Thoughts on upcycling from Stefanie Zeldin, co-founder of in2Green
People ask me all the time, how did you get the idea to turn t-shirt scraps into throws? With Earth Day in sight, it seemed like a great time to tell our recycled story.
Long before we started in2Green, I worked in my family’s textile business, where I traveled all over the world visiting factories and seeing how clothing is cut and sewn- it was unbelievable to me just how much material was being left behind.
Just think about the way a t-shirt is cut out of a piece of fabric. Once you cut out the arms and the neck and the body, you’re left with little scraps of material that can’t be used (about a third of the t-shirt!). These are already dyed and washed fabrics. Even though efforts to recycle have increased, many factories still just throw those scraps away – we’re talking about millions of tons per year in the US alone! When you walk though as many factories as I have, and you see the bales and bales of fabric scraps headed for the landfill, you start to really understand the size of the problem.
Then there’s the cost of growing all that cotton in the first place. Most people think that since cotton is a natural fiber, it’s probably good for the environment. But, did you know that growing the cotton for one t-shirt – even if it’s organic – takes about 700 gallons of water? Since manufacturing is so inexpensive, much of cotton has to be shipped halfway around the world – adding even more energy costs.
Recycling cotton scraps kills two birds with one stone: it keeps all of that fabric out of landfills, and it means less additional cotton growth. It also means less new chemicals from the dye process are used. Keeping this in mind, I worked with my father to open the country’s first yarn mill that could mechanically spin cotton textile waste back into yarn. Here is an easy visual:
In doing so, we discovered that beautiful colorations were possible with recycled cotton because we were blending different colors of clothing scraps, rather than dyeing. We also found that these yarns get softer and softer as you wash them, just like your favorite cotton t-shirt.
My friend Lori Slater had a retail background, so we got together to design a collection using these beautiful “up-cycled” yarns. At the time, 10 years ago, there weren’t many other sustainable home textiles on the market, so we thought, wouldn’t it be great to create a product that looks terrific in your house and helps the environment at the same time? And so in2green was born.
It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. Since then, we’ve expanded our product selection and incorporated other types of upcycled materials into the mix. I’m incredibly proud of the business we’ve built, but I’m also delighted that we’re no longer the only ones doing it. Up-cycling is here to stay, and our environment is healthier and happier because of it!
Happy Earth Day!
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