Closing The Loop On Fashion: H&M’s Textile Recycling Initiative

As companies innovate for a better future, many are discovering that to be truly sustainable, they must redefine how they do business and push the boundaries of what was ever thought possible. And that's exactly how a fast-fashion brand entered the textile-to-textile recycling space.

H&M has been a longstanding leader in clothing take-back programs, deeming itself the "first fashion company to launch a global garment collection initiative." Just last week the brand announced through its 2014 sustainability report it has more than doubled the amount of collected items through the initiative. However, even as H&M continues to make progress, critics still target the company which they say is by nature a "volume business," questioning how it can ever be sustainable. Although H&M currently gives new lives to clothing through resale at second-hand stores and by turning the material into new products, such as cleaning cloths, it still has a ways to go to achieve its bold goal to "produce fashion in a closed loop."

Recently, H&M announced a new effort in partnership with luxury, sport and lifestyle group Kering and innovation company Worn Again to "bring to market a revolutionary innovation in clothing production and recycling." The program aims to solve a major challenge, turning used clothing into new textiles that do not sacrifice quality or performance. H&M and Kering's brand PUMA will be testing a novel textile-to-textile recycling technology with the hopes of bringing it to market within a few years. The process will separate polyester and cotton from blended fiber clothing and even separate dyes from items, areas which have posed major hurdles to textile recycling in the past. Currently, H&M reports it can only use about 20 percent post-consumer fibers "without any loss of quality or longevity," but this program hopes to change that.

H&M is taking a leading stance on the trend of clothing take-back programs, not only in its goal to collect 100,000 tons of garments by 2020, but to ensure these items can be transformed into new pieces of clothing in a continuous cycle. A truly "closed loop" manufacturing process is years away from becoming a reality, but the undertaking alone shows just how high companies are willing to shoot when it comes to CSR commitments.

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