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Reclaiming Textiles, Craftivism is on the Rise
Imagine this, someone sets up their loom or spool with the finest cashmere wool from Peru. They create a beautifully made and designed sweater which you buy and wear for several loving years. After some time, the sweater style is out of fashion, the color has faded or it has shrunk and you have grown.
This is the lifetime of a well made and loved cashmere sweater. Now, what’s next? You recycle it, right? Well, yes you can recycle it, but what about repurposing it? Repurposing in fabrics and textiles has taken on a new name and action called ‘craftivism’.
Recycling old textiles is not a new concept. The origination began in England 200 years ago. It was referred to as the ‘rag and bone’ industry where old textiles were collected then sent to wiping and flocking businesses for the wool and other fibers were sent to be reclaimed into new garments. All textiles were recycled, both man made and natural. You may ask why? Well, think about it.
Recycled Sari Silk Yarn
It’s estimated that over a million tones of textiles are thrown away every year, over 50 are recyclable, yet only 20 is actually recycled. Reduce, reclaim, recycle has been an eco phrase for many years now in North America. People are thinking about where and how products are made and what happens after its use is depleted. Business and personal accountability and responsibility are in the forefront of most minds and the progression of it is moving the emphasis from the object itself to the action taken. In other words, activism plus crafts equals craftivism.
Many textile and fiber artists have been aware of this insurgence since their early 101 courses. The concept of craftivism is now a common phrase used by people who have little or no training to make and alter existing materials into new products. It is referred to as a ‘socially engaged art practice’ a call to question and interrupt the prevailing codes of conduct in regards to mass consumerism. Craftivism’s approach to the recycling of post consumer fabric and textile waste is the activity of re purposing. For example, taking an old wool sweater and cutting it into a new pattern and changing it from a wool sweater, into wool oven mittens, woolen puppets, etc. Taking a previous fabric craft, i.e. knitted, crocheted, macramé and finding a new purpose for the materials, skipping the great big process of recycling. It’s an activism which can be taken all over the world, by crafts people, artists and imaginative people alike.
Alternately, the Textile Recycling Association has started its own movement to stop the waste of old textiles and fibers into landfills and sending it to merchants for re sale. The TRA is not taking the carftivism approach yet, since there is no money changing hands. Capitalism does need to lead to consumerism, which is not the case with craftivism. TRA controls the majority of post consumer textiles which are collected by charities such as The Salvation Army and Oxfam. The process of the TRA is to recycle and reuse textiles.
Still wearable shoes are resold in places like India, Africa and Eastern European countries. Wearable clothes are recycled and provided to African countries for emergency use, also sent to other colder countries to provide warm winter clothing.
Unwearable clothing is recycled in different ways. Pants and skirts are sold to the flocking industry where they are shredded for fillers in car insulation, roofing felts, panel linings and furniture padding. Unwearable woolen fabrics are sold to fiber reclaiming companies to make yarn or wool. Unwearable cottons and silks are sorted into grades for cloths and paper.
The world has changed over the past few decades. People are starting to think about the products the buy, how they were created and where, and what to do with them once they have served their purpose. Companies have been created within this new environmental approach to consumerism, but what about the everyman/woman? People now have a cleaner more pro active choice when considering what to do next with their used clothing and textile. Get active in your own home, community and environment. Recycle, reuse, reduce and now re purpose. Get active, you just may create a new sought after product, just from re purposing your clothing in the donation pile.