One of the major concerns lies with the volume of unwanted garments that ends up in landfills. It’s been happening a lot and at a faster pace. That’s a worry! If one goes by what Ellen MacArthur Foundation says, then apparel production approximately doubled from 2000 to 2015 across the world. During the same period, the number of times a dress was worn slumped by 36 per cent. Their report also highlighted that “the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second”. That tells it all!
Around the same period, as per the World Economic Forum, 60 per cent more garments were bought, but, notably, consumers kept them for only half as long. However, now many US and European fashion brands are realising – albeit gradually – that converting textile waste into raw materials through reuse and recycling techniques offers a great opportunity for additional value creation. This requires implementing comprehensive collection and reuse schemes, in addition to investing in developing advanced recycling technology.
The US-based fashion retailer Patagonia, known for marketing and selling outdoor apparels, not only uses sustainable materials in its outerwear, but also helps customers repair their clothing instead of buying new clothes. And they have been doing it for some time. Because the products are so durable, customers are encouraged to recycle old Patagonia dresses and purchase clothes second hand.
The retailer has been constantly following fair-trade practices and closely monitoring its supply chain to make it safe for the environment, workers and consumers. The goal is to find solutions to environmental issues without causing any unnecessary damage to the world.
Another American giant VF Corporation, one of the world’s largest apparel, footwear and accessory companies, announced in April 2021 its goal to end all single-use plastic packaging, including polybags, by 2025 and make better sustainable products. In this regard, Jeannie Renné-Malone, VP, Global Sustainability, VF Corporation, said, “With a portfolio comprising some of world’s most iconic apparel and footwear brands, we recognise that we play an important role as environmental stewards and can serve as a catalyst for industry movements that drive positive change.”
April 2021 also saw US sneaker brand Nike come up with Nike Refurbished – its latest circular consumer offering. Once the shopper returns a pair of shoes to Nike, Nike Refurbished cleans them up and then makes them a great value for Nike shoppers. Nike Refurbished enhances the life cycle of three types of footwear: like new (sneakers worn for 1 or 2 days before being returned), gently worn (worn a little longer than 2 days) and cosmetically flawed (a small glitch that might have happened during manufacturing). The team at Nike uses a number of different products and tools to return shoes to as close to new condition as possible. Once the shoes come back to a Nike store, the price is based on footwear type and condition grade. So, yet again Nike has put an effort to help reduce its waste footprint. The service is now available in as many as 15 US stores.
Sweden-based KappAhl talks about its three goals of sustainability strategy. The three key goals of the Responsible Fashion sustainability strategy were achieved including 100 per cent more sustainable cotton in KappAhl’s range, 100 per cent more sustainable denim in KappAhl’s range and 100 per cent renewable energy in its own agreements. It is worth noting here that KappAhl’s used textiles take-back scheme has received 377 tonnes of textiles, of which 85 per cent were sent for recycling.
Talking of integrating sustainability in business, Swedish fashion giant H&M has pledged to only use recycled or sustainable materials by 2030. It also announced its Treadler initiative in March 2020, wherein other fashion brands can access H&M’s global supply chain — importantly, the intent is help provide smaller companies the economies of scale needed to make garments sustainably.
Here it is imperative to state that at H&M’s flagship store in Stockholm, shoppers can pay a nominal amount so as to have unwanted apparels transformed into new apparels through a process that breaks down the old fibres and combines them with new ones. The eight-step process is designed to make a point, not a profit. More on this, Pascal Brun, H&M’s Head of Sustainability, said “We want to engage our customers and make them understand that their own garments hold value.”
British clothing brand John Lewis, earlier this year, announced that it intends to fund a 3-year programme led by Sustainable Fibre Alliance, wherein the focus would be to train cashmere producers in Mongolia. More on this, Marija Rompani, Partner and Director of Ethics and Sustainability, John Lewis Partnership, said “It’s very important to us and our customers that all the raw materials in our products are sourced in a way that is good for the animals, land and people involved in their production.”
Marija added that John Lewis is committed to ensuring that all key raw materials used in its own-brand products will be from sustainable or recycled sources by 2025.
