Upcycling is a lot of work. Many times people in the clothing industry have suggested we use organic cotton or bamboo, so why use old shirt material to create new garments?
It’s a great question that we can tackle one bit at a time.
First—it’s amazing material. Men’s dress shirts are made from long length cotton fiber, the top 3% of the world’s cotton output. This is the kind of cotton that just feels great to wear. It is luxuriously soft and still looks great after years of washing. Melina and I love working with it and dressing our kids in it.
Second—it’s already made. When we found out that so many amazing garments, particularly high quality cotton dress shirts, end up as rags or in the landfill, we became passionate about saving this material. Why grow a new fiber when we have a beautiful resource hanging in our own closets?
Last—the alternatives are not very desirable. Although cotton is a great fiber, growing it for new material takes a lot of water, about 400 gallons of water to make one adult t-shirt. You can use fast-growing bamboo, but this has environmental costs as well: The bamboo goes through a chemical process, which requires multiple bleaching steps to be turned into a pulp, which can then be turned into fabric. Hemp, Tencel and other natural fabrics also have their own environmental concerns.
What we have learned is that there is no sustainable fabric. Everything has it’s list of pros and cons.Reusing existing material made the most sense to us. Lets use what we have in new, creative ways.
Repurposing an existing garment creates more obstacles in creating a new garment than simply cutting off the amount you need from a bolt of fabric and putting a garment together factory-line style. The reason the garment was discarded needs to be considered. Perhaps there is a tear, blemish or other unfavorable feature that can’t be used. Creative pattern making, skilled garment cutters and work arounds need to be done to make upcycling scalable. We hope that with the resurgence of this way of thinking that it will become more efficient and cost effective.
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Next week: Sourcing shirts