There's no sugarcoating this. Fabric waste is a massive problem across the world, with a bin lorry worth of clothes being dumped into landfill every second (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
How do we deal with it? Well, it starts with not producing as many clothes in the first place. It means shopping preloved where we can to keep existing clothes being worn rather than dumped.
We’re still left with worn out or damaged clothes that are beyond repair.
So what if we told you there was a super exciting solution that involves a spark of creativity, a bit of community spirit and sewing?
That’s why we started hosting the Green Heart Collective Transformation Challenge. What else does this entail and does it really solve the problem of fabric waste? Don’t hang about, read on!
P.S you still have time to enter our second Transformation Challenge, which starts from the 12th of November. Click here to grab a ticket, you could win a £50 Hobbycraft voucher.
Creative Solutions to Fabric Waste
The Story of the Transformation Challenge
Before we get there, we just want to point out that we haven’t invented upcycling. We’re really inspired by the ideas of sashiko and visible mending. There comes a point where garments need something a bit more radical, though. Again, we were not left wanting for examples to follow. We are super proud of the small independent upcyclers across the UK who turn fabric waste into amazing creations. Take denim, for example.
So, what is our Transformation Challenge all about? Let’s start from the beginning.
If you didn’t already know, we’re a social enterprise based on one of the biggest and oldest commercial estates in Europe. Our mission is to save as much waste as we can from landfill and we do this by working with local businesses in Gateshead to help them deal with returns and deadstock, as well as providing a drop-off point for individuals.
A lot of what we do is saving clothes. Most of the time, we open boxes of returns to discover perfectly good clothes that can be steamed, photographed and listed online.
Sometimes we might need to do a small repair job, sewing on a button, for example.
And then we have a big growing pile of damaged clothes.
This is how our Transformation Challenge idea was born, as a solution to dealing with these faulty garments.
Of course we were partly inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee. On the TV series they have a section where they have to take damaged garments and radically transform them into new items.
So we thought, what a great idea. Shouldn’t we all be doing this? We set up an event, people came and entered and we got some fantastic results.
To learn more about the story of the Green Heart Transformation Challenge, click here.
Three Other Ideas for Upcycling Fabric Waste
There are lots of other really exciting ideas that pop up across TikTok, Pinterest and some age old classics for turning fabric waste into something useful.
- Draught Excluder - This is a great one for the wintertime and it involves turning scrap materials in a long draughter excluder for keeping the warmth in your home. Search for "DIY draught excluder".
- Turn fabric waste into twine - we’ve included a handy YouTube video below. It’s a great way to combine all your fabric waste together which you could turn into jewellery, something to keep keys or glasses on.
- Rag rugs - there’s a clear step-by-step tutorial on how to make braided rugs here. Great for putting under your desk for a pop of colour and to keep your feet off cold floors.
Turning Fabric Waste Into Art
Fabric waste and discarded garments do not always have to serve a utilitarian purpose. Just take a look at some of these fantastic creations using fabric waste below.
We absolutely love this ocean-inspired tapestry made using fabric waste.
This one hits home. Just look at the sheer pile of T-Shirts. It's really not just 'another T-Shirt', is it?
Japanese shironuri artist Minori (@cute_minori) on the street in Harajuku wearing an outfit handmade from recycled clear umbrellas - part of a new project she's working on based around reimagining Japan's discarded materials as fashion/wearable art #原宿 https://t.co/7NzOpzeckV pic.twitter.com/fovzZsm5lU— Tokyo Fashion (@TokyoFashion) December 24, 2020
So what can you do with broken umbrellas? Turn them into a super cool outfit to speak out against disposable fashion culture, of course! If you like the idea of transforming umbrellas into clothing, check out our interview with R-Coat, who make old umbrellas into apparel.
Upcycling versus Downcycling
When we talk about recycling fabric waste, we usually talk about upcycling. This is the idea of turning a waste product into something brand new with more value.
Another term is downcycling or cascading. This is where clothes are broken down and actually turned into something of lesser quality. When you see recycled T-Shirts made using recycled plastic bottles, this is where the term applies. Usually, these shirts are just not as strong as an 100% cotton equivalent. They can't be easily recycled because usually it's a blend of plastic and natural fibres that are hard to separate.
The lesson we should all learn here is that it is vital where possible to use clothes as clothes for as long as possible.
How to Make Clothes Last for longer and reduce fabric waste
- Care for your clothes in the first place. Checking care labels and washing on lower spin cycles and temperatures (and avoiding the tumble dryer) are all helpful ways to reduce the wear and tear on your garment. Wash clothes less, go easy on the lint roller, steam them if possible.
- Dare to rewear. Need a new dress for town every Friday night? Think again. It’s cool to rewear clothes. Just look at the celebs rewearing looks from Keira Knightley to the Duchess of Wales Kate Middleton, Meryl Streep and even Michelle Obama - reworking or completely repeating outfits at major public events!
- Clothes will wear naturally over time. Embrace it.
- As your favourite T-Shirts fade, get stained or have small holes, demote them to wearing at home. They can then become pyjamas and then used for cleaning.
- If you’re going to upcycle a garment, use a pattern or design that minimises waste.
- Avoid downcycling if you can. If a T-Shirt is perfectly good for use, sell or donate it first rather than cutting up perfectly good clothes.
As fashion waste continues to mount up, we need to come up with lots of creative ways to repurpose and reuse clothes. Why not share what you do with fabric waste in the comments below?