It’s hot and the sun is beating down as you run from your morning yoga class to your first meeting of the business day. You’re parched so you reach for your reusable water bottle. It’s gone! “Did I forget it in class? On the train?” It’s the environmental equivalent of my dog ate my homework. A horrible quandary emerges – do you buy a bottle of water from the corner bodega or cafe, with single use plastic destined to be thrown out after you gulp down the water, or do you die a painful death of dehydration?

If this is you, we have some good news. NO NEED TO DIE! There’s a way to give those plastic items a second life. RPET stands for recycled polyethylene terephthalate. RPET is comprised of single use plastics that have been recycled, broken down, and then reformed into textiles that are then made into brand new products.

Just. Like. That.

When creating products out of RPET, 50% less energy is being used than if you were creating brand new products out of virgin polyester.* Further, using RPET creates an incentive for the market to keep plastics out of the landfill, or worse, the incinerator. In India, where we source our RPET, burning of trash is a MAJOR health and environmental issue. WORK+SHELTER is located close to a landfill in Delhi that is constantly being burned. The trash is incinerated, in part, because plastic is such a durable material. Those sad, unlucky plastics that do end up in landfills can take over 700 years to decompose.* With a city of over 20 million inhabitants, that’s a lot of trash taking up a lot of space. So, a lot of it ends up engulfed in flames and then disseminated in the air. 

When we buy fabrics made out of recycled materials we provide a monetary incentive to recycle instead of burn those plastics. What’s more, individuals in parts of India can actually sell their waste to recyclers. Thus, the waste ends up in end products like bags that have real utility, instead of as smoke that pollutes the air. 

At WORK+SHELTER one of our 2020 goals is to reduce the use of virgin materials we use in production. To that end, we like to tell our ethical fashion clients that RPET is a versatile material for both knits and wovens.

For knits, RPET can be combined with organic cotton (GOTS certified), resulting in material that works well for athleisure apparel. Our clients at Samvega, a sustainable clothing brand focusing on eco friendly yoga-wear, decided on this mix for a number of reasons. The polyester dries fast and is super durable, which is great for athletic wear. It’s then combined with cotton to make the garment more comfortable, as cotton is a soft and breathable material. 

For wovens, RPET is smooth and watery to the touch, but also VERY strong. Further, it folds down and is lightweight, making it cheaper to ship than a cotton equivalent. That’s why we used it for our new Weekender bag, custom printed below for our distributor friends Peace by Piece.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MICROFIBERS?!” As you may have heard, RPET is composed of microfibers with very low street cred when it comes to being environmentally friendly. This is definitely an issue, and should be considered during product design and product use. 

Designers should especially consider using RPET in items that can be wiped down, or work to ensure that if their product does need to be washed, their end users are educated about how to reduce microfiber waste. A few recommendations:

  • Recommend cool washing water instead of hot water, as hot water makes it easier for the microfibers to sneak out of products

  • Educate end users about tools like the Cora Ball and GUPPYFRIEND to decrease the amount of microfibers that end up in our waterways

  • Encourage air drying your RPET clothes, rather than using a tumble dry

Despite the microfiber issue, using RPET is a huge upgrade from using virgin polyester. If you’d like to consider using this material for your production, let us know and we can help talk through whether it makes sense for your design. We’re always reachable at [email protected]


Theresa VanderMeer

-Founder + CEO

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