Upcycling. Do you know what it is? P&P Melanie Attlesey posed this very question to Rob Armour, sales manager at Kingly, to find out more about the process and the resulting socks.
Q. First of all, can you explain what ‘upcycling’ is, and what makes this process different to recycling?
Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming waste materials or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for increased environmental value.
Increasingly, manufacturers, consumers and governments are upcycling to keep old products out of landfills by transforming them into something new.
It is different to recycling. Recycling involves the collection of textile waste which is then introduced into a new manufacturing process whereby water and chemicals are required to create new garments
With upcycling, textile wastage is collected and then separated by colour. It is then transformed into textile apparel without the need of water or chemicals.
Q. What makes upcycling so eco-friendly?
The environmental benefits of upcycling are mammoth, aside from minimising the volume of discarded materials and waste being sent to landfill each year, it also reduces the need for production using new or raw materials which means a reduction in air pollution, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and often a conservation of global resources.
Did you know that it takes approximately 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make a single T shirt? This is an alarming figure.
Our planet is running dangerously low on natural resources so it’s a huge help on the environment when people use old items to create new items.
Upcycling does not just apply to the textile market, its applicable to all industries.
Take for example the aircraft business. There’s lots of stuff being upcycled. Mostly airplane parts that are turned into furniture. But what about an old interior of an airplane, are there possibilities for upcycling too? There have been several upcycle initiatives from airlines, with carriers such as KLM (uniforms), Finnair (seat covers, seat belts, curtains), Delta (seat covers), Air France (life jackets) and Southwest giving discarded airline interior materials a second life as stylish bags.
There is a clear picture here. If all sectors just think of implementing upcycling into their business the benefits would be monumental!
This is fully in line with the corporate social responsibility policy that Kingly has pursued for years.
Q. How do you use upcycling in your own business?
For our range of bespoke knitted socks. Currently 35% of all our socks use upcycled cotton yarn. Year to year the percentage is higher and by 2024 we aim for 70%.
Q. Can you explain how your upcycled socks are manufactured?
Old garments and textile waste are deposited at collection bins for re-wear or recycling. The used clothing and textile waste is collected.
Textile waste is then separated by colour and is then subjected to the cutting/ shredding and spinning process.
Once the yarn is ready and on bobbins they are then fed into our knitting machines to create custom made socks.
Each pair is then tagged with a branded recycled sock tag and then placed into an individual compostable bag.
Q. Where are your socks manufactured?
In our factory in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Q. Why did you decide to go down the route of upcycling rather than recycling?
It’s simple really. Upcycling is when you reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. For the industry we are in, no water or chemicals are used!
Recycling is when you convert (waste) into reusable material. When you recycle an item, it goes back into production using water and chemicals and is transformed into a completely new textile product.
Q. Is upcycling the future of the garment manufacturing industry? Can you see more brands using this method of manufacturing?
No, it is not the future. It will be a combination of recycling and upcycling.
The big boys, that is Inditex, H&M and others, and the consumers themselves who thrive on fast fashion will never allow for it. However, there is room for improvement here in the future. There is a tendency for producers to get involved more in upcycling.
However, recycling is the more popular choice.
We stop waste at the source. We use textile waste as a raw material resource, diverting it from landfill and incineration. We become less dependent on virgin materials and we save water and energy, reducing CO2 emissions and the use of toxic materials.
Q. Have you had any positive outcomes since introducing upcycling?
Yes. Earlier in the year, Kingly was awarded the prestigious 2020 Promotional Gift Award for our Upcycled Socks packaged into Compostable Self Seal Bags.
These socks are the most sustainable created from premium upcycled yarn made of textile waste. No water. No dyes. Zero waste. No toxins. No contamination.
They form part of a circular system. Textiles can flow through the upcycled textile system for many life cycles, creating long lasting, high-value products in each successive generation. Fashion, accessories and home goods are bought, used, and eventually worn-out, at which point they are returned to the upcycled textile system.