Out With the Old and In With the New: What Really Happens in the Life - 1620 Workwear, Inc icon

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Out With the Old and In With the New: What Really Happens in the Life of Our Clothes?

Out With the Old and In With the New: What Really Happens in the Life of Our Clothes?

You might have bought some new gear or gotten some as gifts during the holiday season. Perhaps you got rid of some old gear over the last year that was too worn to keep on the job. But do you really know where everything is? How your new gear was sourced, cut and sewn? Or where your worn-out gear ended up?

Where is Your New Gear Coming From?

Freight airplane with packages and other equipment

Although the U.S. is the second largest market for clothing purchases in the world, and the third largest producer of cotton, the vast majority of products are imported. Where employment in the textile and apparel industries across the country used to thrive, both have declined by about 80% since 1990. Still, U.S. textile mills produce fibers, yarns and fabrics that are then exported to other countries before being processed and shipped back as finished garments

Few companies source, cut and sew their products entirely in America due to the higher production costs. Most often, if you look through the tags of your workwear, you'll find that your gear was produced in another country with globally sourced materials. If a company produces gear in countries like Bangladesh and Taiwan, they often also outsource their production. This adds a layer of the unknown, providing a distinct lack of clarity and forcing product details to remain as vague as possible.

Check the labels on your workwear and the information on the company's site to get better clarity on where your gear is coming from. If sustainability or American manufacturing are important to you, the first step is discovering where and how your gear was made.

Where Has Your Old Gear Gone?

Consumers in the U.S. are trashing more clothes than ever before. Over the last 2 decades, the amount per person has doubled to nearly 80 pounds per year, a total of 14 million tons across the whole country.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) believes about 84% of clothes end up in an incinerator or landfill after they've been discarded by their owners. Unlike traditional fashion, which consumers often try to donate or resell, workwear gets so worn and distressed that most don't consider it worth salvaging. That increases the rate of gear ending up in landfills across the country, where it remains for years as it attempts to biodegrade. Materials with a petroleum base, like nylon or polyester that is found across many performance fabrics, can take hundreds of years to fully decompose.

Unfortunately, even if workwear is donated or sent to a charity, the Council for Textile Recycling posits that charities across the country only sell about 20% of donated clothing at their retailers. For some, it can be as low as 0.1% of donations that are actually recycled. Everything else is sent abroad or downcycled. South American and African countries have received the brunt of American donations, leading to a crisis in those countries' internal production. In 2015, a summit of East African heads of state proposed banning the imports of secondhand items entirely due to quality issues. That means those clothes immediately end up in a landfill rather than with someone in need.

Landfill with clothing waste

If the clothes manage to get downcycled, the gear gets ripped up into industrial rags or shipped to processors that make shoddy, used in building insulation, carpet padding, or auto floor mats. Trans-Americas, which handles a good portion of the overall donations coming from the U.S., estimates about 30% of donations they receive get made into rags and another 20% get made into shoddy. However, those products will still make their way to a landfill after they've been used a few times.

When your workwear is too worn for your everyday job, see what you can do to repair or restore it before sending it to a third-party option. For example, you can send your used 1620 gear back as part of the Patina program, which repairs, recycles or resells 100% of products received.


As we head into 2024, it's more important than ever to understand where your gear is coming from and where it's going. The industry is evolving rapidly, with technological advancements, innovative materials, and more focus than ever on American production. By staying informed, you can ensure that you're not only equipped with gear that meets your immediate needs, but that you are also contributing to a more sustainable future for workwear and a more productive and efficient year.

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