How The Heck is Your Fabric Made?
When we began product development on our recently released apparel line, I [Grace] had the perfect fabric manufacturer in mind. Rooted in sustainability, The New Denim Project is a positive force in the textile industry with their groundbreaking process of turning textile waste into fabric.
With such vast amounts of textile waste on the planet, textile scientists have been searching for a way to recycle it for years. There are many different ideas for solutions out there, but The New Denim Project’s process interests me most - the concept of shredding old fabric back into fluff and spinning it into new yarn.
It seems easy enough right? Well actually, this is where it gets complicated.
Cotton Incorporated, the world leader in cotton research, has done extensive work on this concept and created a program called Blue Jeans Go Green. This program turns used denim into housing insulation.
Why housing insulation? After denim has been shredded and pulled back into fluff, the fibers are too short to make new yarn. In fact, I was told by all my professors in university that spinning new yarns out of recycled fabric was impossible.
Meet The New Denim Project.
It was actually a good friend of mine who was living in Guatemala at the time who suggested I look into TNDP. After researching their process and facility, my mind was blown! I had never seen a company create such beautiful fabrics out of recycled materials. TNDP’s initiative was exactly what I had been searching for since embarking on the path of textile sustainability. I knew right away these fabrics were worth pursuing. Three months later, our Line + Tow team was knocking at their front gate with photographer and friend, Kelsey Lucas.
The New Denim Project is a smaller offshoot of the larger company, Iris Textiles, which has existed in Guatemala City since the 1950’s. Founded by the current owner's father, this is truly a family business. We were greeted at the door by the owner’s daughter, Arianne, who gave us a tour and answered all our questions.
If you don’t know very much about textile production, hopefully this post will answer some of your questions; however, if you are still curious, check out our [Textiles 101 Blog Series].
So, what is the first step in making a recycled textile?
You need the raw material! TNDP uses a few sources:
Scraps of denim from “cut and sew” factories, or the factories that make your clothes.
Salvage clothing, or unusable clothing from the US.
Factory rejects like extra fabric, mis-colored yarn, etc.
Waste from factories such as the dust cotton that is swept up off the floor.
Take a look at some of these materials below. All this textile waste would have ended up in the landfill if it weren’t for The New Denim Project!
Next, all of the material is cleaned, carded (similar to hair brushing), then it begins the process of being turned into yarn.
If you remember from above, I was previously told this wasn't possible by my textile science professors. So, how did The New Denim Project figure it out?
Tons of experimenting! The process basically involves mixing a percentage of recycled content with a percentage of virgin cotton. This **magic** combination includes enough long fibers so the mixture can be twisted into yarn thin enough to weave mechanically.
After the material is cleaned and sorted, it is combed out into a large web. This web is fed through a funnel to create a big puffy “yarn” called sliver. Next, the sliver is fed into another machine that spins it into yarn.
This yarn is put through a process called “warping”, which is where yarns are rolled onto a tube to create the vertically oriented yarns in the woven fabric - also called the [“warp”].
Next, a sizing agent is applied, or starch, to the yarns to make them stronger and keep them from pilling and creating yarn fuzz during the weaving process. Otherwise, the yarns could become tangled and break, creating a hole in the fabric.
After the sizing agent is applied, the weaving begins! This is a fully automated process that inserts the horizontal (weft) yarns through the alternating vertical (warp) yarns to create the fabric. Next, the fabric is checked over by hand for any imperfections. It is then ready to be cut and sewn or sold.
So, why is TNDP more sustainable than any other textile factory?
While most factories’ goal is to crank out the easiest and cheapest product possible, The New Denim Project has chosen to maintain quality and has devoted their time to solving one of the fashion industry’s biggest issues - what to do with textile waste?
All photos by Ridge and Ramble