One Man’s Garbage: How Plastic Bottles, Ocean and Post-Industrial Waste are Changing the Synthetic World

It’s long been a saying that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure and in the world of fashion rehabilitation, it has never been more true.

Repreve and Econyl are two of the leading recycled fibre products looking to change the face of fashion forever. By creating innovative building blocks for the traditionally wasteful industry to take advantage of, both creations are challenging what consumers and designers think they know about synthetic fibres, sustainability and of course, staying on trend. 

Few things are more chic right now than self-awareness and eco-initiatives, so bringing the two together guarantees continued allegiance to the church of Vogue, but how exactly have Repreve and Econyl managed to rebrand waste into the fibres to be seen in? Moreover, what are the sustainability credentials of both, really?

What is Repreve recycled polyester?

Made from a variety of recycled materials, with plastic bottles being a major component, Repreve is a specialist and technical recycled polyester material that can be used for a huge number of applications. During the processing stage, consideration is given to ensuring the finished material has excellent moisture wicking ability, temperature regulation tech and even water repelling capabilities infused at the core of every thread. This makes it a perfect cruelty-free substitution for Merino wool within the performance sportswear market. But what is the manufacturing process and does it hold true to the ideals of the resulting material? 

Made by Unifi, Repreve is constructed using plastic bottles that are washed, chopped into flakes and transformed into pellets. These pellets are raw Repreve, which are then extruded and made into thread to be used as end users see fit and some of them are household names, with Ford, Patagonia and Toms included. Reducing the need for large scale clothing manufacturers to source virgin fibres is what makes Repreve such a valuable sustainability driver, as it conserves water and energy, while also significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions. 

With an endless supply of plastic bottles and other recyclables ready to transform, Repreve has created an impressive business model that places planetary stewardship at the centre of everything it strives for and by proxy, makes the brands it partners with think more about their own responsibilities.

What is Econyl regenerated nylon?

Marketed with the enticing strapline of  “No waste. No new resources. Just endless possibilities.”, Econyl is a future-forward product that seeks to redress the balance between need and creation. Using discarded nylon waste like fishing nets, fabric scraps, carpet flooring & post industrial waste to make new thread, which itself can be recycled and remoulded as many times as is wanted, no virgin nylon fibre needs to be manufactured. This saves on energy and water consumption while actively reducing the ever-increasing mountains of waste in our oceans and those that are a result of wider commercial processes. 

Though the overall ideology of Econyl is demonstrably circular, in that it makes an infinitely recyclable product from waste materials, there is a sense of breaking the cycle. By using existing waste to manufacture a product with no shelf life, waste levels will start to decrease. As consumer habits change, recyclable fabrics will be more sought after and Econyl is paving the way by focussing not only on the fashion industry. Though already being utilised in high-end, performance and everyday apparel, the regenerated nylon can also be transformed into interior coverings, including carpets and car upholstery. This has been a deliberate focus point, to allow those with sustainability on their minds to practice what they preach via a multifaceted approach to buying more consciously. 

Adidas, Mercedes-Benz and Gucci are all adopters of Econyl, lending gravitas and authenticity to the material, in the eyes of swayable consumers.

The future of synthetic fibres

Once looked down on as somehow inferior to natural fibres, man-made alternatives are enjoying a serious reversal in fortunes. Now, they present opportunities for companies to latch onto sustainable initiatives and eco-friendly ideologies that give them an edge both ethically and commercially. 

As consumers become more informed and invested in how they spend their money, the rehabilitation of synthetic fibres from cheap to conscious will prove to be a significant player in the burgeoning cultural shift that we are already starting to observe in the fashion industry.