1. HOW DO I KNOW THERE’S TRULY RECYCLED BOTTLES IN MY LEGGINGS?
  2. IS THE PROCESS TRULY "ECO-FRIENDLIER" AND MORE ETHICAL?
  3. IS 100% RECYCLED THE "ECO-FRIENDLIEST"?

Full disclosure: I am not a professional writer. If finding spelling and grammar mistakes in this article will give you anxiety, please read with a cup of tea and a nail file close at hand.

  1. HOW DO I KNOW THERE’S TRULY RECYCLED BOTTLES IN MY PANTS?

This is a big question, and the answer is there may not be.

The industry has become so profitable that some suppliers are making new plastic bottles just to recycle them. Woah, wtf?! 

Textile mills (fabric-making-companies) can claim to use polyester made from recycled plastic bottles, but they may have no idea. Polyester suppliers could be selling textiles mills any blend of fibers from new plastic bottles to just new polyester under the false claim that it’s recycled.   

In your research on this topic you may frequently come across the acronym PET. PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, otherwise known as polyester. There's no test so you can forget the big name, just know that plastic bottles labelled with the #1 have the same chemistry make-up as polyester.

                                   PET = Polyester = #1 plastic bottles

Okay so now you need to know about GRS, aka the Global Recycling Standard.

"GRS provides a traceable tracking system that ensures that any claims that a fabric is made from recycled polyester can be officially backed up."

There are three levels of GRS certification, bronze, silver and gold, based on the percentage of recycled content. Gold is over 95% and bronze has at least 30%.

REPREVE is the name of one company that has achieved the GRS gold level certification. REPREVE turns recycled plastic bottles into smaller fibers that can be spun into yarns used by textile mills to create fabric.

                         REPREVE = 95 - 100% certified recycled content

By looking for products that say REPREVE on the hangtag, you can know that you are buying something made from the highest content of certified recycled plastic bottles.

  1. IS THE PROCESS TRULY MORE ECO-FRIENDLY AND ETHICAL?

It depends. As part of the GRS certification process, they ensure the following:

  • That there is a water treatment system in place,
  • That no toxic additives are used as process chemicals, and no harmful finishes are added to the fabric
  • That workers have basic rights.

So yes, if the clothing brand is using material with a GRS certification, it is likely more eco-friendly and ethical.

REPREVE, a GRS gold level certified company, totes the following facts on their website;

630 million - total number of bottles they have recycled

3.8 million - gallons of gasoline their processes have saved

52,313 people - water saved could supply drinking water to this many for one year

2,943 acres - amount of pine forest saved

The above numbers are comparing recycled polyester to new polyester

These numbers were "determined by an independent firm using life cycle inventory (LCA) of the full manufacturing process compared against the same process for virgin fiber. Gas, water per person and pine forest numbers are based on the equivalency information sourced primarily from the EPA."

EPA = US Environmental Protection Agency.

  1. IS 100% RECYCLED THE ECO-FRIENDLIEST?

Trick question and the answer is not really.

50% is the maximum content of recycled polyester that can be used in fabric before the quality of the fabric becomes compromised.

Fabrics made from 100% recycled polyester are not as high quality as fabrics made from a blend of recycled and non-recycled.

This is because the quality of recycled polyester fibers is less consistent than the quality of non-recycled polyester fibers, due to inconsistencies in the plastic bottles being recycled. Using too much recycled polyester can result in fabric with more flaws and a shorter lifespan, ie; it will end up in a landfill faster.

Let's breakdown the product care labels for better understanding:

                        If the care label says: 100% recycled polyester

  • This could be true if the company is using GRS gold level certified material. Otherwise it's likely on a sliding scale of less true to not true at all.
  • There was likely more fabric wastage during production. Fabric wastage = fabric that can't be used during manufacturing and is thus thrown away. Often there is wastage due to flaws in the fabric such as holes and snags. These flaws are more common in fabrics made from 100% recycled polyester than fabrics made from a lesser content of recycled material.
  • The product may have a shorter lifespan. Fabric made from 100% recycled polyester is likely to breakdown faster, due to fiber inconsistencies. The result is a garment more prone to forming holes and snags.

                 If the care label says: 50% polyester / 50% recycled polyester

  • This means they are claiming that 50% of the polyester fibers used were derived from 100% recycled plastic bottles. "50% of the time I am 100% correct!"
  • These percentages could be true if the recycled content is GRS gold level certified. If not, then the product likely has less recycled content than it is claiming. Perhaps none at all.
  • If the recycled content is GRS gold level certified then this product is the ideal balance of recycled vs non-recycled material, meaning that the fabric used is as eco-friendly and ethical as it can be without compromising quality.

THIS IS THE RECAP:

  1. HOW DO I KNOW THERE’S TRULY RECYCLED BOTTLES IN MY PANTS?

- Some are not recycled at all. Company's that want to prove their source can seek GRS certification (Global Recycling Standard)

- If the company is using GRS Gold level certified material, then 95 - 100% of the recycled polyester content is proven to be made from genuine recycled plastic bottles.

- REPREVE is the brand name of one company with GRS Gold level certification. Look for it on the products hangtag!

  1. IS THE PROCESS TRULY MORE ECO-FRIENDLY AND ETHICAL?

- If the product is made from REPREVE or other GRS certified material then it is most likely more eco-friendly and ethical than it's non-recycled or non-certified equivalent.

  1. IS 100% RECYCLED THE ECO-FRIENDLIEST?

- Studies have shown that the recycled content should not exceed 50%. Using more than 50% recycled polyester results in poorer fabric quality, ie; the fabric is more prone to holes, snagging and ultimately breaking down faster. This means more fabric is wasted during manufacturing and the end-product may end up in a landfill sooner. Defeating the entire point.

For those of you satisfied to stop here, I hope you feel full of world changing knowledge and an eagerness to buy smarter.

For those of you just getting warmed up or left with more questions than answers, you can start by following the links below:

REPREVE - Maker of recycled PET material

GRS - Global Recycling Standard - as managed by the Textile Exchange

CONTROL UNION - origin of GRS

 

 

 

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