Earthlink Apparel turns used textiles into fashion

A Lower Hutt-based charity is making waves in the ethical clothing world with its children’s clothing range made from recycled clothing. Earthlink Apparel is trying to reduce the number of perfectly useable textiles clogging up landfills.

Earthlink Apparel is just one corner of a larger organisation, Earthlink Incorporated which focuses on social, environmental and economic sustainability, and supporting coping with mental health or addiction issues find sustainable employment. Other initiatives include NZQA accredited training programmes, recycling and horticulture services and a curtain bank.

The apparel arm was launched as an operational business in 2014 to divert end-of-life corporate apparel and recover textiles resources previously being wasted.

Talks about diving into the clothing world started in 2012 as part of Hutt City Council’s ‘Silver Lining’ initiative. An initial pilot project, largely focused on the recovery of end-of-life New Zealand Post and Kiwibank uniforms, resulted in a total of 40,200 garments being recovered – saving some 40 tonnes of textiles from being disposed of offshore or in landfills.

Earthlink Incorporated chief executive Shirley Cressy says every part of donated garments is used in some way.

“We guarantee we’ll recycle, upcycle or repurpose everything we get in and the garments we haven’t been able to use we either put into rags or send to other non-profits around New Zealand.”

The only limitation in the clothing is that no logos can be used, so they are cut out and shredded. The shredded fabric can be used for stuffing pillows and toys or used in upholstery.

New Zealand disposes of 100,000 tonnes of textiles annually, making textiles the fastest growing waste stream worldwide. According the Ministry for the Environment figures, textiles account for 4 percent of all waste sent to New Zealand landfills.

Earthlink Apparel’s aim is to recover, repurpose or recycle a total of 80 tonnes of corporate apparel by April next year.

The non-profit currently makes clothing for children up to the age of 10. Most are made from merino uniforms, suits and business skirts. The clothing doesn’t just help reduce consumers’ carbon footprint – it’s also easy on the wallet. All the clothing is sold at affordable prices, between $5 and $45.

Depending on the size of clothes being made, a single suit jacket could be used to make up to three items of clothing. The trousers could be made into five pairs of shorts.

“We do all sorts of things like turn sleeves into trousers and incorporate design elements on the clothing, like buttons and pockets, into the new garment.”

Since the non-profit began its work, a number of qualified designers have given advice on how best to utilise different parts of the clothing.

In 2015 the charity partnered up with researchers and designers at Massey University’s Space Between – a sustainable fashion initiative - to come up with the ‘Fundamentals’ womanswear range. Designed by Massey fashion lecturer Jennifer Whitty and manufactured at Earthlink Apparel, pieces from Fundamentals’ collection were displayed at New Zealand Fashion Week earlier this year.

And people are embracing the up-cycled fashion movement. A PledgeMe campaign run by Space Between in August to keep the project sustainable surpassed its $10,000 goal by more than $1000.

Earthlink Apparel is currently available in their Lower Hutt store, as well as at selected markets and retailers around Wellington. In the next few months they are hoping to move into the online shopping world as well.

This story first appeared at The Register.