What happens to old bulletproof vests and firefighter suits? They become garbage, but Vollebak is recycling them into fireproof sweaters

There isn’t much you can do with a bulletproof vest that already has bullet holes in it… or a firefighter suit that’s already beginning to show evidence of burns. They essentially become garbage – highly specialized garbage that’s difficult to recycle (because they weren’t built to be recycled) and impossible to incinerate too.

So what do you do with such garbage? Well, most countries just dump it in a landfill and it’s now the earth’s problem… but Vollebak seems to think those garments still have some life in them. The name Garbage Sweater may throw you off a bit, but it highlights something that Vollebak’s shown to be able to do time and again… make highly functional apparel out of practically any material. The Garbage Sweater is an olive green, loose-fitted sweater that’s made from a 70:30 composition of firefighter suits and bulletproof vests.

Vollebak chose this unique ‘category’ of garbage for two broad reasons. Firstly, firefighter suits and ballistic vests have a short lifespan. With regular use, when they’re exposed to heat, chemicals, and abrasion they gradually degrade. Once they’ve broken down to the point where they’re no longer safe to be worn as protective gear, they need to be discarded. That’s where reason 2 comes in – recycling garments made from meta-aramids and para-aramids is ridiculously hard. “While it might not be strong enough or safe enough to work as protective gear anymore, in reality, the clothes have only lost a fraction of their original properties”, say the folks at Vollebak. That fractional loss in functionality is enough to put a human’s life in danger… which makes discarding them justified, but it also results in a lot of waste over the years.

The process for making the sweater starts with sourcing the discarded vests and suits (as well as the leftover pieces of fabric you get from making them) and shredding them to extract the fibers out. Once the fibers are extracted, they’re cleaned, blended, and spun into the new sweater. While the Garbage Sweater is built with unconventional materials and experimental techniques, it’s still comfortable, warm, soft, with a texture quite similar to fleece. In fact, while the aramid fibers don’t remain bulletproof anymore, they still retain fire-resistant properties. Hold a flame to it and the fabric never catches or spreads the fire. It’s quite an unusual property to have in a sweater but works pretty well outdoors when you’re working the barbecue or trying to kindle a campfire.

The Garbage Sweater joins Vollebak’s unique catalog of cutting-edge fashion, including their greatest hits like their jacket made from ceramic, their carbon-fiber tee shirt, and their disease-repelling jacket made from copper textile. Available in 5 sizes, the Garbage Sweater can be snagged on Vollebak’s website for $495. It’s a little more than you’d pay for your average sweater… but then again think of the amount of bullet-absorbing and fire-fighting history woven into your sweater’s fabric!

Designer: Vollebak