Fabric scraps, locally known as jhut, have gradually been gaining a foothold in the world of apparel with their usefulness in manufacturing high-end items.
Most global fashion brands are now shifting towards recycled yarns in producing apparel products. Such items produced from recycled yarn hold only 5% of the global market.
But retailers, such as fashion giants H&M and Inditex, have set goals to use 100% recycled or sustainable fibres by 2025-30 in readymade garment production.
Simco Spinning & Textile Ltd, one of such textile factories in Bangladesh, has earned international recognition with its CYCLO Recycled Yarn.
Starting its journey in Mymensingh's Bhaluka in 2009, Simco currently produces about 4,000 tonnes of recycled yarns annually and has employed around 600 people in the process.
Simco now has businesses with more than 40 global fashion retailers, such as H&M, Inditex, Wal-Mart, Target, Nike, Adidas, Patagonia, and Bestseller.
Garments manufactured with CYCLO yarn are exported all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Germany, the UK, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and France.
Mustafain Munir, director of Simco, told The Business Standard, "In the face of a growing demand from fashion retailers for recycled yarns, we have doubled our production capacity over the past four years. We are currently modernising our machinery to again make the capacity twice by 2022."
The factory's annual turnover is now over $8 million, he added.
According to industry insiders, Bangladesh has some other factories that recycle fabric scraps; they are Mother Textile Mills, Aman Textiles, and Badsha Textiles. Three more such factories – DBL Group, Akij Group, and Bitopi Group – are now in the pipeline.
The recycled yarn has traditionally been used to make socks, gloves and some low-priced items. It can now be used for producing all types of fashion items, including knitwear, woven and denim.
Simco started with the production of low-quality yarn that was mostly used to produce cleaning materials and other home textiles. Over almost 11 past years, Simco has evolved into a factory with capacity to manufacture high-quality and commercially applicable yarns.
Umer Khan, general manager of Simco Spinning & Textile, said, "We can recycle 95% of waste garment cut-pieces that we source with the latest available technology. We will be able to do 100% with a more technological upgrade."
Confirming uses of recycled yarns in various fashion apparels, Mustafain Munir said, "We are currently making yarns for T-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, canvases, twills, and denim fabrics."
But, the recycled yarn producer is now facing some challenges – sourcing of raw materials is one of them as the market is highly unregulated, informal, and unpredictable yet. For instance, garment waste now costs about Tk80 per kilogram, which is four times what was 10 years ago.
The setting up of a recycling factory requires $1-2 million in additional costs compared to what a traditional spinning mill needs.
The machine called "rag-tearing" lines imported from Europe, Turkey, and China is used for recycling garment wastes.
Generally, yarns and fabrics need dyeing, but CYCLO produces yarn with a wide range of colours without using any dye, water and chemicals. That is why the yarns that CYCLO produces are environmentally friendly.
"We use scraps from garment tables that are already coloured. We sort by colour manually and recycle mechanically, thereby providing coloured yarns without dyeing," said Mustafain Munir.
The extra cost for sorting out and recycling yarns is offset by eliminating the dyeing cost in making garment or fabric, he added.
Simco officials said each kilogram of CYCLO-recycled fibres can save up to 20,000 litres of water, 200 grams of pesticides and fertilisers, 2.7kg of dyes and chemicals, 3.2 kilowatt-hours of energy and 11kg of CO2 equivalent.
How to collect raw materials and recycle
Simco sources cutting waste from a small group of dedicated traders who have partnered with manufacturers. Its dedicated procurement team works closely with a network of manufacturers and traders to source the shades that their customers are looking for.
The colour of the cutting waste determines the colour of the yarn. If an exact match is not available, they blend different cutting waste together later in the process.
After delivering the sourced cutting waste on the factory premises, a team of workers manually sort for colour once again to remove contaminants to ensure the quality of colour.
Then sorted jhut is processed in the recycling machine where fabrics are opened and yarns are shredded into the recycled cotton fibres. The fibres are pressed into bales and transferred to the blending section.
The recycling process shortens cotton fibres, so spinners blend it with another fibre to ensure sufficient strength and quality. Depending on customer preference, they use a variation of blending fibres – recycled polyester, viscose, organic cotton, acrylic or tencel.
"Mechanical recycling shortens fibres so it has less strength, especially when making finer counts. So, yarns are always blended. However, our policy is to ensure a minimum of 50% recycled cotton in our yarn," said the Simco director.
Traceability of recycled yarn
Simco has taken an initiative to make their products 100% traceable by mixing some traceable fibres with its recycled cotton yarns. Now buyers and consumers are aware of the transparency recycled apparels, said Umer Khan, the Simco general manager.
The new technology of a Dutch fibre solutions providing firm uses tracer particles and blockchain to give assurance that recycled cotton enters the supply chain, he added.
The final products can be scanned by a hand-scanner to verify if genuine CYCLO yarn has been used in any apparel, he added.
Depending on the customer's requirement, CYCLO yarns can be doubled or twisted together to create coarser yarns and to create different colour combinations within the same yarn.
Every batch of sliver and yarn is tested for evenness, strength, thickness and composition in its in-house lab.