Textile: the recycling boom

They all have this word in mouth: recycling. Beyond so-called ethical brands, the fashion giants are also getting involved. H&M or Uniqlo go even further in their approach by collecting directly their used clothes in shops.
Faced with critizisms about fast fashion, textile giants play their green card. A necessity since “sustainable development is more and more important in the fashion business,” confirms Valérie Moatti, associate professor in the fashion and technology chair at ESCP Europe.

At the front row, H & M insists particularly for more control in the factories of its subcontractors, more tissue recycling, the use of organic cotton, but also investments to reduce water consumption. And is also interested in the circular economy in its own production line. Since 2013, the Swedish company has set up collection centers for used clothing in its boutiques around the world. Target for 2020: recover 25,000 tons of used clothes. Their goal? Either being worn again, used for energy production, reused to create rags or recycled, whenever possible. A virtuous approach on which “H & M communicates a lot”, recognizes Valérie Moatti.


Textile: the recycling boom
Collecting boxes are multiplying in stores (credits: H&M)

Uniqlo, which is committed to eliminating hazardous chemicals from its production processes by 2020, has decided to specialize in the second life of clothing. Noting in 2006 that most of the endowments of customers were still in good condition, the brand decided to redistribute its clothes to refugees, displaced persons or victims of climate catastrophe etc. In ten years, more than 65 million garments have been collected and 25 million redistributed.

These two examples among others -Camaïeu, Bonobo etc.-, illustrate a strong trend, put forward by a report by Eco TLC, the organization collecting royalties from fashion companies to help recycling textiles. In 2016, the report reported 210,000 tons collected, but only 58,000 tons were recycled. The brakes are technical – some fibers like tights can not be recycled – or economical: recycling continues to cost more than making a new product.

The Look Forward Perspective

However, the good will displayed by brands does not convince everyone. Behind a “sincere initiative” that Valérie Moatti does not doubt about, H & M still distributes vouchers for each deposit, pushing the customer to buy new models. So, are we doing two steps forward, but three back?

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