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Textile Waste for Independent Makers

An introductory guide designed for independent makers and creative businesses to better understand textile waste and surplus materials

Learn the steps to take to ensure safe, clean and long-lasting items and find out about the benefits of opting for fabrics and textiles that would otherwise end up discarded. Find out how to assess quantity and quality, and make the best decisions not just for your business, but for the planet. 

Contents

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See an unfamiliar word? Head to our Textile Waste – Glossary of Terms to learn some new vocabulary.

A box of surplus scrap materials

How to assess the quality of your textile waste

Just as you would when purchasing virgin materials from a producer, you need to do your own quality control before you start designing and making with textile waste.

Be sure to do this before you purchase or take materials away, and be aware that the terms of sale with a deadstock supplier may be that they have not checked for damages, so you may be agreeing to receive the materials as they are. This can also be used as a bargaining tool to negotiate a cheaper price.

Depending on your project or product, the damage may not be a big deal. Bear in mind when assessing quality that there may be techniques you can employ to use damage as an advantage, such as holes that can be visibly and creatively mended. Make an inventory as a part of your quality assessment, taking into account any additional time or resources the mending or creative thinking may require.

Whether you’re utilising waste from the factory floor, end-of-roll fabrics, discarded clothing or a completely unusual material like brand Elvis & Kresse’s fire hose pipe accessories, damages that could be found in any textile waste. We’ve compiled the most common ones to look out for, why they occur and how to deal with them.

List of ways your textiles might be damaged

yellow textile with a rip against a wire fence

Photo by Mario Caruso on Unsplash

Holes

Common especially when the fibre or fabric construction is tricky, for example, a highly elastane composition (which stretches away from the loom needles). You won’t know whether there are holes until you open up the fabric from its roll, though sometimes a producer will mark the selvedge with pen, sticker or a slip stitch of thread.

Slashes

These could be from a production fault such as when there is an issue with the machine, or it could be deliberate so that the material isn’t used elsewhere.

Nicks

Nicks are most likely caused by opening a fabric roll with scissors or knife, and it can occur through the length of the roll if penetration was deep enough.

Stitching

Especially common with handwoven fabrics, some are stitched together across the grain so as to make it appear as a longer length of yardage. You may also come across this if there has been a hole caused by machinery or scissors and it has consequently been mended.

Moth damage

If a material has been stored without much care, or has been produced in a space where moths are simply common, then your textile may have holes caused by moths. Sometimes these can be rectified by a simple visible mend, or you might be able to cut around them. However, on occasion you may discover that it is new damage with eggs or larvae present in the cloth, in which case further care will be required.

Writing

Some fabrics are marked with producer information that would ordinarily be cut off during production, such as the fabric code or length of roll. There may also be pen marks on the selvedge, for instance if a producer was highlighting a fabric integrity issue. You can either make a feature of this, or you can cut around them as these pens are likely to be biro, permanent marker or a paint pen.

Printing

Especially common with digitally printed fabrics, the fabric selvedge could be printed with the name of a print designer, fabric studio, or colour palette. This could be used as a feature, but most likely you’ll hide it in the seam allowance or cut it off. Sometimes the selvedge will contain useful composition information too.

Marks

These could be anything during production or during transportation, for instance vehicle dirt. They will most likely disappear after a wash, which you should be doing with your fabrics when using them in production anyway. In the case that the stains are oil-based, they may require further work.

Stains

During fabric production, many fluids are used in order to make the processes smooth. These tend to be oil-based agents that coat the yarn or fabric surface, or otherwise leave a residue. There will also be oils used on the machines themselves. These may not be fully washed off in the washing stage and so remain with the finished textile. You might even catch blood spots, especially if your material has been hand-worked in some way, due to pin pricking. For this, you will need to employ all stain-removal tactics at your disposal, otherwise cut the stains out or cover them with design ingenuity.

Thread discrepancy

During weaving, some fibres or yarns from the machine or factory floor could become caught in with the others, most commonly in the weft (the horizon of the cloth). Sometimes it is possible to remove the thread discrepancy by using a sharp needle to tease out the fibres, but it may be tricky and requires concentration. You might also want to make a feature of it.

