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The rise and rise of retailer recycling, repurposing and reusing schemes

Just 3.4 per cent of consumers globally are using retailer recycling schemes, according to a report by GlobalData – but the trend is on the rise as leading players find new ways to reduce waste, use fewer resources and even adopt circular business models.

Reducing waste

Hong Kong label Dyelicious creates garment dye out of food waste

Fashion is recognised as one of the largest polluters on the planet, and growing awareness of that is encouraging retailers to make innovative and sustainable changes to their manufacturing and production processes to lessen waste. 

Adidas has introduced the second generation of its first 100-per-cent-recyclable performance running shoe. The FutureCraft Loop Generation 2 is made using a mix of new raw materials and recycled components of the initial shoe – and is expected to be 100-per-cent recycled in the product’s next iteration. 

Meanwhile Hong Kong brand Dyelicious creates colour dye out of organic waste such as coffee, red cabbage, sweet potato and ginger in its garments. 

Reducing resources

Outdoor apparel brand Patagonia has established a new ReCrafted collection where each item has been made from donated pieces, upcycled and repurposed into a “one-of-a-kind” piece. Each ReCrafted jacket, shirt, vest and bag is upcycled from three to six used pieces of clothing.

Hong Kong’s very own label curated from The Mills in partnership with H&M foundation – Alt: – also uses a garment-to-garment recycling system to create new knitted pieces from the repurposed yarn of former old pieces which would otherwise have been discarded. Professor Edwin Keh, founder of Alt:, was crowned Inside Retail Hong Kong’s most Innovative Retailer in 2019. 

Alt: – a local brand encompassing garment-to-garment textile technology to repurpose old clothing into new yarn

While many brands have launched programs to take in used garments to deconstruct – and some may even offer incentives for consumer’s donations – research from GlobalData shows that just 3.4 per cent of consumers use a retailer’s recycling scheme to get rid of unwanted textiles. That could present a challenge to scaling up such schemes.

“The practice of both repurposing and restoring post-consumer goods has the potential to help the fashion industry operate in a more sustainable manner, moving away from the traditional ‘take-make-waste’ model,” says Beth Wright, GlobalData apparel correspondent. 

“However, while both trends ultimately mean fewer items are being produced and keep products out of landfill, they still represent just a drop in the ocean compared with the amount of new clothing that continues to be made.”

The circular economy

Preloved designer goods platform Luxarity at Lane Crawford pop-up

Over the past year, the fashion industry has watched as luxury retailers took a U-turn to befriend their one-time nemesis, secondhand marketplaces. Now, some brands are even integrating the second-hand market strategy into their business model. 

In October, Hong Kong luxury department store Lane Crawford debuted Luxarity, a pop-up of preloved and donated designer items, into its stores. Luxarity uses blockchain to allow consumers to track the origins of the garment and to provide authentication. Also earlier this month, H&M group’s higher-end clothing brand Cos began trialling a clothing-rental service with YCloset in China.

However, as retailers are racing to win the sustainability game due to rapid changes in consumer attitudes and awareness, many are risking becoming victims of “greenwashing” – making a misleading claim about the environmental benefits of their product or service. 

Wright warns companies to take heed of their peers’ efforts and rise to the challenge themselves. 

“Whether it be a single collection or a longer-term goal for the future, opting to repurpose or restore garments are key to helping the industry move toward a more circular way of operating.”

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