H&M And Adidas Join Industry Consortium Partners Delivering A Blueprint For Circular Fashion

Transforming the fashion industry from its linear ‘take, make, waste’ model to a circular one, where materials are perpetually recycled, is considered the ‘holy grail’ of sustainability.  With global apparel consumption projected to rise by 63% to 102 million tons in 2030, and an increase in clothing being sent to landfill accordingly (the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and a lack of recycling), achieving circularity is becoming even more critical. It has remained elusive, however, with collaborative system-wide changes across the fashion supply chain required in order to ‘close the loop.’ The focus of fashion brands to date has been on somewhat isolated initiatives, including encouraging consumers to mend and wear their clothes for longer, clothing resale, rental and recycling.  Whilst consumer efforts are a positive step, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) demand solutions on a global scale to halt climate change and restore biodiversity within specified timeframes, to meet agreed targets.  The projected growth of the fashion industry and the resulting emissions and waste generation make a scaled circular fashion industry solution an urgent environmental imperative.  But what level of stakeholder cooperation across the industry is needed to achieve circularity, and how would this be coordinated in a fiercely competitive market?

Creating A Circular Blueprint

Driven by the data cited above and the potential to deliver textile recycling at scale, Finnish biotechnology group Infinited Fiber Company have led a successful bid for over €6M of European Union research and innovation funding, to form a consortium to create a circular fashion industry blueprint.  The funding supports the New Cotton Project’s 12 consortium members, spanning Finland, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Turkey, to work together across waste management, recycling, retail, manufacturing and academia to define a new circular fashion system and business model that they hope will lead to industry-wide adoption—and a significant reduction in fashion’s waste and environmental impact.  What’s highly novel about this project is that it unites companies who compete in the market, but also recognise that collaboration is needed to achieve circularity at the industry level.  Industry giants Adidas and H&M are partners on this project and will work together to facilitate “the scale and volume needed to properly test this (technology),” said Infinited Fiber’s CEO Petri Alava during a recent video call. Representing Fashion for Good, who are facilitating stakeholder collaboration during the project, was Kathleen Rademan: “What we have noticed is, in order to get something like chemical recycling off the ground, more than one brand is needed.”  

Consortium Partners 

During the 3 year project, Infinited Fiber will provide 3 tons of their cellulose carbamate fibres (recycled from textile, cardboard and other high cellulose content waste) to H&M and Adidas, for use at their partner mills and manufacturers, Inovafil, Tekstina and Kipas, who already operate within the brands’ supply chains.  The mills will spin, dye, knit and weave the fibres into yarns and fabrics (single jersey and denim) for use in the brands’ commercial fashion products. H&M and Adidas will obtain consumer feedback on the products throughout their life cycle, and at the end of life, take-back schemes (which H&M explained to me over email are still in the initial planning stages) will feed the products into sorting facilities, and from there, into either chemical recycling feedstock or resale channels, depending on the garment quality.

On the waste handling and processing side a number of consortium collaborators will conduct ongoing data collection and analysis to define new workflows and processes needed to deliver circularity at scale.  Holland-based Frankenhuis, will sort and pre-process the textile waste, while the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (XAMK) will develop a technical solution for the continuous processing of textile waste fibres for pre-treatment. REvolve Waste’s role is collecting and managing textile waste data to estimate feedstock availability in Europe and define the grade of the used textile waste.  On the consumer and business retail side, RISE (the research institute of Sweden) will conduct the sustainability and techno-economic analyses alongside Infinited Fiber Company, in addition to managing the eco-labelling for the project and subsequent fabrics and garments. Finland’s Aalto University will analyse the project’s resulting ecosystem and circular business models on a more macro level, aiming to define the most feasible business model. 

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