A sweater made from recycled bullet proof vests and firefighter suits

Technical clothing company Vollebak designed a men’s sweater made from recycled ballistic vests and firefighter suits.

Annually, around 100 billion pieces of clothing are made each year, a number that is likely to double by 2050. At the same time, 150 tonnes of clothing are duped in the landfill every minute. Most of these are made of nylon and polyester.

Called the Garbage Sweater, the sweater is designed to help rethink the role that garbage will play in the Earth’s future. Rather than opting to recycle nylon and polyester, Vollebak chose to recycle more challenging materials, called aramid. The two types, meta-aramid and para-aramid, are a class of heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibres found in bullet proof vests and firefighter suits.

Firefighter suits are commonly made of meta-aramid. This material is highly flame-resistant, doesn’t melt and has powerful thermal resistance. Not only is it used for firefighters, but also for some of the most extreme jobs in the worlds, like astronauts and military pilots.

Para-aramid is used for bullet proof vests. The material is closely related to meta-aramid, but rather than being spun in a a semi-crystalline fibre, the material is spun in a highly crystalline fibre. This high crystallinity results in a material with incredible tensile strength that is 5 times stronger than steel on a weight to weight basis. Eight layers of the material can stop a bullet.

Although both materials are super strong, they have a relatively short lifespan, because firefighter suits and ballistic vests are put under massive strain. They have a lifespan of only five years.

The problem with aramids lies in the exact properties that makes them useful. They won’t decompose easily, and they cannot be incinerated because they do not burn. Therefore, they are dumped at landfills. Every year, 500 tonnes of firefighter gear are thrown away in France alone, the country where the Garbage Sweater’s material is constructed.

The Garbage Sweater consists of 70 per cent meta-aramid and 30 per cent of para-aramid. To make the sweater, the materials are collected, shredded, cleaned, blended and finally spun to make new material. According to Vollebak, the material is “comfortable, warm, soft and sturdy.” Both the inside and outside of the sweater feel like rugged fleece. The aramid fibres retain enough of their properties to make the Garbage Sweater fire resistant. The material won’t catch fire and the flames won’t spread. However, the sweater is not bullet proof.

Photos: Vollebak