Slubs

Slubs are ridges or lumps in the fabric surface. They occur in the yarn spinning stage, most commonly with fibres of short staple length and only with natural fibres, due to how they are processed and made. There isn’t any way to remove these as they are integral to the cloth - if you snip them, the warp and weft will likely come apart and you’ll create a hole. Some fabrics are naturally slubby, such as silk dupion. Try to communicate with your customer that slubs are a natural effect of some fibre and fabric production, or else hide it in the seam allowance or cutting around.

Pulls and laddering

As with holes, pulls and laddering generally occur in the fabric production stage due to the tension the construction undergoes. You may also find it on finished garments, potentially discarded due to this issue. Pulls would be classed as the small dashed line and fluffy tuft, common when you catch materials with something sharp or with velcro. Laddering is more likely in knitted materials, and what you see when you catch items such as hosiery. Both affect the integrity of a material so it’s likely you would cut around the damage to prevent further or increasing damages. 

Considering quantity and measurements in using textile waste

There are a few questions to answer before you head into using any type of textile waste for the sake of making products to sell. Ultimately you do not want the waste to continue being waste; in your hands, will the textile waste have an additional step in its life before it hits landfill or incineration (or recycling)? Can you bring out the best in the material and showcase its inherent value to a new audience? Ask yourself the following:

  • Does it fit your range? 
  • Does it have longevity?
  • How much and what type(s) of waste will you eventually create when using it?
  • Is it likely that you will need to find something similar to continue making products?

Paying attention to these details will help you save both time and money so that you can construct the best plan for your products, along with a better idea of what you need to look for in textile waste.

Cutting denim for patch repair

Denim repair with Barley Massey

Material testing requirements

Fibre and fabric identification

Most countries importing apparel and soft home furnishing products require fibre identification labels indicating the fibre type and percentage of fibre components e.g. 95% cotton 5% elastane. This information would usually be stated on your care label alongside wash instructions. It may also be useful to know the weight and construction of your fabric for your product description.

Care label instructions

Many countries have mandatory or voluntary standards for care label instructions applicable to textile and apparel. Your care label should highlight the most appropriate consumer care conditions for the products, which generally covers: colourfastness to washing (i.e. if it may bleed), bleaching, and dry cleaning, along with dimensional stability, appearance retention, and ironing (or in other words, how a consumer should care for the garment to retain appearance and integrity).

Care labels are useful information points for consumers so that they can look after their product in the most appropriate way according to product testing. They are also an assurance that you as a brand/retailer have done the due diligence to protect that consumer and product.

You can check UK government advice on product labelling here, and also contact your local Trading Standards to ensure that you’re trading legally. 

Performance testing

Purchasing materials from a mill should result in the receipt of a testing report, especially if that material has specific performance requirements such as outdoor fabric, upholstery fabric or automotive fabric.

When procuring textile waste, you may or may not receive this information, and depending on the product you are creating, may want to do some material or sample testing to find out the product’s properties and safety.

At Yodomo, we strive to pass on as much detail as we can about the reuse materials we give you. That said, with the volume we process, we cannot guarantee every material 100%. With that in mind, you may want to opt for further performance testing to ensure the products you produce from the materials are exactly as you intend them to be.

When you opt for performance testing, you’re looking out for the following:

  • Dimensional stability to washing and dry cleaning 
  • Colourfastness to light, crocking (rubbing), washing, bleaching 
  • Physical tests for strength, abrasion, pilling resistance 
  • Chemical Tests for finish analysis and pH
  • UV protection performance (for swimwear and outdoor goods)

There are several tests to be implemented. The following are some of the popular tests that products you own will likely have undergone.

Flammability testing

It is critical that materials used in apparel are in compliance with flammability regulations. In particular, adult apparel and children’s sleepwear have specific requirements that must be acceptable before importing or selling a product. Regulations for upholstery, rugs and carpets should also be followed, with requirements for the covers and the fillings.

The Furniture and Furnishings Fire Safety Regulations 1988, amended 1989, 1993 and 2010, are UK laws designed to ensure that upholstery components and composites used for furniture supplied in the UK meet specified ignition resistance levels. However, each country has its own regulations and your requirements will differ depending on where you are exporting to.

