Prato: Italy’s “textile town” heralded as the birthplace of textile recycling

The recycling of used clothes has been around for centuries in the Italian city of Prato, which has earned itself the title of “textile town”.

Famous for its textile district, which represents about 3% of European textile production, Prato has been recycling wool since the mid-19th century, adopting such techniques long before it was coined the “circular economy”.

The local tradition includes “regenerated carded wool”, a product that was developed from the recycling of used clothing and scraps. Used woollen rags arrive in Prato compressed into bales from all over the world. 

Textile companies in the city then select the materials for recycling or second-hand. The materials are carefully chosen by experts based on their colour before the special process strips used sweaters and clothing back to being fibres, called “mechanical wool”.

Although the fibres are not as fine as virgin wool, they are able to be reintroduced to the production cycle without having to be dyed, saving the environment from the impact of dyeing.

In Prato, there are around 7,000 small textile businesses each specialising in one part of the textile manufacturing process whether it’s spinning, warping, weaving, dyeing, finishing, printing, or designing.

Every six months the Prato companies develop 2,000 new yarns, 60,000 new textile designs and hundreds of new fabric collections.

Only one percent of the almost 100 million tonnes of textiles produced worldwide every year gets recycled. In 2018, around 143,000 tonnes, which accounted for 15% of the global total, was recycled in Prato.

As the world’s capital of post-consumer textile processing, many of the larger fashion brands in search of more sustainable production models are looking to the Tuscan city for their expertise and their recycled yarns. Zara, H&M, Banana Republic and Armani are some of those businesses that have used recycled fabrics from Prato in its collections.

Image Credit:  Camera di Commercio di Prato

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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