As a sustainable active wear brand, the discovery that most of our clothing lines are made from man-made plastics might seem at odds with the notion of sustainability. All plastics are bad, right?
It’s always been important to us as we’ve moved forwards on our Kit Change journey, to be as open and honest with our customers as we can about our products. With greenwashing common in the fashion industry, we know truths can be twisted or extended to look much better than the reality. We want to take every opportunity we can to share the story of our garments, from sourcing the raw materials, to the yarn spinning and fabric production processes, through to the end of life of each item we produce. The people we work with in the factories are also integral to our brand and ethos.
We were delighted to be invited to contribute to the Stitch Up podcast, alongside journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle, to talk about the role of plastics in the fashion world, and how fast-fashion has given man-made fibres a bad name.
We recently wrote a blog explaining in more detail the production process for recycled polyester and so the timing of this podcast fits really well with this topic.
We were really interested to hear Lucy’s thoughts on the ethical and environmental considerations that clothing manufacturers face. With phrasing like “made from recycled plastics” becoming more mainstream, along with variations such as “Ocean-bound plastics” – where plastic bottles are intercepted in rivers and recovered before they hit the sea – consumers are now more aware of sustainability issues, but the choices are not always clear-cut.
As Lucy points out in the podcast, recycling of clothing is often a mechanical process, making the yarns in garments constructed from mixed fibres almost impossible to separate and recycle. The production of ‘stretch denims’ for instance, uses plastic and natural materials in the yarn, so recovery of both materials is lost entirely.
Lucy called for more consideration to be given to creating modular pieces, where the various components that make up a garment are adequately labelled and can be dismantled quickly and easily to enable the recovery of the fibres. She also called for the burden of responsibility for the end of life of a garment to sit with the manufacturer, which is something we feel strongly about at Kit Change.
She also pointed out that natural fibre production is often carried out in poorer countries where labour force practices can sometimes be unethical and so ‘natural fibre’ doesn’t automatically equate to ‘more sustainable’.
Our background is in fast-fashion and we learned in our former High Street fashion careers how damaging the industry can be. Going cheaper and cheaper and producing collections faster and faster left us disillusioned with the industry, which is why we chose to make the switch.
We have always been really honest about the provenance of our clothing. Our products are made in China and we are keen to address a generalised prejudice on this front. We’ve done our homework, visiting every factory in person to help us arrive at what we felt was the right decision in terms of the production cycle for our clothing lines. The factory who produce our garments are long term partners, and we have supported each other for many years.
The material we use in our garments is post-consumer recycled plastic that is spun into recycled polyester, which is particularly suited to active wear.
Much of the plastic recovery processes globally are carried out in China along with yarn spinning of polyester. China gets a bad rap, and quite fairly, for being a major global polluter with some questionable ethical practices (along with many other countries). There are also horror stories about ‘recycled bottle clothing’ manufacturing processes. Reports have surfaced of factories buying new, unused plastic water bottles to feed them into the manufacturing process, and then claiming to produce recycled fabrics. All of our recycled fabrics are from GRS (Global Recycle Standard) certified mills, so our customers can be confident they are buying genuine post-consumer recycled waste and not virgin plastics.
Emily, Anthony (factory owner) and Vicky outside our garment factory in China
It became clear to us that placing our fabric and garment production in one location, where most of the raw materials processing also happens is one huge step towards sustainability.
Fibres can be spun in one country, shipped to another to be made into fabric, and then yet another to be made into a garment, which introduces unnecessary emissions in terms of transportation around the globe. Quite often in the fashion industry, finishing a product might be done in a particular country, in order to label its country of origin more favourably for the brand, so garments can have travelled huge distances before they hit the High Street.
We’ve experienced these and many other issues in our former careers and we wanted to play our part in changing the industry. As we say on the podcast, “We are developing a product we are very, very proud of. After such a long time in fashion it’s also nice to realise that you can change things.”
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