Italy’s New Superpower: Recycling Modern Sustainable Fashion

In an age when “new” is everything, Italy is forging a future in recycling modern sustainable fashion. “It is estimated that worldwide only 1% of our discarded clothing is ultimately recycled into new garments because of the complexity and the lack of sorting,” writes Luca Locatelli of his latest photography series for National Geographic. “Yet companies in Prato [Italy] say they successfully recycle over 15% of garments in the recycling stream worldwide, with a market value of $2.5 billion.” 

The Rise of Recycling Modern Sustainable Fashion

In spite of (or perhaps thanks to) legal regulations barring Prato-based manufacturers from importing raw wool, a region once praised for their textiles has again become a hub for high-quality fabrics. What’s more, another decidedly eco-friendly silver lining emerged: the rise of recycled wool. 

Lucatelli’s photo (featured above, as well as on the @NatGeo Instagram feed) gives us a peek behind the scenes of this re-emerging market. His depiction shows a worker sorting through wool fibers at the end of a multi-step recycling process. Up until recently, Italian textile manufacturers preferred to hide efforts to reuse scrap material. They considered it a shameful secret in an industry that prized new and unused. Many wrote off recycling as “too expensive” and time-consuming. 

“Nobody was admitting that [we recycled scraps]. We were trying to do it, but hiding it,” explains Chamber of Commerce Director Carlo Longo on

Now, Prato’s booming textile industry proves that the environmentally sound approach can be less expensive than harvesting all new wool. Plus, it’s marketing magic. The region’s innovative manufacturing process entices buyers from around the world. It also stabilizes a local industry that, at one time, seemed doomed. 

“The concept of the circular economy, in which we are frugal with resources and recycle endlessly, is emerging as a way to a better future,” says Locatelli. “[But] it requires changing our mindset—to see waste as a resource and avoid creating trash in the first place.” 

Discover “The End of Trash” on Get an in-depth look into the world’s most innovative approaches to the climate crisis. Follow @LucaLocatelliPhoto on Instagram to see “the most promising examples of confronting the climate crisis. 

Interested in learning how you can help recycle, reduce, and reuse right now? Check out our guide to shopping more sustainably.