The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a U.K. charity founded in 2010 to promote and support the “circular economy,” a production shift from the traditional "make, use, dispose" model to more sustainable methods that maximize the use of resources, on Thursday announced the launch of a Circular Fibres Initiative aimed to support such innovations in the fashion industry, according to a press release.
Nike and H&M are the “core corporate partners” in the effort, according to the foundation. Nike’s Grind program uses old shoes and some of its own manufacturing waste to develop useable materials for other uses, like gym floors, outdoor playground surfaces and other products. Earlier this year, H&M unveiled the “Conscious Exclusive” apparel collection incorporating Bionic, a sustainable polyester fabric made from plastic shoreline waste.
As its first step, the initiative will produce an analysis of the textiles industry, along with McKinsey & Co. as Knowledge Partner, to map how apparel flows around the global economy. That report is slated for publication in the fall, according to the foundation.
The fashion industry, particularly fast fashion, depends on some of the most resource-heavy manufacturing in the world, and its very business model is based on consumers’ disposal of old for new.
But consumers, particularly younger ones, are increasingly concerned about how the environment is impacted by the manufacture of the products they buy, and fashion has responded in a variety of ways — reducing the amount of water used in production, for example, and instituting recycling programs like those at Nike and H&M.
Millennials and Generation Z expect transparency, sustainability and ethical corporate behavior from all brands — high-end or low. As they continue to influence how retail does business, the selling power of sustainability will expand, analysts say.
“Social influence, including social media, has also pushed brands to foster more sustainable practices and consumer behavior,” Emily Bezzant, head analyst at retail technology platform Edited, told Retail Dive last year. “Brands such as H&M have looked to balance fast fashion with sustainability through its Conscious line, which not only shows their awareness and care for the environment, but also helps in building their brand image.”
H&M claims it is now one of the world's biggest users of recycled polyester and among the biggest buyers of organic cotton. The retailer said Tuesday it aims to rely exclusively on sustainably-sourced cotton by 2020.
"Our 100% circular vision and our goal to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030 plays a key role in our sustainability agenda. We are aware that our vision means a big change on [sic] how fashion is made and enjoyed today and if we want to take the lead on this challenge, collaboration and accelerating innovation and circular systems together with the industry is crucial," Anna Gedde, head of sustainability for H&M Group, told GreenBiz.
Few might have envisioned H&M would emerge as a leader in sustainable apparel at the beginning of the decade: In 2010, a Manhattan H&M outlet was discovered destroying and discarding unsold clothing. The company responded to the resulting controversy by rolling out its Garment Collecting Initiative, which awarded vouchers to consumers who brought their unwanted clothing to H&M stores. H&M subsequently debuted Close the Loop, a denim line produced in part from recycled cotton gathered via Garment Collecting Initiative donations.
Fast-fashion pioneer Zara last year similarly unveiled its “Join Life” collection, an eco-friendly line of minimalist separates created from more sustainably produced wool and other fabrics. And Adidas has also has put its best foot forward in trying become more environmentally friendly in its manufacturing practices; the sneaker maker last month unveiled new editions of its UltraBOOST, UltraBOOST X and UltraBOOST Uncaged made from plastic ocean waste.