America’s RECLEM system can transform apparel design, manufacturing and recycling

Photo: University of Washington in St. Louis

An American fashion scholar led the development of RECLEM, a patented process designed to help manufacturers create new garments from recycled fabrics. Mary Ruppert-Stroescu provides a roadmap for how designers and makers can deconstruct and reuse discarded textile products, and add further value by reassembling or recycling them into something fresh and new.

Cotton fabric is natural, renewable, biodegradable and, at least theoretically, sustainable. But the production of this fabric requires significant energy and resources. Seeds are planted, cultivated and harvested. Cotton bales are shipped to mills, spun into yarn and woven or knitted into rolls of fabric. The fabric is colored, cut and sewn to create finished garments.

According to Ruppert-Stroescu, associate professor and fashion design area coordinator at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts in St. Louis, about 15% of apparel fabric ends up as scrap on the cutting room floor.

An American fashion scholar led the development of RECLEM, a patented process designed to help manufacturers create new garments from recycled fabrics. Mary Ruppert-Stroescu provides a roadmap for how designers and makers can deconstruct and reuse discarded textile products, and add further value by reassembling or recycling them into something fresh and new.

And while around 95% of clothing sold at retail is recyclable, the vast majority ends up in landfills.

With RECLEM, she offered a roadmap for how designers and manufacturers can deconstruct and reuse discarded textile products, and add further value by reassembling or “recycling” them into something fresh and again.

“The first step is to collect the fabric and cut it into strips, squares or other small pieces,” Ruppert-Stroescu explained. Although synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, can be melted and spun into a new yarn, it is difficult to rethread cotton or other natural fabrics and get shorter fibers. “Our goal is to maintain as much structural integrity as possible.”

Once cut, the fabric pieces are laid, either by hand or via a digital plotter, in a surface design inside the garment’s pattern shape onto a thin, biodegradable film. This holds the design in place while the pieces are sewn together. When the fabric is washed, the film dissolves and the sections are ready to be assembled, says a press release from the university.

As the process involves shaping the fabric rather than cutting it, the grain can be customized and designs can easily be enlarged or reduced.

Additionally, the RECLEM system largely matches existing commercial machines and could be seamlessly integrated into large-scale production, Ruppert-Stroescu said.

Compared to creating a new fabric, RECLEM significantly reduces material costs while causing no loss in tensile strength, crease recovery, water repellency or abrasion resistance. The main challenge, she added, is essentially cultural.

Fibre2Fashion (DS) News Desk

Michael O. Stutler