Repairing the “Fabric” of our Lives

Sorry, could’t help but borrow the line from the old Cotton marketing campaign.


We’re going to take a very quick look at “Repair” and “Recycle” from the “R”s of Sustainability. (Reduce / Re-use / Recycle / Repair / Repurpose / Rehome) as they apply to clothes and textile goods.

Much of what we purchase through the consumer marketplace is designed for a limited life and specifically NOT to be repairable. Much… but not all.

Clothes and related products (hats, shoes, backpacks, etc.) are VERY repairable. We’re so used to seemingly-inexpensive sweat-shop produced items that it seems silly to buy the more-expensive, domestically-made, quality items with a specific intent to “get our money’s worth” by keeping them in good repair (whether by our own hands or another’s).

That practice used to be the “norm”, and more and more of us are figuring out that it isn’t so archaic after all. We see it every day with another beloved market segment: cars! We even have shops specializing in helping you keep ’em running, such as the Merlin 200,000 Mile Shops (which employ people in your area and keeps more of your money working there as well).

As we try to figure out how to navigate in this “new” economy, a great life-skill that helps both in the short and long-term is knowing how to keep the working gear working, and how to fix it when it breaks.


A community full of such people would be a very robust, resilient place indeed! In addition to tailors and seasmstresses repairing AND instructing, local small businesses related to this include shoe-repair shops (working on leather and canvas products) and “fix-it” shops for some of everything. Community Repair Workshops are another sign of places that “get it”… like the “Radical Mending” group in Chicago. Maybe RLB, one day?

The other “R” is recycling. Since such a large percentage of modern clothing is made from synthetic materials which do not compose in landfills AND take up significant landfill space, many municipalities are now starting programs for clothes & fiber recycling.

That includes SWALCO:


From an article this spring by the Chicago Tribune:

“Lake County towns start clothes recycling program”

“Even with the availability of resale and thrift shops to recycle such items, the average person throws out about 60 pounds of old clothes and other textiles each year, said Peter Adrian, SWALCO’s recycling director.

“People are throwing away their old dirty socks, towels they turned into a floor mat or to wipe down a car. When they don’t want it, they pitch it. But it still has the value of fiber,” he said.

Lake County residents soon will be able to recycle those throw-aways by tossing them in steel 7-by-4 foot bins to be set up this month in [several] communities…”    ARTICLE

“SWALCO is establishing a new community-wide program where clothing and textiles can be collected for recycling. The program will accept new, gently used, used or unwanted/worn, women’s, men’s and children’s clothing and textiles. All fabrics will be accepted. Even clothes or textiles with stains or holes will be accepted. The great news too, is that almost 95% of the materials collected will be repurposed or recycled.”


Here’s a link to the list of drop-off locations, acceptable and prohibited materials:
SWALCO Clothing and Textile Recycling Program

We hope this information helps you in the repair and/or recycling of your used clothing and textiles (including towels and bedding)! We’d be happy to hear about any experiences you have with these programs (good or bad), in the comments.

More reading:

Patagonia Clothing Company’s “Common Threads Initiative”

“Sustainability in textile crafts – Idea Sheet”

“Clothes recycling bins hurt local donations, charities say.”

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