the most frequent question I get when every talking about Bottle Thread is “How the heck do you make shirts from recycled bottles??”
I thought I’d write it out, in detail, for anyone interested. If you’re here because I directly sent you this link: Hello! Welcome to the blog. I hope this long in-depth post is a lot nicer than anything I could write over a text or DM. I’m happy to tell you more in person, but my thumbs hate me for texting out the same exact response at least four times a week. Plus, we all like those “How it’s made” videos, so why not put it in written form?
Okay, so how do you turn a plastic bottle into the most comfortable shirt of all time?
Well, thank you for asking. It’s really simple actually. Here are the four steps that it takes to get from plastic bottle to comfy garment.
Bottles Are Sent to A Recycling Plant
Once you throw out a plastic bottle into the recycling can, it is then picked up by a recycling truck and taken to the nearest recycling plant. There it is sorted into categories of plastic. A milk carton is more likely to be recycled into a park bench than a moisture-wicking, poly-blend shirt.
Then, depending on the location and capabilities of the plant, the bottles are usually crushed, stored and shipped to other recycling factories or immediately taken to the next step. Sometimes bottles are shipped overseas. Sometimes all production is domestically made. Either way, most factories making clothing out of recycled bottles will use a variety of types of PET plastic to make their fabric.
Considering only 9% of plastic is ever recycled, there is a huge room for improvement in this chain. Billions of dollars in savings can be made. Hundreds of thousands of jobs can be created. In California alone, a 100% recycling rate of plastic would save the same amount of carbon emissions as taking 21,000 cars off the road and enough energy to power 300 McMansions for free over the course of an entire year.
Recycling Plant Breaks Bottles Down into Bits
Once the bottles are sorted, cleaned and crushed at the recycling plant, they are then shredded into bits.
These bits are then melted into tiny little pebbles of pure PET plastic building material. The is the same state that they started out in before they were turned into a plastic bottle. At this stage, the pebbles can be turned into any kind of material that we would otherwise make with the same PET material. Think Barbie dolls, or toys, or Tupperware, or even other bottles.
In the case of Bottle Thread, they are sent off to another plant as “Recycled PET” material instead of the regular PET. The only reason production of recycled PET costs more is the scalability factor. Once the plastic is recycled at a higher rate than 9%, the cost will go down and the cost of fresh PET will go up. Eventually, it will be cheaper to be more sustainable, but not until recycling becomes omnipresent.
The Bits are Heated and Stretched into Fibers
From here on, production for recycled materials is the same as regular materials. The bits are heated again to stretch into long, thin fibers. These fibers are long or thin depending on the desired tensile strength of the fabric you want. In the case of Bottle Thread, we use longer stitching than normal to prevent Pilling. Nonpilling garments are used a lot longer than cheaper, pilling garments.
Other companies can use this knowledge to carefully select the right fibers for their products. Even though longer fibers cost more (because they are harder to make in the production process) the cost will go down when the industry demands higher quality fabric and the scalability will bring the cost down.
Fibers are Woven into Fabrics
Now that the fibers are long and thin, they are woven and milled into actual fabric. Depending on the chemistry and engineering of the fabric desired, the polyester can take many forms: high tech sports fabric, cotton-poly blend, canvas-like, plastic bag like, stretchy comfy legging like goodness. there is a whole range of types of fabrics out there to choose from.
In this way, Bottle Thread chose to go with this amazing anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, SPF 30+, breathable, cloud-like, stretchy goodness that just revolutionizes the way a shirt is worn.
I easily could have gone with a cheaper fabric that wasn’t as sustainable, but the cost per yard wasn’t that much higher to take the recycled option. The conversation with my manufacturer over the phone while I sat in a parking lot at a TJ Maxx literally went:
Me: Okay so I want *see description above* kind of fabric. Can it be done?
Me: Sweet. Is there a way I can have it more sustainable?
Them: We could use recycled PET intead of normal PET polyester
Me: Even better. What’s the cost difference per yard?
Them: Not much. Maybe a couple cents per yard.
Me: Not a problem. Let’s do it!
And thus Bottle Thread was born.
The Fabric is then Sewn into Clothing
Next, the fun begins. Over the course of a year and a half, I was working closely with my manufacturer to make sure the design and feel and everything was absolutely perfect. This process took a bunch longer than I expected even with so many first-buyers expecting to get their clothing at least six months sooner than they were ready. Regardless, once I had all the designs ready, I was able to raise the funds to start the production. Woo!
This process is done in batches. So I ordered a batch up front with the funds I raised. Once there are enough profits from the current batch, I will be able to reorder at a higher rate. This part is really exciting.
The Clothing is Shipped to Me
Finally, after a long wait, the clothing was shipped to me personally. Since I’m still a small company, I’m able to handle the distribution myself. Eventually, I want to outsource the distribution to a distribution center. This will free up my time and make the ordering process run more efficiently.
Right now, I have a nifty little operation going on in the corner of my dining room. I process approx 3-10 orders on any given day. Once I vamp up my production to 10-20 sales a day I’m planning on getting more people involved to help with the shipping.
I Distribute the Clothing to You
Finally, now when you order Bottle Thread Clothing, it will be at your door within 2-3 days. I wanted to make the process as seamless as possible. So if you don’t like the feel or fit of the shirt and want to try another, I do free exchanges and returns.
Some people also expressed that they would rather pay in increments instead of all at once. Thus, I put together a payment plan system that lets people spend as little a $6.99 a month. All of it is rather exciting.
At this point, I focus my attention back to you, people into making sustainable decisions. Whether you’re just curious about how the heck I turn a plastic bottle into a sustainable shirt, I hope you got a lot from this article.
Just because you got this far, and may want to save this info for later. Feel free to sign up for our mailing list. I only send out emails occasionally (because let’s face it, I hate emails too.) and you’ll get $20 off your order with free shipping that’ll never expire.