Repreve is a recycled polyester brand name by Unifi, an American fiber manufacturer founded by George Allen Mebane IV in 1971. Repreve polyester fabric is widely used in the textile and apparel industry.
Unifi manufactures Repreve out of recycled plastic fibers made from polyester waste such as plastic bottles. Repreve fibers are commonly used to make fabrics for athletic and fashion clothing and more.
Unifi turns plastic drinking bottles and their white lids into recycled polyester that then goes into outdoor, active apparel, and beyond. It invested in 2016 USD 28 million to process plastic bottles in-house rather than using a third-party facility.
Recycled polyester offers many advantages compared to virgin polyester fibers manufactured from the raw material. The most significant benefit is Repreve's lower environmental impact.
The innovative polyester fiber reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water, and energy consumption. It diverts plastic waste from landfills to create durable, sustainable fibers that can be used in textile fabrics.
Since the increased environmental awareness and concerns for people, animals, and the planet, sustainability has been gaining traction in the fashion industry.
More and more fashion brands and retailers use recycled polyester today to create new clothes. And Repreve has been growing exponentially.
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What is Repreve recycled polyester
Repreve is a brand of recycled polyester by Unifi made of waste materials such as PET plastic bottles. More than 20 billion plastic bottles have been used since 2008 to produce Repreve polyester.
Recycled polyester, also called rPET, can also be made from post-industrial waste or other post-consumer plastics such as discarded textiles or ocean waste.
Recycled materials are frequently used to create sustainable fashion items and lower the environmental impact of clothing production and consumption.
They make high-quality recycled polyester fabrics out of post-consumer waste materials.
The global textile and apparel industry is one of the largest polluter globally. It's responsible for huge amounts of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions.
Polyester is the most widely used fiber worldwide. 55 million tons of polyester fibers were produced in 2018. It represents 52 % of global fiber production.
Repreve polyester considerably reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water, and energy consumption compared to conventional polyester.
But the global rPET market is declining due to China's waste import ban at the end of 2017.
China is the largest producer of polyester worldwide. Half of its polyester is made in the Zhejiang region and a third in Jiangsu.
The ban on importing different types of solid waste, including plastic bottles and polyester textile waste has stalled global recycling.
Repreve is a polyester fiber that is shipped to textile manufacturers making fabrics for the apparel industry. Repreve polyester fiber can be used alone to create finished recycled fabrics or blended with other types of fibers.
Repreve eco-friendly fibers are generally used with digital printing sublimation techniques to craft stylish swimwear and activewear, but also pants, shirts, shorts, jeans, blouses, dresses, jackets, and more.
Repreve is now one of the most recognizable brands of recycled polyester. Many popular fashion brands and designers use Repreve fiber to create their collections.
Repreve polyester is just as strong and durable as virgin polyester. It's a high-quality material with great technical performance. It provides thermal comfort and moisture-wicking properties.
How Unifi produces Repreve polyester
Unifi produces 300 million pounds of polyester and nylon fabric annually. They plan to reach 30 billion bottles used for recycled fiber production by 2022.
Polyester is made from synthetic materials derived from petroleum-based chemicals or petrochemical products. Polyester is also known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Polyester is the most popular fiber used in the fashion world, for apparel and accessories.
The manufacturing of polyester fibers involves the polymerization of synthesized polymers compounds made from oil-derived materials.
Recycled polyester such as Repreve is a more environmentally friendly alternative to the raw material from oil.
The Repreve manufacturing process begins with the collection of PET plastic bottles.
The bottles are sorted, chopped, melted, and reformulated into recycled polyester chips.
Chips are then melted and extruded through spinning to form long filaments of Repreve polyester fiber.
Advantages and disadvantages of Repreve
Here are some of the main advantages of fabrics made from Repreve recycled polyester fibers:
- Water repellant
- Good elasticity
- Good durability
- Good tensile strength
- Good scratch resistance
- Good abrasion resistance
- Good resistance to UV and sunlight
- Resistance to moths, molds, insects, and fungi
- Moderate fire resistance
- Moderate chemical resistance
- Low environmental impact
Some of the main disadvantages of using Repreve polyester in textile fabrics are:
- Easy to care and wash
- Low breathability
- Low heat resistance
- Low resistance to pilling
- Low absorbency
- Not renewable
- Not biodegradable
- Not compostable
How to care for Repreve fabric
Taking good care of your clothes is one of the best ways to live more sustainably. Repreve polyester fabric is easy to care for and wash. But make sure to avoid common mistakes to preserve its longevity.
It extends the life of your clothes and the time you can wear them. It limits pressure on natural resources, reduces waste, pollution, and emissions.
To save water, energy, and the quality of your garment, it's best to wash clothes made of Repreve in cold temperatures. You can place them in the washing machine but with a temperature lower than 40 degrees Celcius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Don't use a strong detergent and make sure the washing speed doesn't exceed 600 revolutions per minute.
The more sustainable way of drying your clothes is to hang them to dry. Place them on a line in fresh air rather than using a dryer. It preserves the quality of your Repreve garments and saves an enormous amount of energy, carbon emissions, and money.
It's not necessary to iron your clothes made of Repreve. The material is very flexible and often blended with elastane or spandex to make it even more elastic. If you decide to iron your clothing, select the lowest temperature possible to prevent any damage.
