The most used recycled materials in textiles

Hints from the Milano Unica Tendenze & Sostenibilità Project data

The vision of a fashion industry absorbing less natural resources, aka "of a circular fashion", has ambitious goals, such as prolonging the life and intensity of use of clothing and accessories (we talked about it here in relation to the thriving second-hand market), recycling garments when they reach the end of the functional life (we talked about it here), designing garments with recyclability in mind, etc. The fashion industry has just begun to pursue these goals that will be a dominant theme in the coming years. The use of recycled materials of both post-consumer (i.e. from clothing or other used materials) and pre-consumer (this last definition refers to the recycling of processed or unsold) origin is, on the other hand, already consolidated in the manufacturing of yarns and fabrics.


But what are the most frequently used recycled materials in textiles?


The statistics about the samples exhibited in the Milano Unica Tendenze & Sostenibiltà Area provide us with an answer to the question. The total number of samples awarded the label "made from recycled materials" in the 36th edition were around 500, i.e. 42% of the total. Nearly ¾ (73%) of the 166 exhibitors who took part in the project exhibited at least one sample containing recycled materials. The data, therefore, confirm the widespread use of recycled materials also in the creation of high-quality products, such as those typically presented at Milano Unica.


The analysis of the recycled material used shows a clear ranking. Recycled polyester ranked first and was used in 216 samples (43% of total samples), then comes recycled polyamide. It was found in 107 samples (21%). The numbers tell us that man-made fibres take the lion's share in recycled materials. What about natural fibres? Recycled cotton is used in 67 samples (13%), while recycled wool – almost absent in the spring-summer collections – was found in 69 samples for the autumn-winter 2023/24 collections of the 35th edition; other recycled natural fibres are used in a small number of samples.


In most cases, particularly when natural fibres, especially cotton, are used, recycled fibres are blended with virgin fibres to improve quality and strength and represent only a share, high or low, of the total fibre content. On the other hand, it is easier to find 100% recycled material in synthetics, sometimes also in wool. It must be noted that the dominant majority of recycled synthetic fibres come from non-textile products, and almost all recycled polyester comes from post-consumption PET bottles.


Thus, not all textile products made with recycled materials are created equal. The information on the origin and the percentage of recycled materials in the product are critical and should always be stated and specified clearly and, when possible, certified according to the most widespread standards, such as for example, GRS or RCS.