Intro to Textile Waste : Pre-Consumer Waste

Intro to Textile Waste : Pre-Consumer Waste
Textiles are all around us. We live in them, sleep on and under them, sit on them, walk on them, and even live in rooms covered in them. Some cultures have even revolved around them: using them for currency and spiritual connection. Some of us devote our whole lives to designing and manufacturing them. 

The global textile industry today is massive. Fueled by the apparel, home, automotive, and other industries, it is the biggest it has ever been, and is producing more textile waste than ever before. The apparel industry alone is a $1.8 trillion industry[i], producing 150 billion garments in 2010. Fashion fashion's nonstop production of cheap, "disposable" garments continues to fuel the fire. 

The first part of the textile waste problem is pre-consumer textile waste. This is all the waste involved in the manufacturing processes occurring before a garment is ready to be sold. An MIT report stated “in 2015, the global apparel industry [was] expected to produce more than 400 billion square meters of fabric per year, representing nearly enough material to cover the state of California annually.”[ii]

Yet the scale of textile waste generated is actually unknown[iii] since it is difficult to measure or track. Because of the natural shapes that make up a garment, there’s always 10-30% of the fabric that is cut away and discarded during the cutting process. There is also dead stock or damaged yardage, which is another source of hard-to-measure waste. There are some systems in place for value recovery of cutting-room waste in some countries, but in most cases, the scrap material is being turned into material down the value chain, thus losing the value of the scraps to be used in its highest value in fabric form.  Or in the worst case, it is ending up in the landfill or incinerator. There are some amazing programs turning denim scraps into building insulation, melting polyester or nylon scraps into new yarns, and age-old processes recycling cashmere and wool into new yarns. Yet these programs are mainly limited to fabrics that are nearly 100% of a single fiber, leaving not much else to do with the ever-popular blended fiber fabrics (think anything fabric that stretches a.k.a. it contains elastane!)

I’m excited Ethel Studio is a part of the solution to this global problem. Yes, our company is quite small right now, but we have to start somewhere. We are starting out by focusing on the textile waste being generated in our region in Minnesota. We use fabric scraps and damaged garments as our raw material, so we are keeping the fabric at its highest possible value as a fabric instead of having it go downstream into the rag trade, or worse, into a landfill or incinerator.

 Imagine if all the small companies and big companies out there did their part in developing solutions in reducing textile waste, then maybe we could actually ELIMINATE textile waste together! I truly believe it is possible. It will require a lot of collaboration, resources, effort, and systematic change, but we owe it to our environment and our future generations of humans and all species alike.

Stay Tuned for our next installment of the textile waste intro story: Post-Consumer Waste and Solutions! 


[i] AM Mindpower (2010). Global Apparel and Textile Industry, AM Mindpower Solutions.