Plastic clothes

AFTER cashmere, alpaca and mohair, the latest fad in the global textile market may well be recycled plastic clothes. Going by the recent developments in the chemical and textile industries, it may not be long before a sweater or a jacket made from recycled plastic bottles becomes an essential fashion accessory as much in demand as Bally shoes or Gucci leather items.

At a press show in London recently, the Brasher boot company, a small British concern, launched Europe's first fleece jacket made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - a plastic used in soft drink bottles. Except for the zip and the thread, the rest of the jacket was made from recycled material.

Says Chris Basher, the chairperson of the company, which has recently diversified from shoes into clothing, "We turned to recycled fleece on commercial as well as environmental grounds and recycled materials are forming an increasing part of the companys output."

Brasher's Mountainmaster jacket - made almost fully from recycled material - is a breakthrough in Europe, and possibly in the world, as previous products have used fleece with a maximum of 80 per cent recycled content. Garments made from recycled PET Meet a clothing material's basic demands - lightness and comfort, warmth and durability - while being environment-friendly, contends Basher. Another company to foray into the field of plastic clothes is Rhovyl, in France. Rhovyl has started making yarn comprising 70 per cent polyvinylchloride (Pk) - derived by recycling min- eral water bottles - and 30 per cent wool. Researchers say the fabric feels as soft and supple as natural wool.

Both the PET and Pvc technologies for making plastic clothes need to first turn plastic into liquid. But whereas PET bottles are first cut and then melted, prior to filtration to remove impurities and extrusion to form a fibre, Pvc has to be dissolved in a solution of acetone and carbon sulphate as it cannot be melted down.

Removing impurities, explains Rhovyl's chairperson Alain Rigad, is essential in both cases. And complex filtration to remove substances like polyethylene caps and chemical additives to improve shock resistance, mean pro- duction costs for recycled materials are higher than for virgin plastic. "But the difference is not necessarily passed on to the customer," adds Rigad.

Though it may take some time for clothes made from recycled plastic bottles to catch the fancy of the world, Rhovyl and the Basher boot company are wagering on eco-consciousness becoming a reality.