KLM donates old uniforms for upcycling into new products

Following earlier initiatives by Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic (seat covers and curtains), KLM is upcycling its old uniforms into bags, belts and slippers. In April 2010, more than 11,000 female cabin crew, ground staff and pilots at KLM changed into new uniforms designed by Dutch couturier Mart Visser. All blue items of the previous female uniform were collected for recycling, which resulted in 90,000 kilos of fabric.

Because of security reasons, many airlines destroy discarded uniforms as wearing an old airline outfit could make it easier to slip through airport security illegally. Airline uniforms are also in popular demand for carnival or even worse in erotic clubs. For this last reason, Japan Airlines says it has recently marked its uniforms as its restructuring will make thousands of staff redundant. Second-had JAL uniforms can generate as much as EUR2,500 and are a popular ‘roleplay’ costume.

KLM says it has been looking for ways to discard its uniforms in a thorough but sustainable way. The airline has teamed up with Texperium, which was recently set up with the help of the Dutch government, and promotes the reprocessing of discarded textiles and the development of high added value products from recycled fibres. KLM is the first company to use a new machine which reduces textile to small flocks, which then become the basic material for new products. According to the airline the recycling of the 90,000 kilos of uniforms saves 500 million litres of water, 1 million cubic meter of natural gas, and 4,600 tons of CO2. See this video (in Dutch) for an impression of KLM’s upcycling process. 

To show the possibilities of the recycled basic material, professional industrial designers, together with design students, have developed a number of product concepts related to flying and traveling. Initial prototype products include suitcase belts, slippers, and several types of bags. KLM will only donate it uniforms as a resource for upcycled products though, and will not be involved in the creation of new products from it. The airline is currently investigating whether other textile waste, such as seat covers and carpets, can be used for upcycled products as well.

Related articles:
Delta upcycles aircraft seat covers into fashionable bags
Southwest’s ‘Green Plane’ to test eco-friendly interior materials
Qantas launches onboard recycling

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