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Reusing old cloth in fashion business and its potentiality in Bangladesh

The project has won 4th position in Textile Talent Hunt 2013


According to new report from the Council for Textile Recycling (CTR) the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year, which equals roughly 191 T-shirts per person. Collectively that’s approximately 3.8 billion pounds of waste. Though there is no such research on the same in Bangladesh, but it could assume that the figure of throwing out unused garments is not very little. The most interesting fact is that about 70-80% of those garments have sufficient characteristics to be reused for different purposes. Especially the thrown out denims has the same appeal as it was in new. During the project remarkable feedback was received from different classes and group of people who have shown their keen interest on the products made from the thrown out garments. The idea can breakout as a great business if a label or brand could be developed specialized in fashion with used cloth.

Key words:  Reusing used garments, Types of used or thrown out cloths, Fashion reusing the thrown out cloths, Branding a recycled fashion

1. Introduction:

When the world is moving towards high fashion and high consumption it is not that wise to recall the story of a miser man who had a panjabi. After some years of using the panjabi was torned out, Then he cut it and used it as a shirt. Again after some years the shirt became weak then he used it as a napkin for floor clearing. After some days when that napkin lost its utility then the man burnt it into ashes for producing tooth powder. The man brushes his tooth with this tooth powder. After gurgling he was saying,”My all pennies is going into water.”

We cannot imagine anything like that now but in reality unless we reduce our consumption nothing can be sustainable. Sustainability being a global hot spot, very few discussions has covered about reducing consumtion. But the above story shows how every possible utility of a Panjabi was enjoyed.

Almost 60-70% cost is needed for purchasing fabric to produce a garment. But every year many hundred tones of textiles are thrown out and end up in landfill. If these cloths are buried in a landfill, they not only take up space but also contaminate soil and ground water and emit horrifying odors. If they are not buried, it’s off to the landfills giant incinerator which releases tones of greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming and climate change. As much as 95% of these clothes could be re-used again in different form depending on the state of the garment.

Reusing some of that cloth in remaking fashion goods can save some loads from the earth. A successful business case building would help capitalizing the idea.

1.1 Used garment as fashion raw material:

The taste of fashion is not same all over the land. In urban area most of the people are fashion conscious. For this the general high income people of urban area used to buy new and fashionable dress with changing trend whether their chest of drawer is full with old dresses. Then these cloths become a burden.  Sometimes they throw these un-used fabric in the land creating pollution, someone donate a few dress to the poor people. The poor also don’t want to take these old dresses very heartily as these may be oversize or undersize to them. Another reason may the cheap price of the new dresses as per their taste.

According to Council for Textile Recycling (CTR) 90% of this discarded cloths and textiles are actually recyclable. John Nagiecki, the spokes person for Textile Recycling Non Profit Planet Aid says, “Many people may think that if they don’t want something particularly if it’s damage that it’s not usable, but that’s not the case. All of the clothing and textile (we sell) end up getting used 100%.” But these recycling opportunities vary from country, and sometimes even from region to region within a country.

So the question arise what to do about with these huge quantity of old cloths that still have some utilities to be used for the same purposes by alteration or by converting them in different form? Most of the people don’t think about how these fabrics can be re–used or what to do with this unwanted load. They only think these fabrics are wastage and it should be cleared off. They will easily agree to sell this fabric at a price that he gets without any bargaining. So, unused fabrics can be collected easily from different sources at a very cheaper price. This will be the raw material for recycling process.

1.2 Examples of fashion business from recycled dress:

There are some examples globally that shows that used dresses are being recycled and fashion products remade for selling in  the special corners in outlets. H&M has started to do this to inspire and help their  customer  and business partners  to reduce the waste that  they  generate . “City of Santa Monica” reuses old fabrics and make bag for local farmers.

