Wearing plastic – clothing company produces t-shirts out of recycled PET bottles

March 26, 2012

A clothing company wants to see plastic bottles out of landfills and on to the runway.

ReThink Fabrics is a branded manufacturer of t-shirts and apparel produced with recycled PET bottles. The company's signature line of t-shirts is made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester RPET fabric.

The Seattle, WA-based company was started in 2008 by a group of apparel industry veterans with more than 30 years experience in the outdoor market.

Anne Sodemann, CEO of ReThink Fabrics, told PlasticsToday with the advancing technology in the plastics recycling arena, it was a natural step to use it as material for clothing. In addition, RPET polyester fabric has a 75% lower carbon footprint than virgin polyester.

"What was appealing was the message about what you can do with a material that some perceive as waste, and turn it into a valuable resource," she said. "Instead of throwing plastic bottles into a landfill, why not make it into a t-shirt?"

RPET is collected, cleaned, smashed, melted, polymerized, and finally spun into yarn—and ultimately into the ReThink fabric and products. The products are all certified and traceable and adhere to manufacturing and social compliance standards. All of the t-shirts display a bottle count that show the number of plastic bottles used in each product.

Sodemann said some consumers are shocked to find out the t-shirts made from recycled plastic bottles are just as soft, if not softer, as virgin polyester t-shirts.

"It is still pretty amazing how many people don't know the possibilities behind plastics as resource when it comes to apparel," Sodemann said. "They instantly think it must be scratchy and uncomfortable to wear. It's just one of those things you have to feel and experience to believe and it's just mind-blowing."

The ReThink t-shirt has found a positive reception in the fashion industry and with consumers, along with celebrity supporters including musicians such as the Black Eyed Peas, Sodemann said.

Producing t-shirts made out of plastic bottles is just one step. ReThink is currently developing a program with national retailers to collect the plastic bottle t-shirts and recycle them into new t-shirts.

"That way our t-shirts never have to go to the landfill," she said. "It is basically a cradle-to-cradle approach, and hopefully it will be up and running next year."

Sodemann said she hopes plastic manufacturers continue to look for ways to produce products with less impact on the environment.

"There's a lot to be said on how you can design the packaging, so that it becomes more resourceful," she said. "I hope the plastic industry continues to look at how it can improve to make plastic with an even more useful end-of-life."

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