Repreve certification standards
Repreve polyester is a performance recycled fiber certified by independent third-party organizations.
Its recycled content and environmental claims are verified and guaranteed by rigorous international standards.
Here are some of the certification standards awarded to Unifi for its Repreve recycled polyester.
Global Recycled Standard
The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of recycled input. It's a full product standard that dictates social and environmental best practices, and chemical restrictions.
The goal of the GRS is to drive higher percentages of recycled content in products and reduce the harmful impact of production on people and the environment.
The GRS aligns with recycled definitions across multiple applications and follows the ISO 14021 definition, with interpretations based on the United States Federal Trade Commission Green Guides. The Standard verifies recycled content in products to allow consumers to make informed decisions.
Oeko-Tex Standard 100
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is one of the world's best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. It certifies high product safety.
If a textile bears the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, customers can be sure that every component has been tested for harmful substances and the product is therefore harmless to the human environment.
The test takes into account many regulated and non-regulated substances, which may be harmful to human health.
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 also guarantees that the textile product has been manufactured in sustainable processes under environmentally friendly and socially responsible work conditions.
Scientific Certification Systems
Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) is a global service company that certifies, validates, and verifies environmental, sustainability, safety, and quality performance claims.
Every year, SCS examines Unifi's recycled products, recycling processes, production records, and manufacturing operations.
Environmental impact of Repreve
Plastic waste, including PET bottles, is quickly becoming a global environmental and social issue.
Every year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced, as reported by the United Nations. 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually. Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. And the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.
More than a million plastic bottles are sold around the world each minute. And the number of bottles sold yearly will increase to 583.3 billion in 2021, according to Euromonitor.
Raw material sourcing, extraction, and textile fabrication contribute massively to the disastrous environmental impact of fashion. Using recycled fibers like Repreve for clothing reduces fashion's impact.
For each kilogram of Repreve material produced, up to 62% less energy and 99% less water are used compared to virgin polyester.
Repreve polyester creates up to 35% less waste and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 20%.
To create polyester from crude oil, the oil needs to be refined first. Then, it undergoes chemical extraction.
Plastic polymers are created through polymerization. They are them extruded into fibers through spinning before being spun into yarn.
The virgin polyester manufacturing process consumes a lot of energy, water, and chemicals. It also releases pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Repreve recycled polyester removes the need for crude oil, refinery, and chemical extraction. Its fabrication requires plastic PET bottles that are collected, washed, sorted, chopped, melted, and reformed into new polyester chips, ready to be extruded into long filaments.
But recycled polyester fibers like Repreve aren't as environmentally friendly as they seem.
Recycling textile waste is a step in the right direction. But it's not nearly enough to limit the global plastic waste and microfiber pollution crisis.
Synthetic fabrics often used Repreve polyester in blends of various materials, with elastane (spandex), nylon, or natural fibers, which makes recycling difficult, not commercially viable, even impossible in some cases.
And not all recycling is environmentally friendly. Recycling plastic also consumes lots of chemicals, energy, and water. A better way to reduce textile waste is upcycling.
The biggest drawback of Repreve polyester is its impact on the environment. Even recycled, polyester isn't renewable, biodegradable, or compostable.
Polyester fibers take hundreds of years to decompose. As polyester breaks down, it releases toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment.
Synthetic fabrics made of polyester destroy ecosystems and nature. They contribute to the high amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills every year.
Even washing polyester fabrics release plastic microfibers into waterways that pollute entire food chains, kill land and marine wildlife, and endanger human health.
"Using recycled polyester isn’t the ultimate solution to making our industry green. Recycled or not, polyesters are at the center of the microfiber shedding issue, and we still have more questions than answers about what causes it and how to avoid it."
- Beth Jensen, Director of Sustainable Materials and Products at VF Corporation
Fashion brands using Repreve fabrics
Many ethical fashion brands and designers around the world avoid the use of synthetic fabrics like Repreve completely.
Instead, they use environmentally friendly and natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen, and hemp, or regenerated cellulosic fibers made from renewable materials such as lyocell, cupro, and modal.
Ultimately, polyester can be recycled, recreated, and remolded and become brand new again to create new products without having to use new resources.
Repreve polyester isn't the most sustainable fiber but its environmental impact is much lower than virgin polyester made from the raw material.
Recycled polyester is a leading example of how the global textile and apparel industry works to find solutions to its catastrophic social and environmental impacts.
Here are some ethical fashion brands that create clothes out of Repreve recycled polyester to inspire sustainable change:
- Vitamin A, a sustainable swimwear brand that produces luxury bikinis, swimsuits, and beachwear.
- Toad&Co, creators of sustainable, socially, and environmentally committed garments.
- Tentree, clothing designed for a healthy, sustainable world. Made with recycled materials, and organic fabrics.
- Aday, a minimalist brand that creates technical, seasonless wardrobe staples to build a better future.
- Patagonia, an industry leader in ethical and sustainable active and outerwear.
- prAna, an outdoor brand that makes clothing for positive change, to inspire new generations to thrive and stay active.
- The North Face, a clothing company making activewear and outdoor sports gear that exceeds your expectations.
- Mara Hoffman, a premium designer brand that creates dresses and swimwear out of recycled textiles, and other eco-friendly materials.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.