In New Work City Grow NYC, offers clothing & textile recycling collection at 19 Greenmarkets throughout the city. They indicate that they have collected over 1.5 million pounds since 2007. “Common Threads Garment Recycling Program” in Patagonia is one of the companies that actually take back their old products from consumer for reusing.

1.3 Exploring business cases:

From the examples shown above the idea can be explored further to develop business cases. Pttern of the business and the products can be different case to case. From international arena to local here in Bangladesh there would be opportunities to capitalize the idea by transferring into business. Key issues in business case would be selecting the criteria of used garments to be collected, identifying the target customers, identifying the target raw materials sources and collection process. Fashion creation would be the most vital part where in-depth value added input would be required. Brand creation and branding strategy is the key for successful business development. Media of selling can be as wide from dedicated outlet to online ecommerce sales. From the learning of the project specific business cases can be explored further.

2. Methodology:

From a local small town the idea can be explored in the Bangladeshi perspective. This project attempted to collect some used garments and cloths which have been transformed into attractive fashion products. The products then have been kept in the store mentioning that these are developed from used cloth. A big demand was observed.

3. Experiment:

3.1 Re uses of old denim pant:

Denim fabric is one of the few things in life that actually fells better when it aged. And unlike other textiles denim never falls out of fashion. It can be re used as followings : Quilts, Rugs and floor mat, Pillow, Cushion, Pet beds, Chair cover, Hand bag, Toys, Bed sheet, Mobile bag cover, House slipper, etc.

(i) Raw material collection: An old denim pant have been purchased by 30 taka, which is weared out and unfit to the user from which a side bag and a pair of shoe have been made.

(ii) Ladies bag or purse produced from denim pant: A ladies bag must have capability to carry minimum load and should be fashionable. Denim fabric has this capability from which a fashionable and durable ladies bag or purse can easily make.

Procedure followed in bag making:

  • Denim pant cut as the fabric required.
  • Fabric reshaped and sewn following our required design.
  • Belt, zipper, and different types of motifs are added to make it fashionable.
  • Washed it in simple detergent & dried.1

Figure 1: New Bag made out used denim pant                                            Figure 2: New bag

(iii) Kids Shoe from rest part of denim pant:

2Figure 2: kid’s shoe made out of the used denim pant

Procedure of making kid’s shoe:

  • Wash the fabric.
  • Make Justin.
  • Cut upper part of shoe.
  • Make nice motif.
  • Sew upper part with Justin.
  • Add motif with shoe.
    3Figure 3: Ideas of some other products those also can be made from used denim fabric.

3.2 Re-use of old saree:

Saree is one of the famous ladies wear of 6yds long. Many women have old saree in their ware drove just torned out only at one portion of it leaving the maximum portion in very well condition. They can not donate these saree, on the other hand can’t use it. Even the hawkers also don’t want to take it. So sometimes it becomes a burden for the consumers. But we can re use it to use screens, fashionable tops, skirt, Different appliqués, Hand stitch kantha, Gorgeous sherwani from katan & jamdani saree, Fashionable scurf, etc.

(i) Raw material collection: An old saree have been purchased only by Tk.100, which was torned only at a corner by a rickshaw.

(ii) Fashionable tops from old saree: This saree is very fine, comfortable and is suitable for reuse. A ladies tops (kaftan) have been made from this old saree by adding lace. As the saree was decorative so no extra motif was needed.

4-5Figure 4: Ladies tops (kaftan) made from used saree.  Figure 5: Another dress made from another old saree

3.3 Re- use of old  T-shirt or Polo shirt :

Recently the T-shirt or Polo-shirts has beome a craze to all ages and gender of people for its comfort and easy wash and wear nature. Generally it is a knitted fabric. It is cheaper and available than any other outer wear. So, sometimes people throw it without any reason. These old or thrown out items can be reused for various purposes such as: New t-shirt by adding fringe & appliqué design in the old t-shirt, leggings, cushion cover, fashionable skirt, fashionable scurf, shoe lining, hair band, brace late, ladies dress, toys, etc

(i) Raw material collection: A color faded old polo-shirt was purchased at the cost of Tk. 15 only.


