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From waste to yarn to new clothes, Bright.fiber plans to support a sustainable domestic fashion industry

The rise of fast fashion led to a decline in clothing quality, and a subsequent drop in demand for huge bales of used t-shirts and jeans shipped around the world to be resold elsewhere. To save that textile from ending up in landfills and garbage incinerators, Bright.fiber Textiles will break down locally collected clothing to create recycled yarn and fibers.

The local aspect is key. As Bright.fiber's founder Ellen Mensink explained to Dutch newspaper Het Parool, "Waste often travels around the world four times before it makes its way back as clothing. It's sorted by hand in India, often using child labor. Then to Italy to be shredded into fibers and spun into yarn, and on to Bangladesh and China, where it's made into new pieces of clothing that are then shipped back to the Netherlands." Bright.fiber is working to keep every element of that journey near its hometown of Amsterdam.

Yarn and fibers made in Bright.fiber's plant won't just save on transport, but on every resource needed to produce fabric. Because the company's process sorts fibers by color, its yarn will also need little to no extra dying — one of the most wasteful and pollutive aspects of textile manufacturing.

The goal is to create a thriving domestic fashion industry, with local consumers buying local clothing made by local workers using waste from local recycling bins. Bright.fiber's plant is set to open in 2023. Once it's up and running, it should be able to process 2.5 to 3 million kg of clothing annually.

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No, a circular approach won't magically undo all of fashion's harmful practices. And it's not an excuse for producing clothing with a short lifespan, either. Clothing brands need to start releasing smaller and fewer collections and raising prices to produce higher quality items that last longer.

But the current situation is dire: less than 1% of used clothing is turned into new clothes, and every second, the equivalent of a garbage truck full of clothes is burnt or buried in landfills. Solutions like Bright.fiber's recycling plant don't just cut down on waste and resources needed for new materials. Like Ascend Elements, which turns old lithium-ion batteries into new cathodes for EV batteries, they have the potential to bring back domestic manufacturing, too.