Today, this word often means poor quality, poor workmanship. However, the term “shoddy” is actually a textile term. Callaway Textile Dictionary defines it as wool fibers that have been made into yarn or fabrics, torn apart and made ready for use again”. This is made possible with the use of a “shoddy or rag picker”, a machine for tearing apart wool rags , clippings, etc., reducing the to a fibrous condition suitable for carding. The machine consists of a pair of strong, fluted feed rolls between which the material is slowly passed to be acted upon by a large, rapidly rotating cylinder studded with sharp pointed steel teeth or spikes.
In the field of recycling this is what happens to fabrics too worn or damaged to be used again in their present state. A commentary by Adam Minter in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Monday, January 22, 2018, “No One Wants the World’s Used Clothes”, cites the fate of over 200 manufacturing plants in Paniput, India which for decades was the world’s largest recycler of woolen garments, a $4 billion trade in used-clothing.
The shoddy was made into cheap blankets for disaster relief, making over 100,000 blankets each day.
What would seem to be a good, as well as worthwhile solution to the glut of useable, but unwanted, fibers has hit an economic snag. Minter estimated that between 2000 and 2015, global production of clothing had doubled, however the average number of times the clothing was actually worn declined by 36 percent. This appears to be good news for the shoddy recyclers. Enter the Chinese manufacturers. It seems that using modern techniques, the Chinese could produce more blankets, in various colors, selling the new polar fleece blankets for $2.50 (the recycled blankets retailed for $2.00). So now, Panipat is changing.
The crux of this environmental disaster is that even with production of shoddy at its highest peak there would still be a growing deluge of used clothing entering the market. Now, with cheap, new fabrics available, textile manufacturers are attempting solutions by creating new fibers from recycled materials. This is a long process and quite a challenge.