The pandemic crisis has made even more visible a problem that has always existed in the fashion industry: The huge overproduction. Many stores are still holding on to last year’s clothes, which under normal circumstances would have been sold in the sales season.
Therefore, the pressure to rethink sustainability in the direction of recycling and circular fashion is growing and has called on the European Union to act to encourage and to some extent force retailers and consumers to abandon non-renewable resources, chemicals and fertilizers, and to extend corporate responsibility all the way down the value chain. The Spanish government has already acted and will approve in the coming months the Preliminary Draft of the Law of Waste (read our article about the regularization of the circular economy in Spain). This year the European Commission is also expected to publish its strategy for sustainable textile products, which will determine the next steps to be taken to promote circularity and sustainability in the sector. In March 2020 the European Commission published its new circlular economy action plan.
In order to fulfill future obligations, companies in the textile sector must start thinking about the sustainable scenario directly from the production process of their clothing, and about examining the extent if their currently clothes are recyclable. The aim should be to incorporate the idea of recycling into textile design, product development and collection conception. Specifically, it is about what components, fibers and materials should be used to bring recyclable products into the market.
The project of the British company Worn Again Technologies is one of the great hopes for the fighters of circular fashion. “The process we have been developing since 2012 together with scientific director Adam Walker starts with a garment made from a blend of polyester, cotton and up to 10% of other fibers (nylon, wool or elastin, for example). The materials are separated and decontaminated to obtain, on the one hand, virgin-quality polyester and, on the other, a high-quality cellulosic pulp,” explains U.S. founder Cyndi Rhoades.
It is also necessary for companies to establish a collection and recycling chain, and to improve the management of discarded textiles.
One of the biggest problems on the road to the circular economy and recyclable garments is the lack of transparency. This problem is being tackled by a German startup called Circular.fashion. The aim is to offer retailers and manufacturers a complete package of the latest solutions and technologies in recycling and circular economy, from its own circular design software to individual workshops for creating recyclable collections. In addition, since 2019 there is the recycling system with Circularity-ID, the online product passport, which consists of making each garment transparent by scanning. The idea behind it is that used clothing sorters can use this ID to find the blue T-shirt from the pile of used clothing as a recyclable item in the intelligent sorting station developed by Circular.fashion and thus hand it over to the industry for its reuse or further recycling.
Another Swiss startup named Cycle8 promises to help manufacturers and retailers to turn waste back into clothing, thus creating an “infinite loop”, as the company’s name suggests. It is important not to break the information chain. Many retailers and manufacturers simply take unsaleable products, leftovers and outdated clothing hanging in warehouses out of the store and therefore out of the system and pack them without any sorting into containers. This is how merchandise really becomes waste. Cycle8 has developed an application that scans these leftover goods. Digitized and uploaded to the second marketplace they can be sold and exported transparently and legally for its reuse.
Similarly, the Dutch company Valvan Bailing System together with Circle Economy have created Fibersort, a technology to improve the garment sorting system, using optical sensing technology to identify the fiber composition of a garment and regroup the pieces into large blocks.
There are many companies in the market that help the textile industry to change its current production, collection and recycling processes. The textile sector must now focus on implementing the circular economy in its business strategies. It is the solution to minimize overproduction and replace the current form of consumption which is still ‘buy-use-throw away’ to ‘buy less – use more – throw away less/recycle more – reuse’, and thus give clothes a circular life. We will see how the textile sector will adapt and create its own circular fashion.