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It is impossible to produce new tights made out of old ones

The truth about tights

Will Billi London’s tights be made of recycled yarns?

Not exactly. 

But why so?

Let’s be clear, we are not against recycled yarns - at the end of the day, they still help to prevent the use of raw materials. And we do admire fashion brands trying to have a positive impact by using recycled materials, especially when it comes to Polyamide and Polyester, which are extremely harmful for both the environment AND humans.  

We think this focus is too narrow especially in the tights industry. At the moment ripped tights cannot be recycled into new ones. So a laddered tights pollutes! Recycling only solves one small part of the wider issue and as such cannot be seen as a solution for the tights industry.

Recycling made easy

A recycled yarn is made from reprocessing textile waste. There are two types of textile waste:

Pre-consumer textile waste, also called industrial waste, that is created during the production of garments. In other words, all pieces of garments that you wear have been previously cut from a big piece of fabric causing leftover material. And instead of being thrown away and causing waste, this leftover is repurposed.

Post-consumer textile waste, which are unwanted clothes in good or bad shape that have completed their life cycle as a consumer item and can now be collected and repurposed. 

In order to transform textile waste and give it a second life, a fabric separation process needs to take place - go have a look at your favorite top, you will see that it’s most likely made of several materials - what we call fibres blend (usually the case in fast fashion). These fibre blends all need to be separated, reprocessed into a new individual thread and returned to either 100% recycled cotton, 100% recycled nylon, 100% recycled elastane, etc. 

Fibre Separation Recycled Yarns Label Composition

It is important to understand here that the methods used to separate fibre blends will differ based on the composition of each fabric, whether they are coton, polyamide, cashmere or something else. Therefore one method will apply to separate cotton from elastane, and another method will apply to separate cotton from viscose. 

It is impossible to produce new tights made out of old ones   

  • Tights are made from nylon and elastane
  • The chemical composition of nylon and elastane (both polyamide) is so similar that the separation methods are identical  
  • This method requires the use of a huge textile oven where all the materials melt and detach themselves from each other
  • And this is where the issue lies: nylon CANNOT be separated from elastane because the method used to separate both materials is the same, meaning that  both materials would melt and stick together, instead of separating themselves. 
  • Unfortunately the technology does not exist yet to separate both materials.
  • It is therefore impossible to obtain a recycled nylon yarn and produce new tights out of old ones.

    But this does not mean that tights should be thrown away just because they can’t be recycled. 

    Did you know your tights can be used by industries to help produce insulation panels and padding type products for pretty much any use case, including homes and cars ? 

    Did you know they could also be a source of renewable energy when sent to burning incinerator facilities?

    So it’s worth sending them to a textile recovery centre if you can. 

    Tights Production Channel Drawing


    Tights Production Channel Drawing 2

     So now you know the truth:

    - Recycled tights refers to tights made from recycled yarn, so recycled nylon coming from industrial textile waste or post consumer textile waste (excluding tights waste). 

    - Recyclable tights refers to the fact that tights are collected and reintroduced into other industries.

    In both case, they do not mean that they are made of old ones. It's impossible.

    Looking beyond recycling

    Recycling is a step towards a more sustainable environment. But in our modest opinion, this waste management solution is only postponing the waste issue instead of tackling it at its core.

    Less than 1% of clothing was recycled into new clothing in 2017*. This number clearly shows that large scale clothing recycling infrastructure is extremely far behind other industries. It is also worth noting that in some instances, the technology behind recycling requires the usage of chemical products adding further complexity to an already challenging topic. Moreover, recycling very often deteriorate the quality of the fibre, therefore reducing the possibility of recycling it indefinitely. 

    It is therefore crucial to find alternatives beyond using recycling techniques. 

    After eighteen months of research**, we have finally found a fabric with a magical power for our tights. 

    Stay tuned to know more…

    Billi’s tips

    Next time you shop, check out the label and try to buy garments with as few fibre blends as possible: the less fibre blends, the easier it is to recycle. 

    Shop now


    * Ellen Macarthur Foundation & Circular Fibres Initiatives (2017) A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future. 

    ** Marie has started these research during her master in September 2017.