Gap, H&M, Nike and Burberry are among the major brands which will lead a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative that aims to help drive a circular fashion industry.
The brands, joined by HSBC and Stella McCartney, have pledged through the Make Fashion Circular project to create business models which will keep garments in use, utilise materials which are renewable and find ways of recycling old clothes into new products.
It is thought that these moves could help the global fashion industry to each year capture $460bn currently lost due to the underutilisation of clothes, as well as $100bn from clothing that could be used but is currently lost to landfill and incineration.
“For the fashion industry to thrive in the future, we must replace the take-make-dispose model, which is worn out,” said Dame Ellen MacAarthur. “We need a circular economy for fashion in which clothes are kept at their highest value and designed from the outset to never end up as waste.
“By joining forces to Make Fashion Circular, we can harness the creativity and innovation that is at the heart of this $1.3trn industry to create a system that delivers benefits for everyone.”
A further 16 stakeholders have been announced as participants in the scheme, including Primark and the London Waste and Recycling Board. The programme is being jointly funded by the Walmart Foundation and C&A Foundation, the latter of which last year enabled C&A to become the first global retailer to launch Gold level Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified t-shirts as part of its bid to drive the clothing sector’s transition to a circular economy.
The Walmart Foundation’s vice president for programmes, Julie Gehrki, said that Make Fashion Circular launch marks an “exciting step in the journey toward achieving a waste-free apparel industry”.
“We hope this roadmap serves as a tool that helps build partnerships across all regions and markets, catalyses action and accelerates innovation on critical issues related to sustainable apparel,” she added.
The Make Fashion Circular launch follows last October’s publication of a damning report co-launched by Dame MacArthur and fashion designer Stella McCartney, which revealed that the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second, with less than 1% of clothing being recycled into new clothes. In a stark warning, the report predicted the fashion industry could use up to a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 if brands do not jointly move away from current cradle to grave models.
Stella McCartney has pioneered ethical fashion for 15 years and last year, her namesake luxury fashion brand commissioned the first ever Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for man-made cellulose fibre (MMCF) used in production. Meanwhile Burberry, the other luxury label to lead the initiative, announced in March that it would send leather offcuts from the construction of its handbags to Kent-based designers Elvis & Kresse for re-use in new fabrics.
As for the high-street brands, H&M has pledged to become truly circular by 2030 and said it was more than a quarter of the way to this target as of the end of 2016. It is currently one of the world’s biggest users of recycled polyester and in January, unveiled a new sportswear collection for women that is predominately made from PCR polyester.
Nike is also a huge user of PCR polyester, using the material to create its Nike Vapour football kits, and additionally estimates that had saved 3.5 million lb of waste as of 2016 by implementing Flyknit technology – which produces 60% less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods – into its footwear range.
Gap, the final high-street brand to become a core Make Fashion Circular partner, has pledged to source 80% of the materials for its Athleta activewear range from sustainable fibres by 2020. It estimates that it diverted the equivalent of more than 7 million plastic bottles from landfill in 2016 by using PCR polyester, and has committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2030 through credible programmes such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).
HSBC is the only non-retail brand to lead the initiative and will focus on making the uniforms worn by its 229,000 employees circular.