H&M invested €22 million in the company earlier this year, and Adidas said it intends to secure access to “significant volumes” of the fibre to support its shift towards using more recycled materials.
They’re not the only big businesses embracing textile innovation. LVMH recently partnered with Weturn, a textile recycling company dedicated to helping major fashion houses turn unsold textiles, rolls of fabric and offcuts into new quality yarns and fabrics.
Several luxury brands within the group are now working with Weturn to recycle their textiles into new materials, which can then be used in packaging, accessories, fabrics for workshops, uniforms for teams, or research projects for integration into ready-to-wear products.
“This creates a complete ecosystem around creative circularity, which is a source of inspiration for our designers,” said Hélène Valade, environment development group director at LVMH.
Big brands pave the way
Support for textile recycling is rising as the fashion industry comes under pressure to solve its waste problem. In France, a new law will prohibit the destruction of new and unused textile materials from January 1, 2022.
Globally, the majority of fashion waste still goes to landfill or is incinerated rather than recycled, but experts are hopeful that the leadership of big-name brands like Adidas and LVMH on this issue will inspire others to follow suit.
“Big brands can drive systemic change and pave the way towards more sustainability in the entire fashion industry,” Anna Forster, co-founder of The Purpose Agents, a Sydney-based business consultancy, told Inside Retail.
“They can set a powerful example, invest into research and startups to drive innovation and achieve scalability and, ultimately, set a new base line for everyone.”
Scalability is still a major barrier preventing more brands from getting on board with textile recycling, according to Forster. There simply aren’t enough companies to meet the needs of the global fashion industry. It’s also still too costly for many smaller brands.
“A lot of circular technologies and materials have not reached the level of being truly competitive on price. The public sector is often lagging behind in nurturing investments into circularity, which is why it is important to see large industry players channelling funds into the space,” she said.
The poly-cotton problem
Another obstacle is the fact that most recyclers today only accept single-fibre textiles, while most textiles on the market are a blend of two or more fibres.
“That’s the biggest barrier to mass recycling,” Adrian Jones, co-founder of BlockTexx, a company that specialises in recycling poly-cotton blended textiles, told Inside Retail.
“The science required to separate blends is very hard. We’ve unlocked 90 per cent of it, but there’s still more to do.”
BlockTexx is currently building a facility in Queensland, Australia, where it will be able to process 3800 tons of poly-cotton blended textiles using its proprietary ‘separation of fibre’ technology. It is expected to be operational early next year.
In the meantime, the rise of single-fibre recyclers is helping to educate consumers and brands about the importance of textile recycling more broadly.
“We have to engage brands with single-fibre recycling, then educate them around which blends they use and how they construct products for end-of-life and second life,” Jones said.
For instance, swapping out a nylon button or label for a polyester button or label could help make an entire garment recyclable.
“It’s about getting brands to think about designing for recycling,” he said.
‘Just make a start’
This is where big businesses have an advantage, according to Camille Reed, founder of the Australasian Circular Fashion Association and the Australian Circular Fashion Conference.
“Adapting a business model to become circular requires investment from a company across many levels – staff education, sourcing new materials, redeveloping and integrating sustainability guidelines throughout the supply chain, re-evaluating minimum order quantities to reduce excess production, designing campaigns for consumer education, dedicated teams within companies to guide new systems and processes internally – and that’s not everything, but it quickly adds up,” she said.
“Large multinational companies like Adidas, LVMH, can afford to pivot – similarly H&M, and Inditex, can also afford to pivot.”
But while it might be more challenging for smaller brands to engage in sustainability initiatives such as textile recycling, Reed believes it’s the way forward.
“Companies just need to make a start,” she said.