You might have noticed something popping up in the sustainable or eco-friendly fashion world: clothing made from recycled PET bottles.
This actually isn't new. Patagonia has been recycling bottles into its fleece since the early 90s. What is new is the range of textiles we can make from recycled bottles as technology has improved. There are colorful printed yoga pants, technical cold-weather gear, and even blended textiles like denim.
Some of my sustainable friends have questioned how truly sustainable anything made with plastic can be. And there is merit in our collective striving toward a plastic-free wardrobe. After all, plastic is made from petroleum, so it's natural to decide to go for a 100% organic cotton garment instead of one made with plastic, recycled or not. Also, the problem of polyester microfibers in the oceans is a scary one.
But the fact is, polyester – which is what recycled bottle yarn is – has become indispensable to the modern wardrobes. It's how you get stretch. For example, Pact underwear creates its super-soft undies with organic cotton and 5% elastane, a polyester-polyurethane copolymer. If you wanted to forgo these synthetic textiles completely, you would have to resort to cotton bloomers that are gathered about the legs the old fashioned way. Sexy. You would also have to forgo athliesure as an entire category, or any performance gear at all. Have fun snowboarding that mountain in a wool fisherman's sweater or heavy shearling coat. You could probably get away with wearing nothing but vintage jeans (let's hope they never go out of style), but you would also have to get used to some pretty gnarly vintage bras as well, if you can't do stretch. Basically, you would have to dress like a 19th century hippie.
So, wannabe natural fiber purists, I wish you the best of luck. For the rest of us, polyester made from recycled bottles is an elegant solution. If you were to commit to only buying textiles made with recycled polyester, that would still be a quite tall order, but it would be a noble pursuit. That creates demand for textiles made with recycled polyester, which creates a market for recycled plastic bottles, which makes it cost effective for cities to implement recycling programs, which means fewer bottles go to the landfill. And recycling bottles yields a high-quality polyester textile. It's a win-win.
As for disposal, it's actually best to buy pure polyester garments instead of mixed ones, because as of right now, it's possible to recycled pure polyester (just bring your 100% polyester garments back to Patagonia) while blended fibers are downcycled into insulation and stuffing.
So, the hierarchy of fashion shopping goes roughly like this:
1. 100% organic, natural fibers.
2. 100% recycled polyester.
3. Blended organic and recycled polyester.
3. 100% natural fibers.
4. 100% polyester.
5. Conventional blended.
Want some examples of clothing made with recycled bottles? I happened to wear a couple last weekend!
The jeans are skinny fit by Uniqlo. They're a new collection made with Cone Denim’s Sustainblue™ Collection. Cone Denim is a heritage denim manufacturer out of North Carolina. This particular product of theirs uses recycled cotton, recycled polyester, and sustainable yarns by the Earthspun brand by Patrick Yarns, which has a solar installation at their Charlotte, NC factory, where they recycle PET bottles from the U.S. into certified yarn. The yarn isn't dyed, but sources its color from the water bottle itself.
If you want to find these Uniqlo jeans in the store, just look for the display that says "Made in the USA."
The hat is by Brick Knitwear, which I talked about in my Joshua Tree post. The boots are by luxury ethical brand Maiyet. I've had them for two years and plan to continue wearing them for another decade.
EcoAlf is another brand whose claim to sustainability is making clothing out of recycled bottles. I bought a puffy coat from them this year and it's served me beautifully this winter. The scarf is by Micaela Greg. It's 100% wool and made in the U.S.
So, those are the basics of clothing made with recycled bottles!