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Looking for waste wool knitwear

Finding Recycled Wool Knitwear – it’s easier said than done!

Recycling Textiles

Recycling Textiles

If we’ve not met before, let me introduce myself. I’m The Woolly Pedlar, upcycler of waste wool knitwear. I run a small business from my home in Northumberland, recycling wool textiles into new clothing, soft furnishings and accessories. My quest for recycled wool knitwear has taken many twists and turns over the last six years, but recently I have started to despair.

The Woolly Pedlar, upcycler of waste wool knitwear

The Woolly Pedlar, upcycler of waste wool knitwear

I’m coming up against many brick walls when it comes to buying recycled wool knitwear in bulk.
The statistics say that you could fill Wembley stadium with the amount of recycled textiles we throw away every year in the UK, but getting my mitts on it is easier said than done.
It would appear the vast majority of our recycled clothing is now shipped abroad for second hand clothing markets in East Africa and Eastern Europe. The Textile Recycling Association informs me that very few of the recycled textile companies are grading in the UK. It is more cost effective just to ship everything abroad, where our second hand cast offs are piled high in the market places of developing countries. This has huge knock on effects for the traditional textiles of those countries, and for the cotton farmers. It also means I cannot get my woollies.

Wool jumpers waiting to be upcycled

Wool jumpers waiting to be upcycled in happier times

My upcycling business has two main sources of recycled wool knitwear – one is the second hand clothing market, and another, knitwear manufacturers who produce waste. Indeed, I used to buy a lot of waste wool knitwear from Hawick Knitwear factory, up in the Borders of Scotland. However, Hawick Knitwear closed in 2016. You can read more about this in ‘The Sad Demise of Hawick Knitwear‘. I was gutted when this source of beautiful lambswool and cashmere dried up. The only UK manufacturer of knitwear I am currently buying from is The House of Cheviot. I use their waste wool sock tops to make my ‘Thinking Hats’ and ‘Coffee Cup Cosies’. If any other knitwear manufacturers are reading this, and generate waste, then please get in touch.

Recycled Sock Tops from House of Cheviot

Recycled Sock Tops from House of Cheviot

This leaves the second hand clothing industry and charity shops. My home town of Hexham has six charity shops, and four out of the six save waste wool knitwear for me. You see, even if a jumper has a hole in it, I can cut out the good bits, and use them to make ponchos, bedspreads, bags and baby blankets. You know the saying, waste not want not!

 Patchwork style poncho using waste wool knitwear

Patchwork style poncho using waste wool knitwear

However, this can be patchy, and relies on the volunteers in the shops remembering to put knitwear to one side for me.

Scope have stepped up to the plate and have gone one stage further. They are attempting to collect regionally for me, and this, I think might be the way forward.

I contacted Kate Holbrook from Turtle Doves to see if she could help. Kate, like me, recycles knitwear, but specialises. Kate has put me in touch with The Together Plan, a small charity in London supporting communities from Belarus. I am delighted to say they are happy to supply me with a small amount of recycled wool knitwear. It’s also great that two ethical businesess such as Turtles Doves and The Woolly Pedlar have been able to work together.

If we could find a way to collect the waste wool before it goes to the big textile recyclers, then maybe, we can keep more of it in UK and the local economy, and I’ll be able to carry on making lots of lovely upcycled woolly goodies.

I’m off to get in touch with other area managers. If you are reading this and can help me in my quest, then please get in touch. I am after medium weight wool knitwear, (no chunky, hand knits or acrylic).

Looking for waste wool knitwear

Looking for waste wool knitwear

If you have been having a clear out at home and have any woollies you’d like to send, then please also get in touch. I’d be happy to pay postage and can offer a discount code for the website for your trouble.

Your Hopefully,

The Woolly Pedlar

Upcycled Coatigan from Recycled Knitwear

Upcycled Coatigan from Recycled Knitwear

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Scope Step Up to the Plate with Recycled Wool Textiles

My quest for recycled wool textiles to recycle has taken many twists and turns over the last five years. I’ve bought from vintage sellers, knitwear factories, charity shops and have had donations from folk having a clear out. Recently I have lost two of my major suppliers. Hawick Knitwear went into administration at the beginning of the year, and one of my second hand wholesalers no longer has knitwear available. I wasn’t exactly panicking, but I needed to find new suppliers!

May-3
Hawick knitwear while it lasted was a wonderful find. I bought boxes and boxes of beautiful garment panels of the finest lambswool and cashmere. However, large groups such as Pringle pulled out of manufacturing their knitwear in Scotland, and Hawick was forced to close.  I searched for other knitwear factories and was shocked to find how few remain. Even Edinburgh Wool Mill tell me they no longer manufacture in the UK!

I have approached many of the textile recycling companies that get their stock from the ‘Cash for Clothes’ culture, but every time have drawn a blank. Batley in Yorkshire is home to several textile recycling depots, but they all tell me their clothing is not sorted here, is not for sale and is shipped abroad.

I have looked into the exporting of our second hand clothing and have discovered that there are mountains of our discarded clothing flooding the East African markets. Local textile manufacture and traditional textile skills are dying out as a result. Today, East Africa imports roughly $151 million worth of castoffs from Europe and North America, mostly collected from nonprofits and recyclers, each year*. That is a staggering amount of clothing. (*taken from ‘Ahead of the Ban on Used Clothing’ by Ecouterre).

The Guardian reports that ‘a massive 351m kilograms of clothes (equivalent to 2.9bn T-shirts) are traded from Africa alone.  The top five destinations are Poland, Ghana, Pakistan, Ukraine and Benin’

I have contacted the depots where our rejected second hand clothing end up and each time I have been met with brick walls.

So, thinking out of the the box, I approached the then manager of Scope, Hexham, Sheelagh,  to see if we could collect knitwear that was going to rag on a regional basis. This was a couple of years ago, but when taken to a higher level, there was not a great deal of enthusiasm.

Not satisfied to leave it there, I picked this up again recently, and sent out a random tweet on Twitter asking for recycled knitwear & tagging Scope in this. One of the big wigs of Scope picked this up and asked Sheelagh, now the area manager if there was anything Scope to do to help. Doh! We’ve been banging on for a couple of years about this.

I was delighted when Sheelagh invited me to speak at the meeting of the area managers in Newcastle this week to see if we could get the on board with collecting knitwear regionally and in some small part, stemming the flow of discarded clothing to East Africa.

I had ten minutes to get my message across – armed with laminated sheets explaining about the type of wool knitwear I use, and a few samples of my work, I went to the front, called order, and started my talk.

Result! They are all on board. Scope has stepped up to the plate and this week Scope will begin collecting waste wool knitwear on a regional basis to be recycled, upcycled and kept in the local economy.

Good news indeed! Thank you Scope.

Scope-2

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