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Discovering Prato - How are fabrics recycled?

Discovering Prato - How are fabrics recycled?

Appcycled went to Prato to discover firsthand what it means to recycle clothes and how regenerated and recycled fabrics are created.

Recycled fabrics have just surged in demand in recent years, however, this work has been carried out in the Prato area since the mid-nineteenth century.

Initially, it was a technique used to produce more yarn using fewer raw materials. Today, this technique is being used for different reasons, firstly the need to recycle industrial and post consumer waste, and also due to the increase in demand for recycled fabrics to create more “sustainable” collections.

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So how are our clothes recycled?

The workers divide the clothes/fabrics by color and material, and remove all buttons, labels, and zippers before starting the recycling process.

As a first step, these garments are torn apart by specific machinery.

They are then steam-charred, in this process the vegetable fibers, made of cellulose, are heavily altered until they completely disintegrate. 

In the past, when fabrics were sewn with cotton threads, this step was crucial to disassemble the garments and remove impurities. Today, however, garments are mostly sewn with polyester threads, which do not disintegrate and reduce the purity of the final fiber.

Immediately after, the rags are washed, either dry or wet, and then dried. At this stage, they become flakes, ready for the next steps.

At this point, the recycled fabrics producers test various recipes to obtain the colors and materials desired. Usually a brand will ask the producer to replicate a non-sustainable fabric with a recycled one, and the producer will try to make a recipe that meets the brand’s needs . 

The blend is beaten to remove impurities and then carded, meaning it is untangled, and the fibers are made parallel.

Finally, spinning takes place: the yarn is then ready to be used, or rather: re-used. 

In fact, at the end of the entire recycling process, the yarn made from recycled fiber (also called mechanical fiber), is ready to be woven on the loom.

selezione tessuti

Conclusions

From this experience, we have understood that many factors must be considered to ensure that the garments we buy can be recycled:

  • Uniform Color: The garments must all be of the same color because a characteristic of this process is that the regenerated fiber is already colored from the previous processing and does not require dyeing.
  • Material Considerations: Not all materials can be recycled; the best ones are wool and cashmere. If mixed materials are recycled, they result in fibers that are too short to be processed and not durable enough for the market.
  • Simplicity in Design: Garments should not be too complicated to clean for the workers, so it's advisable to avoid decorations, sequins, stickers, etc.
  • Designing for Recycling: Although recycling is an excellent solution to reduce textile industry waste, currently, less than 1% of the waste we produce is recycled. We must strt to design garments that can be recycled, considering their end-of-life during the design process.

Do you have questions or other curiosities you want to discover about Prato?  Contact us on Instagram!


Until the next in-depth episode!