CALL US NOW: 0207-700-2354
FREE UK shipping on orders £40+ (excl. sale items)

How does recycled material clothing work?

December 31, 2023

We love fashion! There is no greater art in our opinion than the art of dressing well. But the turtles on the tiny Australian islands that are rapidly disappearing underwater may not share our view. How to balance our love for fashion and our concern for the environment? Recycled material clothing is one way forward.


Recycling the fabric used for clothing can be done in several ways. There are now factories who specialise entirely in recycling polycotton. Polycotton is a blend of polyester and cotton. This company can separate out the two materials and uses the recycled polyester for sunglasses and clothes hangers . The recycled cotton goes to help farmers mulch their fields to grow vegetables. It is quite a revolution to be able to do this, as previously it was quite a head scratcher when fabrics were made of more than one component.


The company is supplied with raw material in several ways. Uniforms, such as school uniforms, workwear, and sports uniforms are usually made from polycotton, as it is easy to wash, cheap, and doesn’t stain easily. So the company has contacts with brands who send them unsold stock, sports clubs who give them old uniforms, and the general public are also encouraged to donate clothing by booking collections online.

Recycled Material Clothing – Shred Them up!

The other way to deal with fabric composites is not to separate them at all. If you finely shred them, you can then use the resulting fluff to stuff pillows, make beds or as insulation. Or you can use a manufacturing process to compress the fluff, add solvents to it and make that into board. If the board is made from un-used fabric, such as the leftover fabric from factories when they have made clothes, and those bits of fabric were never used, the resulting board will be used in children’s toys like jigsaws. If the fabric has been used, ie made into clothes and those clothes have been worn – post consumer waste – you can wash that and make that into things like pallets and advertising hoardings.


These companies carefully sort the clothes they receive first. They do this by hand, carefully looking at labels. If a high-quality designer label suit comes their way, they pass it on to charity, who will be able to sell it with no need for recycling, even if it is gently used. Re-use is always better. If something is cheap fast fashion, even if it is brand new, the charity may not want it. So these are the type of things that get turned into recycled materials.

Fishing Nets and Plastic Bottles

Another perhaps surprising thing that gets turned into recycled fabrics and recycled material clothing are fishing nets. Fishing nets are a major menace in the sea because they break away from the boats that are using them or just break up. Then they just turn into a massive amount of litter in the ocean. We are not talking the cute little wooden fishing boats you see drawn up on the bay in Cornwall, and they do not use traditional biodegradable hemp rope to make small nets.


These are huge trawlers, with massive nets, metres and metres of them, which they drop to the bottom of the sea and which catch absolutely everything in their path. They are interested in tuna fish, which are large creatures – the same size as dolphins. But what often happens is that dolphins get caught in the nets too, and many other sea creatures, who usually die and are dumped overboard. The nets themselves get damaged in the process and go floating around the sea.


These huge chunky nylon ropes are gradually getting recovered. Alongside the other scourge of the oceans – no, not pirates, but plastic water bottles – they are cleaned, dried, and melted down. The resulting plastic is then formed into fine filaments, which can be re-spun into yarn to make recycled material clothing jumpers and fleeces.

Other Sustainable Processes

Plastic Pollution in Santa Luzia, Cape Verde.

Plastic Pollution in Santa Luzia, Cape Verde.
Photo: CaptainDarwin, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Sustainable fashion is made from recycled plastic bottles, fishing nets, and also other eco friendly materials like organic cotton, and closed loop processes where chemicals used in the manufacture are captured and re-used instead of being allowed to run into rivers and sea.  Clothing brands like Mara Hoffman and Girlfriend Collective are some in the fashion industry making sustainable clothing, as well as other fashion brand.

Recycled material clothing – Organic cotton

Organic cotton is made from cotton plants which are not sprayed with poisonous chemicals. They are still sprayed with chemicals, mind you, it’s just not as terrible as the other sort. It takes masses of work to make a cotton t-shirt, which perhaps doesn’t occur to the average consumer. To begin with, the cotton plant is grown and harvested, just like a food plant. It takes a lot of water to keep the plants alive, and this is not all provided by rain water. They need watering systems, and the water needs to be clean which uses energy in itself. The plants also need to be cared for, and at the end of the season, once they’ve been harvested, cut down and disposed of. Then the cotton field is sown again.


After that, the work of making yarn from the cotton begins. The cotton bolls are shipped to another location to do this. Then the yarn is knitted by machine into fabric – probably somewhere else. The fabric is dyed. The fabric is cut into the shapes needed to make a t-shirt. That’s then sewn up, and the final product pressed. This all takes water and energy. So if any of this process can be made more eco friendly, that’s a good thing. The turtles thank you.