The secret life of textile waste

Have you ever thought about cotton beyond buying fabric at the quilt store or checking the label on your clothing?

As a textile lover, cotton has always held a special place in my heart. Cotton is a beautiful fibre, which is highly versatile as well as soft, natural and breathable. I love to wear cotton as much as I love to make with it.

With textile waste become a bigger problem across the world, the first step is appreciating the entire lifestyle from farm, fabric and fashion.

Cotton growing and almost ready to be harvested

I am fortunate to have a very large family through my husband’s side of the family and because of this, we attend a lot of weddings! His family are spread out all over mostly in country NSW. These weddings take us all around the country with the occasional overseas wedding thrown in.

Last year, at one off these weddings, I got to know Steve, an agricultural farmer who grows many different plants on his family farm. He offered to take us on a tour if the farm next time we were in town, probably not expecting me to take him up on the offer.

A private tour of a cotton farm – my very favourite textile? Umm, yes please!

Steve showing us around his cotton farm

Cotton farming

The very next time we were in town, I took him up on the offer and Steve upheld his end of the deal, generously taking me (and the kids) on a tour of his property sharing his knowledge of growing cotton. We talked about how it grows, fertilisation, harvesting and even cotton farming politics.

I found out that growing cotton is a very technical affair. There are so many technological advances been made recently, like how they test the soil, plot layout, water management and so much more.

Did you know that cotton is actually a by-product of the plant? The cotton ‘lint’ is what carries the seen on the wind for plant regeneration. This lint is what becomes the cotton stands weaved into the yarns.

Visiting the farm has given me an even greater appreciation of the enormous amount of work that goes into producing cotton and this is even before we get into designing, creating the clothing (or fabric in a quilters mind) and then retailing?

How can we just throw it all into landfill when it no longer is fashionable?

Textile waste piling up. Image source: Design to Improve Life

Textile waste is a serious problem in Australia

Australians buy on average 27kg of new clothing and textiles every year. Women are only wearing 40% of their wardrobe, and average of seven times. Of what’s donates to charity, about 15% is resold. Lets just let that sink in.

Here’s another one: In NSW alone, around 150,000 tonnes of textile waste goes to landfill every year.

64% of this is man-made (such as polyester) fibres and the rest is mostly cotton and wool. There are many options for recycling and there is no good reason to be sending so much fabric to the tip.

We no longer value textiles as a society, treating garments as a disposable item. Sometimes (and often) we buy clothing and NEVER wear them before discarding them. A new style of fashion – straight from the shops to the bin.

We need to find a way out of this, close the loop and create a circular economy, a new economy with environmental benefits, not just economic ones.

Join me to fight textile waste. Image source: Priscilla du Point

We need to slow down our consuming

Queen Vivienne Westwood said it best: Buy less, choose well, make it last.

This year I am going to be exploring textile waste more. I want to understand how we as consumers can tackle this and what we as quilters, crafters and textile artists can do tackle this problem head on.

I hope you will join me on this journey!