Boohoo, the renowned British e-tailer, has committed to ensuring all materials it uses are ‘more sustainable’ by 2030, and in this regard it recently signed WRAP’s Textiles 2030 voluntary agreement. The e-tailer, which was in news last year for all wrong reasons, made it clear that the focus is to tackle the issue of textile waste in the fashion sector. Recycling is what the e-tailer is focusing on lately.
At Wrangler, besides, men’s bootcut and straight legs and women’s high-rise trousers, trumpet flares and skinny jeans have been reimagined to include hemp, pre-consumer recycled cotton and recycled hardware. The much-talked about collection is currently available on the Wrangler website for an average price of US $ 79. Importantly, the consumers are now being clearly told what they are getting.
Neiman Marcus, the Dallas-based fashion brand has also made distinct its investment in luxury handbag resale platform Fashionphile and its mending and alterations business – a US $ 10 million annual revenue stream. It is worth stating here that the collaboration has so far generated US $ 16 million in resale merchandise or 18,000 products that would not go into landfill.
In April 2021, we saw American retailer Nordstrom start the recycling of bras as a part of its programme with another American underwear brand Harper Wilde. As many as 5 Nordstrom stores are launching the brand in stores next to a bra-recycling bin. Any bra (including Harper Wilde ones) can be dropped into the bins, which can then be recycled into new textiles. The goal is to recycle over 50,000 bras in 2021 alone.
After having joined hands with Vestiaire Collective – globally one of the most loved pre-owned fashion platforms – the British luxury fashion house Alexander McQueen recently announced its second round of fabric donations. This scheme was introduced by the fashion house in 2020 to support all those students who were in need of fabric. The students were supported by redistributing surplus clothing materials that were leftover and stored after the production cycle. And now, the luxury retailer is ready with a new delivery of fabrics for students studying fashion and textiles at universities and colleges all through the UK.
Here it is also pertinent to mention about the Switzerland-based high-performance sportswear label On, which has paired with a subscription model to close the recycling loop. The subscription-based service, namely Cyclon, will offer fully recyclable sportswear to its customers across the globe – with the aim to drive zero waste in sportswear.
The service will enable subscribers to receive and wear the latest in running sportswear and then return end-of-life products back to the brand – in exchange for the latest version of sportswear. Once the used product is returned, it is fully recycled by On, which will then reuse the materials to create new running gear.
The fashion industry, going forward, should focus on closing the loop between the end-of-use phase and the raw materials phase, recycling apparels into new input materials. Extending the active lifetimes of textile products through reuse is integral to minimising the environmental impacts of textile products and must be prioritised. When the textiles become too worn out to wear, the materials must be recycled back into new textile products.
While all – or most of the – fashion brands are committed to offer ethical fashion to consumers, those selling second-hand clothing – in particular – aren’t far behind.
Second-hand clothing firms have their own sustainability plans….
As per a report by online consignment platform ThredUp, the online second-hand shopping is set to grow by 69 per cent between 2019 and 2021, compared to a 15 per cent contraction in the broader retail market.
In fact, the second-hand clothing market is expected to grow to US $ 64 billion this decade, as per CB Insights’ Industry Analyst Consensus. And now big fashion retailers too are catching up here. Back in August 2020, London-based fashion retailer Selfridges announced a sustainability plan that included environment-friendly apparels, an apparel rental service – not to mention a second-hand store. Yes, second-hand apparels will define what we wear in the New Normal world.
Similarly, H&M-owned brand Cos is also venturing into its own sustainable resale business as well. Fashion brands like Anna Sui, Rodarte and Christopher Raeburn have begun selling on the Depop platform with the objective to win the hearts and support of Gen Z shoppers. Even Nordstrom has started selling used clothing now. The fashion brands are realising fast that consumer preference has changed and every consumer today wants more eco-friendly products.
Resale and consignment platforms like Depop, ThredUp and Poshmark that allow people to buy and sell used clothes have gained popularity as sustainability becomes the most significant criterion for consumers. Research shows that 88 per cent of consumers want brands to help them be more environmental-friendly. Filippa K, operating a profitable second-hand store in Stockholm since 2008, has innovated its business model by renting out apparels through lease.
There’s still a lot that needs to be done but what’s noteworthy is that the fashion industry is witnessing a radical transformation and there’s growing awareness amongst all that reusing and recycling of clothes is essential to stay profitable.
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