Close-up of beige feathers

Photo by Julian Hanslmaier on Unsplash

Feather and down testing

If you happen to be creating outdoor wear that needs to perform, and are using either down, feathers or a synthetic filling, you may want to test the filling power, thermal properties, migration and penetration resistance of the outer layer. It may also be, for instance, that you are utilising the filling from cushions or damaged sleeping bags and need to ascertain that the fillings are hygienic to use, especially as they are not easy to clean. It could be worth contacting your local eco-dry cleaner for advice on cleaning these items.

Thermal and water vapour resistance testing 

This is another performance-heavy materials test, this time to address whether your product is thermal resistant and/or water vapour resistant - for instance with activewear reporting temperature regulation or sweat-wicking. These tests can be performed on all sorts of materials, including leather.

Eco-textile testing

With consumer and industry awareness increasing over the damage that textile production can do in terms of chemical leaching, there are now tests that will ascertain if your material meets environmental protection guidelines.

For instance, REACH, the European Commission’s regulation on hazardous substances, enforces industry partners to monitor and evaluate the risks from chemicals used in their production, and to provide safety information on the substances used. Additionally, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) offers brands and suppliers a single, harmonised list of chemical substances banned from intentional use during manufacturing and related processes in supply chains of the textile, apparel, and footwear (including leather and rubber) industries.

Testing for chemical substances used in production is a full on deep dive, generally using forensic science to determine the elements that make up your material to determine if there are heavy metals, formaldehyde, pesticides and banned azo colourants in its composition. They can be used to determine whether a producer is being truthful, as substance paperwork needs to be submitted for imports and exports, and to give oversight of the supply chain.

While it is unlikely you’ll have the resources and justification to undergo the effort to test on the typically smaller quantities of textile waste, these are good things to keep in mind when thinking about the overall supply chain of how your materials come to be, and to better understand what is at stake with the textile industry.

Glass lab containers and beakers

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

Material testing services

Some of the material and product testing could be conducted through due diligence and using your common sense and knowledge of design and materials as a whole to make an educated guess. You could also safely test a sample, for instance with a controlled fibre, or wearing on a run.

There are, however, different rules and standards for various products. If you are designing, manufacturing and selling sleepwear, children’s clothes or toys, or upholstery and soft furnishings, then you do need to conduct safety tests for assurance purposes. Exporting these products will also require this paperwork. Finding a material testing service that can offer you personal support and who ordinarily work with small businesses should give you appropriate guidance in what is required when using textile waste.

Eurofins is the global leader in food, environment, and pharmaceutical product testing, with multiple laboratories across Europe under its portfolio. Their website offers a full list of product categories and subsequent possible tests.

High Street Textile Testing Services Ltd is based in Leeds and under the Modern Testing Services (MTS) group now acquired by Eurofins. They say they are “small enough to be friendly but big enough to be effective.”

Intertek is an industry leader operating in 1000 locations over 100 countries. They do offer a lot of services but may be slower to respond to small businesses.

Shirley® has fully equipped laboratories in Leeds and Manchester performing routine physical and chemical tests on textiles and related products in all forms. They are additionally an independent STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified laboratory, so if you happen to acquire material with this certification, but want assurance, they could double check for you.

Bureau Veritas offers a full range of services that span the entire value chain of consumer products, assisting clients from planning and manufacturing their assets, to shipping and selling. Their testing solutions allow you to control the safety and compliance of your products, whilst consulting and inspection services ensure that you meet regulatory requirements. They also issue certifications, to facilitate access to international markets. And they offer a free quote for testing services.

Material testing costs

Unfortunately, material testing companies do not give price quotes up front, which means that you would have to contact them individually and directly to receive quotes on what you need. This is why having an idea upfront on what is possible will help factor the effort and potential costs into your product offering.

It may be that you have been able to take a course on material testing and would like to purchase your own machinery, which is particularly useful and cost effective if you have simple tests you can conduct yourself, or work in a studio with similar product designers i.e. Martindale abrasion and pilling tester, or washing and colour fastness testing machine.

Courses on textile testing:

Hanbury Press making marks for notebook design

Intellectual property

Yodomo will always, wherever possible, let you know the commercial applicability of the textiles we offer. Our goal is to bolster creativity and mindful crafting in addition to helping creative businesses and independent makers succeed. We encourage you to make use of textile waste wherever possible; however, while we’re able to give you assurance about the uses of materials, there may be limitations to such materials if you receive them from elsewhere.

