America’s Textile Industry Evolution

Textiles are an important part of fashion, as they are the yarns or threads that are spun in order to make clothing. The history of the American textile industry, as well as different ways to recycle textiles, is an important part of America’s textile industry evolution.

History of the American Textile Industry

Several inventions helped to shape the textile industry into what it is today. For example, the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney, was created as an easier method of separating cotton from its seed. This boosted the American economy, which relied heavily upon cotton as its most popular export at the time. Whitney also formed a manufacturing company which utilized the cotton gin. 

The first American textile factory was the Boston Manufacturing Company, created in 1813. It offered a streamlined process for converting raw cotton to finished cloth. Young unmarried women composed the staff. They worked 12 hour days for 6 days a week. Although their working conditions were far from ideal, they offered them an alternate lifestyle to farming. This was the beginning of America’s textile industry evolution.

American Textile Industry Today

Today, the textile industry in the United States is valued at $64.4 billion as of 2020. It is the second largest individual country exporter of fibers, yarns, fabrics, and sewn products. $2.38 billion has been invested in yarn, fabric, apparel, and sewn products as of 2019. 

Due to the pandemic, output in the textile industry was down for the majority of 2020, but increased in the last few months of the year. However, exports in the textile industry decreased compared to 2019, as $25.4 billion worth of fibers, textiles, and apparel were exported in 2020.

The Textile Industry’s Waste

The textile industry generates a massive amount of waste each year. Among other sources, this waste comes from greenhouse gases. Some of which are used to make certain fibers such as polyester. However, textile companies have been working to reduce their waste. For example, Madewell has created an initiative for customers to recycle their denim, in partnership with Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green program. They turn recycled jeans into insulation in their stores, creating a more sustainable environment for their customers. To date, they have recycled 1,096,265 pairs of jeans, which is the equivalent of 1,462 houses. 

Some fast fashion brands use non-biodegradable clothes, which are not sustainable for the environment. It may take between 20 to 200 years to fully biodegrade these clothes. However, there are also biodegradable textiles. They can be used such as cotton, which can take from one week to five months to biodegrade. Another biodegradable textile is linen, which takes two weeks to biodegrade. Other biodegradable textiles include wool, bamboo, hemp, silk, and rayon. 

Whether they realize it or not, consumers also generate a significant amount of textile waste. For example, 84 percent of garments end up in landfills. In fact, the volume of clothing Americans throw away each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons in the past two decades. However, there are ways to significantly reduce this amount of waste. 

Reusing and Recycling Textile Waste

It is possible to reuse and recycle textile waste, using services such as the American Textile Recycling Service, which provides recycling bins for various textiles around the country. If you happen to live in New York City, FABSCRAP helps recycle leftover fabrics and textile waste from fashion designers. By recycling your old clothes, you too can help decide the future of America’s textile industry evolution and create a more sustainable environment. 

If you enjoyed this article, you can also read about how to stop your clothes from ending up in a landfill!

By Anna Swatski

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