The UK fashion industry is worth £21 billion to the UK economy, but fast fashion has an equally large impact on the environment - highlighted recently by the BBC’s Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashion’s Dirty Secrets. Changeworks’ volunteer Anna Hughes has been doing some investigating of her own, and here she explores what we do with the clothes we no longer want and how we can give them a new life.

I was shocked to discover that 300,000 tons of clothes, worth £140 million, end up in landfill each year. Since then I’ve been focussing on what I can do with our unwanted clothes and textiles no longer fit for their original purpose, such as towels and linen.

I’m an avid charity shop clothes shopper. I donate everything I can to charity shops and love finding hidden gems among the hangers. This is a great solution if the item you donate is saleable. Even if it is not saleable charity shops still sell on ‘rag bags’ to be remanufactured, for example to be used as stuffing for chairs.

But exporting our old clothes isn’t always the best solution. I wanted to explore how I could transform the items that could not be reused in their original shape.

For months I had a bag of ragged and holey items in the bottom of my wardrobe which I couldn’t bear to throw away. The thought of my old clothes ending up in landfill or being burned in an incinerator was giving me nightmares was giving me nightmares. I wanted to bring them back to life and make them useful again. After much research I decided I would try making a rag rug.

My first rag rug was made up of old pants, socks and tights, and with a bit of imagination these were transformed into a cosy hearth rug! Once cut and rebound they cannot be identified as old smalls. The best thing about this is you just need a collection of old fabric, a pair of scissors and some time in front of the telly - no special equipment or skills needed! Here is a great demo video to you get you started.

I hope this will inspire you to give upcycling fabric a go. I’m really pleased with the pieces I’ve made so far. Whether it’s thread-bare tea towels, a t-shirt which is long past its best or a very holey pair of old socks, there’s a huge sense of satisfaction in giving these pre-loved fabrics a beautiful new use.

Anna’s top rag rug tips

  1. Use online resources. There are lots of videos and blogs available to take you step by step through designs you can make quickly and easily. The first one I made was a simple braided rug, and later I discovered woven rugs. I use an old picture frame to hold the fabric. I find weaving far easier and quicker, but choose whichever you prefer.
  2. Any fabric will do, no matter how small the pieces - you can bind these together into long strips using this technique.
  3. Use different patterns, textures and colours - there are no rules!
  4. Create a consistent fabric tension and try not to pull the strips of material too tight, as this distorts the design. This can be trickier with stretchy material, but you soon get a ‘feel’ for it!

Looking to give clothes a second life?

 - Anna

Anna Hughes, Changeworks Volunteer