Textiles can be produced exclusively for a designer or studio to their specifications, though they are more commonly produced by a mill for sale. The origin of your textile waste can affect your own intellectual property (IP) applications, such as patents, as well as the due diligence you may carry out to transparently communicate with customers. The fact that the textiles have been discarded, whether bespoke or “off the rack”, does not immediately mean that you are able to use the materials for your own commercial use.

If you intend on selling one-offs through more traditional channels like markets, you will have less exposure than through digital channels. Regardless, you may still be open to the same vulnerabilities, where producing something with another brand’s signature can be deemed to be a counterfeit, even if the products are completely different.

Bespoke textiles

Mills have in-house designers who create textiles in line with their aesthetic to best showcase their range of services. The usual method of sale is to show their swatch books or hangers at trade shows for designers and brands to purchase a minimum order quantity. However, mills may also offer a customisation service to designers with a combination of yarns, weaves and print services in order to develop bespoke textiles. Usually, bespoke services require a higher minimum order quantity and a bespoke service fee.

You can usually tell whether a material is bespoke if you find test samples, or if the print contains specific branded information. A giveaway to whether a material is “off the rack” is if it is a standard material with no brand information.

Branded textiles

Intellectual property rights is something you may want to pursue if your designed object is innovative, though if you are using textile waste exclusively, then be especially diligent with the source - it could affect your IP application or leave you open to infringement cases in future.

As we often see with reworked garments and accessories, brand names in the form of printed or embroidered logos can be highlighted through the use of textile waste. Generally these products are expressly reworked. Highlighting that you are using textile waste can cover you legally, while also offering a unique selling point, so do consider communicating your material origin.

Textile waste can also include printed or embroidered fabrics that are unique to a design studio or brand. Sometimes these are simply rejected samples, but sometimes they may be confirmed samples that have made it into a collection. These are still technically branded goods as they correspond to a unique aesthetic. Here is where communicating with your source is useful. The design studio could offer amnesty for the use of their textile waste in your product, and it would be wise to have this in writing in case of any future infringement cases. Remember that team members can change so a record of any conversations regarding intellectual property is useful.

Studios and brands may also offer up conditions of use. For example, you may be allowed to use the textile waste provided you remove the brand logo. A lot of instances of brands damaging their stock is for intellectual property purposes so that their product isn’t devalued. Even if you are creating a luxury good out of fast fashion waste, you are technically using their stock, so be mindful.

Using branded or bespoke textiles

One thing you definitely do not want to do with any bespoke or branded textiles is to create a product that is the same or very similar to the original product of the design studio, brand or retailer, even with rejected samples. This is where the concern over counterfeit comes into play - a customer may see the branded textile on the product and assume it’s something it isn’t. The following are three useful tips on how to use branded textiles:

  • Communicate the source of your textile waste, using this information as a unique selling point. It could also be used as a win for the original design studio or brand, a sustainable option for their discard problem.
  • Do your due diligence in investigating whether a product was created with the branded textiles, and if your product is similar in any way.
  • Contact the brand and design studio to explain that you have acquired their materials and explain how you would like to use them, simply to cover yourself for any future actions against you.

Reducing product margins

From an economic point of view, especially if you are a small brand or independent maker, utilising what has already been produced reduces your material costs, especially in considering the minimum order of virgin materials. These materials are free or low cost (such as with our Hackney Creative Reuse program!) or because it’s pricy for businesses to have waste removed.

Impact on time and resources

Besides the impact of your designs and your product margins, when using reuse and waste materials, be conscious of the fact that you still need to devote time and resources to making the materials work for your vision and market. It also needs to be readily available should you wish to produce more of the same product. If you are building your business on a material that fluctuates in regularity and style, will your business be sustainable? Is it worth your while to go through the process of design and due diligence if the materials you use will constantly be changing? On the other hand, the ever-changing selection of materials might add extra creativity and uniqueness to your products, making the products you produce limited edition and therefore more worthwhile.

Looking for more helpful tips geared towards creative businesses and independent makers? Join our Making a Living Community today, and sign up as a Creative Reuse Member to get access to FREE reuse materials today!

This guide is produced in partnership with Stephanie Steele, London-based textile sustainability specialist.

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