Five years ago H&M inspired unfortunate headlines when it was learned that the retailer was destroying and discarding unsold clothing, sometimes throwing it away on the streets outside stores.
Now H&M has joined a growing number of retailers working with a Swiss company, I:CO, that collects used and unsold clothing and turns it into usable textiles to make yet more clothing or for stuffing material in industries as diverse as construction, automotive manufacturing, and toys.
In addition to Levi’s and H&M, participating apparel brands include Puma, The North Face, American Eagle Outfitters, Forever 21, and Skunkfunk.
H&M’s new “Close the Loop” collection is a far cry from the days when it blithely discarded its unsold clothing; the denim apparel uses 20% recycled textile from I:CO. The trend resembles the movement to incorporate recycled paper even for higher-quality items.
The process isn’t all that straight-forward, according to I:CO. To get cotton and other material suitable for textile that can be made into clothing, the original textile must be of a certain quality. So participating brands have to be thinking about recycling even before the potentially recycled apparel is ever made, much less sold, worn, and turned back in.
Then customers must be aware of the opportunity to recycle their used clothing, and the goods must be sorted and re-processed; Levi’s and H&M are incentivizing shoppers by offering coupons to those who turn in their used clothing.
Still, I:CO says its business is expanding, and that textiles will increasingly be able to source a greater amount of recycled material.
“The aim is to integrate all collected textiles and shoes into a recycling process by 2020, while completely eliminating waste products,” according to the I:CO website.