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Prisoners to upcycle uniforms

Ocado’s old uniforms will be transformed into designer items at HMP Northumberland
Northumberland_Pattern Cutting Picture from MyGreenPod Sustainable News

Social enterprise charity Hubbub and retailer Ocado have found a creative way to stop 30 million items of corporate uniform being thrown away unnecessarily each year.

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Refashioning uniforms


Reusing textile waste

Ocado’s old uniforms, previously destined for landfill, will be transformed at HMP Northumberland’s textile factory as part of the prison’s rehabilitation scheme.

Prisoners will gain work experience and a chance to develop skills producing high-quality products on a real production line, manufacturing tote bags, aprons and other items.

The products have been designed by London sustainable fashion brand everything in colour, which specialises in designing and making one-off pieces out of textile waste.

They will be sold by Ocado with all proceeds going to the Ocado Foundation. Any textiles not fit for repurposing will be recycled for uses such as mattress filling.

‘As a working prison our objective is to provide meaningful activity for prisoners to give them the best chance of finding employment upon release. The skills and work ethic they learn are proven to have a positive impact on reducing reoffending when they return into the community.’

Tony Simpson, Sodexo Justice Services

Uniforms and landfill

Two in seven working people in the UK wear a uniform, and nearly 33 million items of corporate clothing are provided for their use.

The bad news is that around 90% – 15,000 tonnes – goes to landfill or incineration each year, wasting resources and causing significant damage to the environment.

Businesses lose money – around £1.2 million from landfill tax alone – and risk their reputations if uniforms aren’t disposed of securely, as 89% of corporate wear is branded in some way.

‘We hope offices, warehouses, shops and factories throughout the UK will recognise the scale of this environmental problem and see that by treating their old uniforms as a useful resource they can find creative solutions that build not only environmental benefits but social and financial ones too.

‘Corporate uniforms are tricky to deal with. The last thing a company wants is for branded clothing to get into the wrong hands. But this project shows how, with creative thinking and a partnership approach, you can find solutions which go way beyond the obvious environmental benefits.’

Trewin Restorick, founder of Hubbub

Creative thinking

Concerns over security and brand protection, coupled with the complexities of recovering and de-branding uniforms, explain why so few are reused or recycled, but Hubbub and Ocado have teamed up to show how these problems can be overcome.

The project demonstrates how creative thinking about textile waste can create a sustainable and replicable business model. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethical and Sustainable Fashion provided a launch pad for the project at an event held in the Houses of Parliament, to stimulate a wider debate on corporate clothing and the circular economy.

A new business model

The aim of the project is to go beyond reducing Ocado’s fabric waste to landfill by demonstrating an innovative, sustainable and replicable business model that other companies can copy or make their own.

It was instigated by Hubbub, a charity that aims to bring people and organisations together as a force for good, and shows how creative thinking and a partnership approach can overcome barriers and create a range of positive outcomes.

Hubbub is calling on other companies in the UK which want to tackle the corporate uniforms-to-landfill issue, to get in touch and find out more details about the scheme.

Click here to find out more about Hubbub.

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