We all know that the fashion industry is a major polluter. What is less known is that some 60% of the polluting impact comes from fabric manufacturing – energy, water use, chemicals etc. At culthread we take great care of what materials we use as a result.
Our creations are made from four sources of materials:
100% recycled polyester
50% of clothing is made from polyester, and this percentage is expected to continue increasing over the next decade. Newly made polyester is not sustainable - it is made from a common type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, whose base is crude oil.
The not-for-profit Textile Exchange challenged large fashion houses to increase their use of recycled polyester by 25% by 2020 – the good news is that signatories exceeded this goal, and many others have signed up to increase their usage of recycled polyester. Textile Exchange hopes that by 2030, a fifth of all polyester used by the fashion industry will be recycled.
rPET, or recycled polyester, is made by melting down existing plastic and re-spinning it into new polyester fibre – it can be made from post-consumer plastic containers and bottles, as well as post-industrial and post-consumer input materials. Around 10 used plastic water bottles would contain enough recycled fibres for the fabric of an outer shell of one culthread coat.
As with pretty much everything, there are both pros and cons of recycling polyester.
the cons of recycled polyester
Polyester can be recycled mechanically or chemically. Mechanical recycling shreds existing plastic and turns it into polyester chips, which then are used in the traditional fibre making process. Most of the rPET is recycled mechanically as no chemicals are used in the process and it is cheaper. Chemical recycling returns used plastic to its original molecules so that they are the same as those found in virgin polyester. But even though recycling polyester requires just 40% of the energy necessary for virgin polyester, this is still more than that which is needed for the manufacture of hemp, cotton and wool.
Some argue that it would be better to discourage the use of plastic in general, even recycled plastic. In the UK we use over 7 billion plastic bottles a year, and we recycled about 45% - this means that 55% of the plastic that we use on a daily basis is not recycled. We use 20 times more plastic today than we did 50 years ago, and plastic consumption is set to double in 20 years’ time.
the pros of recycled polyester
Recycling polyester prevents plastic from ending up in landfill or the ocean. Plastic takes up to 500 years to decompose. Ocean Conservancy says that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year – in 30 years’ time there will be more plastic than fish. Turning plastic waste into useful materials is good for people and the planet.
Recycling polyester needs close to 60% less energy in production compared to virgin polyester (an estimated reduction of 32% in CO2 emissions). “Using recycled polyester lessens our dependence on petroleum as a source of raw materials,” says Patagonia, “It curbs discards, thereby prolonging landfill life and reducing toxic emissions from incinerators. It also helps to promote new recycling streams for polyester clothing that is no longer wearable”.
Polyester currently accounts for around 60% of world production of polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) – almost double that used for plastic bottles. Reusing polyester fibres can therefore make a huge contribution to reducing global energy and resource requirements. Clothes made from recycled polyester can be recycled over and over without quality loss, so that one day polyester recycling and usage could become a circular system.
We believe that the pros outweigh the cons, and the higher the ratio of rPET to virgin PET, the more advantage for the planet. Further, using rPET that is in stock (this is often excess, buffer metres from production) is even better as it avoids the energy costs of the recycling process.
Our fabric of choice at culthread is existing stock of 100% recycled polyester – whenever we can source this for our collections, we use it. Our recycled polyester is certified Global Recycled Standard and OEKO-TEX ®, the world’s leading certification for harmful substances in textiles.
Vegan recycled fibre-down insulation
We believe that beautiful, quality products can be made without harming or using our fellow animals. We have sourced quality 100% recycled polyester fibre-down with a high warmth to weight ratio and a super soft hand feel. Each culthread jacket is insulated with the fibre yield of around 10 post-consumer plastic bottles. Our jacket insulation is wonderfully warm and light, much like natural down, only cruelty free; each jacket we make removes waste plastic from our planet.
We love our recycled fibre down because it is vegan and made from 100% recycled post-consumer plastic. We also love that it has the Global Recycled Standard and is bluesign® approved.
Rescued designer ‘dead-stock’
Before a garment is available for sale, about 35% of all materials in the supply chain ends up as ‘waste’ – there could be cutting waste, damage in transport or production, and excess stock (deadstock) that is sometimes incinerated. We now buy 60% more garments than we did in 2000 but keep each one for half as long. Worldwide, at least 39 million tonnes of post-consumer textile waste is generated every year, mostly in the form of garments.
Rescued deadstock materials are leftover fabrics from production, often owing to buffer stocks, which would otherwise end up as waste. When large brands order fabric for their collections, they normally order a buffer stock so that if they need to produce more of the same items, the fabric is in stock, and identical to what has been used previously. Unfortunately, this means that there is often fabric that is leftover and unused – these fabrics may be burnt or sent to landfill. Note that we are not talking about seconds or damaged fabrics – though some call these types of fabrics ‘deadstock’ as well. Here we are talking about ‘rescued deadstock’ only as defined above – we never produce with seconds or damaged stock materials.
Using rescued deadstock in culthreads provides a use for these textiles and avoids further unnecessary waste or environmental damage - it also saves energy by reducing the carbon footprint of producing new fabric. At culthread we source the highest quality excess deadstock from the production of big-name designers. This means that we produce small limited editions only, sometimes as little as 25 pieces of a particular style. Our collection is not planned years in advance; we design and bring products to life within months, based on what we think you will love and the recycled fabric stocks and rescued deadstock that we find.
Our fourth and final choice of fabric is existing stock available at fabric suppliers. This is also called deadstock by some, but here we differentiate between the excess ordered by big brands that is unused, and stock of fabrics that are warehoused in fabric mills due to small overruns or new colours for sampling.
If we are unable to source either 100% recycled fabric or excess deadstock fabric for our collection, we sometimes, though rarely, use existing stock fabrics. At culthread, over 90% of all our fabrics are from the first three categories – stock fabrics are used as a last resort.
We are very pleased to announce that we have sourced high quality recycled zippers, buttons and other fittings from SAB. SAB use the latest technology to reduce their water consumption by 50%, with 45% repeated reuse of water, and zero emissions of toxic and hazardous chemicals (2020). They are certified by WRAP and BSCI.
Our recycled zippers are made from the rPET recycling process that converts waste post-consumer plastic into fibres that are reused to make zippers, pullers and other fittings, like in the diagram below. More information on the recycled fittings that we use can be found here.