Closing the loop in clothing manufacturing
I have been shopping at H&M a lot lately. Affordable clothes that keep up with current fashion, too? That’s a win-win for a college student on a budget.
Recently I started getting a flier in my bags along with my receipt, which reads, “Together We Can Close the Loop.” A catchy phrase that was, of course, in green.
Coming from an industry that consumes water and textiles in unimaginable quantities I started questioning if that was a trend H&M was riding out, or a true push forward in sustainable consumerism. It appears H&M is following in the footsteps of companies like Levi’s, Nike and Adidas, which have been pushed by the public to reinvent their production waste tactic through water and textile recycling programs.
As these recycling programs grow, consumers and producers both start winning. Here are a few programs on their way to a win-win system.
From Cradle to Cradle
Closing the loop is the idea that by donating our clothes, in any condition and from any brand, apparel companies can then stop sourcing new textiles and use what we are giving them. We get rid of our out of style, hopelessly torn and way-too-worn clothing (you know which pair of jeans I’m talking about) and they get recycled by processing plants to be re-made into new clothing. In total there are about 21 billion pounds of clothing and textiles in landfills right now, or 70 pounds per person. Some 95% of which could be used to make new products right now.
Levi’s Cuts Back on the Tap
Saving water is more important than saving money and Levi’s has known this longer than most, Levi’s has influenced all industries on how to reduce water use in all facets of the clothing production cycle. Their results? Saving 1 billion liters of water from 2011-15, or the equivalent of 165 million toilet flushes, according to their website. Where Levi’s has diversified is by including the consumer in the conversation. They have partnered with I:CO, or ICOLLECT, a company that facilitates the recycling of consumer clothing and allowing the partner to use the refined goods to make new products. I:CO provides drop boxes for clothing of any brand and quality, in return you get a coupon (only at Levi’s locations). They have also created their own clothing line based on saving water, Water<Less. This program advocates to wash your jeans every 2 weeks instead of once a week and save 19 liters of water. Pretty simple, and they have pretty infographics and guides to help you along the way as well.
Nike and Adidas Turn Dye Dry
Two giants in the pantheon of athletic wear, Nike and Adidas are back at it in tech innovation to save water and recycle shoes. Unlike Levi’s, Nike and Adidas are primarily focused on their end of the water reduction and recycling programs. Nike and Adidas both have waterless dye systems, which save on average 23 liters of water per shirt. Both companies also provide a shoe recycling program, though neither offers a voucher or other monetary incentive for the consumer. Adidas piloted their take-back campaign, primarily in Brazil, but also in the United States. Both companies boast renewable energy use, drops in water and PFC use, and tech innovations to reduce waste such as Nike’s Launch program. Though both companies’ programs offer recycling programs, they are limited in scope and in incentives. It is clear Nike and Adidas are hedging their savings on their end and not on us.
H&M Globalizes Recycling
Fast fashion has been flying off the shelves as fast as it goes to the landfill. H&M appears to recognize this and has reacted with a partnership with I:CO (remember them?). Advertisements for the ‘Conscious’ collection have been quite prominent. Through this program H&M sources 21.2% of their cotton from organic cotton or recycled, their goal is increasing this number to 100% by 2020. These products are marked by the CleverCare symbol on the hangtag along with tips like washing at 30 degrees instead of 60 degrees we can cut our energy use in half. In tandem H&M created the first global garment collection program, really taking I:CO and placing it internationally. Through this I:CO program you will also receive a voucher/coupon. In 2014 H&M collected 7,600 tons of clothing which equates to 38 million t-shirts. Though progress is happening rapidly, only 20% of ‘sustainable t-shirts’ are created from recycled materials and they need to increase their sustainable cotton use nearly 80% in 4 years.
Programs like these are growing and diversifying, with every company listed above creating a new sustainability program in the last 3 years. The two most water intensive steps in clothing production are cotton production and consumer use. We can now tackle the latter and reduce our water consumption and double down on producers water and textile use. It is our opportunity to keep up the pressure and turn this trend into habit, create incentives for consumers and it can only diversify. Whether it is that t-shirt that still has a tag on it from a gift exchange gone wrong or your favorite pair of socks you just can’t sew back together, there are options to be environmentally conscious and get a new pair of socks.