Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the large number of announcements and circular initiatives coming from the clothing industry. And if you ask me, it’s time for this notoriously polluting industry to start designing a future beyond the next season.
From new materials that will reduce the use of non-renewable petroleum-based products, to resale and rental models that extend the life of products, to recycling initiatives that keep textiles out of landfills, opportunities for improvement abound throughout the value chain.
Here are some of the latest headlines worth paying attention to:
New business models
- Levi’s launches SecondHand, its first resale offering that will allow customers to buy used jackets and jeans online and resell used jeans in exchange for store credit. It’s a smart move for Levi’s, known for its durable products and the popularity of vintage clothing, which was previously only available in secondary markets. The resale site is powered by treasure (formerly known as Yerdle), which is quickly becoming one of the leading back-end reselling providers for major brands such as Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, REI and Nordstrom.
- Rent The Runway sells out its “rental retirees” on ThredUp’s resale site. This is the latest in a series of ThredUp partnerships increasing its reach and scale, including having signed an agreement with Walmart earlier this year to sell second-hand clothes on the retail giant’s e-commerce site.
- Swiss shoe company We announced a rental model for performance sneakers, aiming to lighten the carbon footprint and ease the environmental guilt of elite athletes who have to replace their shoes frequently. Tenants will pay $30 a month to be able to swap out every six months, and worn-out sneakers will be used to make soles for new ones. (A single revival?)
Track and Trace
- Towards a bold vision of creating a digital twin for apparel worldwide, Eon and Microsoft team up bring 400 million garments online by 2025. A digital backbone for the apparel industry will help evolve circular business models by enabling easy authentication for resale, rental and peer-to-peer sharing, as well as sharing information throughout the value chain for end-of-life management.
- Four major fashion brands — adidas, Stella McCartney, Lululemon and Kering — have formed the Mylo Consortium to invest in a biobased imitation leather made from mycelium, the underground structure of mushrooms and other fungi. The textile is made by Bolt Threads, which reportedly received a seven-figure investment from the consortium, and signals a growing focus on vegan and renewable raw materials.
- As if things couldn’t get stranger in 2020, the South Korean automaker Hyundai launched a sustainable fashion collection using recycled materials from its vehicles. Although the automotive industry has relatively high material recovery rates, the collection aims to raise awareness of some of the most difficult materials to recycle, such as leather, safety glass and airbags. My favorite part of this story is that the collection is actually Hyundai’s second; its premiere debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2019, turning leather seating into high fashion. (Did no one tell them to stay in their lane?)
- H&M opened the world’s first store garment-to-garment recycling system, LOOOP. Developed by the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel, the technology is fully operational at a store in the Drottninggatan section of Stockholm, where customers bring in old t-shirts, socks and other used clothing, and watch in real time while they are cleaned. , shredded and turned into like-new clothes. The initiative is part of H&M’s broader circular economy initiative and aims to become climate positive by 2040.
These are exactly the kind of innovations we will need to make circular fashion a reality at scale. And while some of them are just a pilot series for now, we’ll be watching them closely to see if they can deliver on their promise.