(ii) Making a fashionable scurf from the old Polo-shirt: The collected shirt was strong enough to make a fashionable scurf.

Procedure of making fashionable scurf:

  • The shirt was re-dyed with reactive dye.
  • From the arm whole the shirt was cut into two halves.
  • The bottom part was taken and upper portion of the bottom part was given proper size by cutting and sewing.
  •  From the bottom part fringe was made.
  • Some decoration piece added.

6Figure 6: Fashionable Scurf made out of used t-shirt

(iii) Making bracelet from the rest part of old polo-shirt: From the rest part of the shirt seven sets of nice bracelet were made.

01. First some narrow strips of the fabric was taken from width way.

02. A long pigtail structure is made by taking three strips at a time.

03. Some beads are added in the so twisted strand.

04. The twisted strand is cut as per size and belt is added at both the tips.

7Figure 7:A new bracelet made using fabric from used t-shirt

8Figure 8: Some other products which also could be made from old T-shirt.

3.4 Re uses  of old  kamiz:

Most  of  the  Bangladeshi female of all ages like this garment as it is very comfortable, fashionable, easily manageable than saree, price  is within the reach. It is used for all purposes like party dress, night dress, for rough use, etc. The different  scope  of  re-using of  kamiz are as follows: fashionable tops, table lamp cover, book cover, table cloth, cushion cover, floor mat, bag & bag lining, slipper belt, bracelet, napkin, fashionable cap etc.

9Figure 9:Fashionable cap used from an used kamiz

3.5 Re-uses of too old garment:

Too old dresses are those which have lost their strength/ luster/ color etc. These items cab be used in making nice home textile, such as: rugs cover, quilt, bed sheet, table cloth, cushion cover, sofa mat, dining table mat, floor mat, pillow cover, interlining to the decorative cloths etc.

10Figure 10: A new floor mat used from too old dresses.

4. Cost & benefit analysis:
From the work, cost analysis investigation shows that it is quite profitable even without considering the value addition possible from brand development. Considering the work as a cottage industry with a show room the costing of different items made by used and old thrown out fabrics shown below.

tableIt is seen from the above table that, the price of old fabric product is more than half of the price of virgin fabric product.

From this chart we can easily conclude that, by renewing a old product or by converting it into a new fashionable product, the price can be reduced more than 50% than the virgin product. Therefore, the customer and producer both are benefited in a cost driven business case.

But in most cases the fashion business is a price driven industry. People mostly pay for the brand, design & the impression. A business case with proper branding of the fashion produced from recycled cloths would transfer the idea of contributing to save the earth, may bring a great value addition on the product price and so the business can be a great success.

5. Challenges:        

  • After analyzing the products it is clear that, the re –using purpose vary on the properties of the old fabric and type of the apparel. It imposes some limitations on the production of items from old fabrics. The selection of product to be produce from an old fabric is the major and great task. But if this selection is right then the profit margin will be high.
  • Market development by building awareness among the consumers to make them ready to pay a higher amount for the sake of the sustainability would be a key challenge. Though the products are still profitable without the extra value asked for that.
  • People may think, old fabrics are health hazardous. But it is not totally true. Because, now different types of detergents are available in the market by which all types of germs, bacteria, etc. can be killed or destroyed easily, and the products are indeed like new using used cloth.
  • Special  creative  skills  are  required  to make  a new  item  by  old  fabric.

6. Conclusion:

In a separate note, it can be mentioned that due to the high price of fashionable items, it remains dream for the low and sometimes medium earning people even to touch them. But the fashionable products made from reused garments will make it reality. It does not mean rich people will not enjoy these products; definitely these will also attract them. Moreover, it will create a new trend in garment business if proper business cases and models can be developed.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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