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The Story Behind LMB Textile Recycling

16 May 2023

Ross Barry, Co-Founder of Reskinned LMB Textile Recycling UK

We catch up with Reskinned CEO and Co-Founder about the role of recycling in Reskinned’s model, and where things are headed for the company.

What inspired you to start Reskinned?

In 2018 there was a Blue Planet feature on plastic pollution. For me, that finally felt like the point where the world started to wake up and take notice to the effect that we have on the environment. 

People and companies started questioning what happened to their “waste” in a way they hadn’t done before. Quite quickly it became obvious that textile waste was going to be the next thing that people started questioning, so myself and Matt started talking about what we could do.

I was already running LMB Textile Recycling, which is my family business, so I knew I could use my knowledge and the current solutions we were implementing for textile waste to create something more widely accessible. 

We wanted to make the recycling methods easier for people and brands to know about and use regularly, and for it to become a natural part of the buying process.

Reskinned was formed to make it easy for everyone to do the right thing with the clothes they don’t want anymore.

Who are LMB Textile Recycling and how do they work with Reskinned?

You’ll often hear us talking about LMB, at Reskinned, and that’s because we’re sister companies. LMB provides the specialist knowledge about recycling and export - ie. what the best strategy is for brands to deal with the end of life of their products in the most sustainable way.

Over the years LMB has formed great connections with reputable exporters across Europe, and connects Reskinned with the right people to reuse clothes that can’t be resold in the UK. 

Reskinned helps brands to develop a far more circular approach, where they can design for sustainability and use recycled materials to produce their new products. This is an area of Reskinned we’re really excited to develop.  

Recycling for Reskinned at LMB Textile Recycling Plant London

Can you tell us a bit about the background of LMB Textile Recycling?

I’m the third generation of LMB, a textile reclamation company which started life recycling dock ropes, upholstery and jute bags - the kind that stored coffee and rice. In fact, we recycled anything textile related, because post-war everything was monofibre and could be mechanically recycled.

My grandfather taught himself Italian so he could deal directly with the specialist wool recyclers in Prato. My father started in 1984 when the reuse market started to open up. Oversimplifying this, the world's population exploded and simultaneously the public started to change their clothing for fashion reasons rather than just being worn out. This led to a large operation in east london sorting and grading good quality clothes for export or those which were worn out or damaged to be sent for recycling.  

The company went from strength to strength and was awarded the Queen's Award for Export in 1997. I joined along with my sister around 2005 and started exploring new avenues, like vintage clothing, an upcycling shop and school collection scheme.  My parents retired in 2018 and my wife Michelle and I have continued the business.

What happens to clothes when they’re recycled with Reskinned? 

What happens to something recycled with Reskinned very much depends on the material content.

Fortunately we’ve got a really cool piece of kit which RFID scans the clothes, and tells you their composition. Believe it or not, this kind of thing actually didn’t exist a few years ago, so it was completely down to the skill of the fabric grader to decipher what something was made up of. 

We’re very keen to promote fibre to fibre recycling for cotton and wool. That means mechanically recycling the fibres and getting them to a position where they can be re-spun to produce new materials. Most of the time, this means also adding in new fibres if we want to make them into new clothes, to make sure they are still strong enough to use.

There are also a number of recycling plants opening who chemically recycle. This process is usually only for fabrics that are 100% cotton or 100% polyester, but mixed fibre recycling is becoming commercialised, which we’re very excited about. The chemical recycling process makes it easier for new textiles to be created out of the old.

What new developments are happening in the clothes recycling world right now?

New thinking around sustainability, and a move to a regenerative industry means that textiles are being seen by people, less as “waste” and more accurately as a resource that needs to be harnessed.

Historically, investment and innovation have been lacking in the textiles recycling industry. However the new focus on textile waste has changed that, and technological advancements are being harnessed and adapted in exciting ways.

Right now Reskinned are working on a scheme to bring automated sorting to clothing, as traditionally that was done by hand. Advances in material recognition, AI and robotics mean that efficiency and economies of scale will be created to help ensure no textiles go to landfill or incineration.

Reskinned LMB Textiles Recycling for Clothes in London and UK

What information do you wish people knew or understood about recycling in the fashion industry?

A lot of my job is managing people’s expectations. We’re buying twice as many clothes as we did ten years ago, and recycling capacity has not kept up in terms of scale or technology.

There isn’t a magic fix - this will take some time. With the fashion industry working together (which I genuinely feel they are), the solution will be found.

Often a few smaller changes in design or material can make the recycling process far simpler.

What can we do as individuals to reduce our clothing waste?

In an ideal world we would all wear the same thing, and only change our clothes when they were worn out, but realistically that’s not going to happen.

We make choices as consumers for a whole host of reasons. Fashion, functionality and cost all play into why we choose what we choose. So we need to make more informed choices, and buy clothes that we need and genuinely want.

Fast fashion means that clothes are cheaper than they’ve ever been, and they’ve started to be seen as throwaway items. We need to stop thinking of clothes that way. Think about the lifetime value of your clothes. There will always come a time when you no longer want or need things because of their size, fit, style or because your need for something has changed, but someone else, somewhere else in the world will. 

So never bin clothing. It’s not waste, it’s a resource.

What’s your big vision for the future of LMB and Reskinned?

The business press are predicting pre-loved fashion to overtake fast fashion, and I hope we’re steering this movement.

We’re making buying and enjoying pre-loved clothing as easy and exciting as fast fashion. By doing it in a sustainable way, and in a time regenerative way, so that our business can contribute in a positive way to the world we all inhabit, live and work in.

Check out our interview with Reskinned’s other co-founder for even more about how the business got started.

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©Reskinned 2023