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Re:Cycling is wearing the yellow jersey this week

This week marks two weeks rolled into one – World Recycling Week and Fashion Revolution Week – promoting awareness of two big sustainability topics within the clothing sector: textile recycling and supply chain labour standards.

H&M have been behind World Recycling Week for a number of years, encouraging customers to donate unwanted clothes (regardless of state) in return for a £5 spending voucher. The destination of the clothes depends on the quality and compilation of the fibres; reuse of the most unworn items, recycling of simple fibres and conversion of low quality fabrics into insulation and equivalent grade materials. This year our UK teams got on board by recycling bags of clothing collected from colleagues in our London, Oxford and Manchester offices through local H&M stores and donating the vouchers to a local charity.

The campaign has received significant media coverage as H&M seem to be working on a bigger picture of ‘closing the loop’ – promoting clothing recycling and looking to use fabrics that contain recycled content in the future.

They showed their intent in earnest when they launched the Global Change Awards last year; sponsoring and funding a €1m competition to find the latest innovations addressing circular economy and waste reduction in the fashion industry. All five finalists received a slice of the prize money in February, furthering strides in technology for; algae based fabric, citrus waste based fabric, polyester eating microbes, dissolvable cotton and technology that tracks waste on the cutting floor.

Although World Recycling Week has resonated with the big brands, sustainability is not, by any means, exclusively their territory.  In a different part of the market, we have been working with Grn Bikewear, whose strapline on their cycling shorts reads ‘We Cycle Re:Cycled’ (every branding professionals dream). This company makes sportswear from sustainable materials such as fishing nets, plastic bottles and bamboo, one of the first to market using ocean plastics in fibre. They came to us last year to assess the next generation of fabrics they could start incorporating into their new triathlete line.  This is a sector that is, perhaps surprisingly, as passionate about sustainability in their clothing as they are about performance, and through our wider networks we were delighted to be able to introduce Grn to one of the UK’s elite female triathletes who not only has a passion for sustainable sportswear but is also making waves in the global competitive arena.

We know that sustainability needs collaboration, and that the strength of networks, contacts and supply chain partnerships is key to driving successful change.  We are founding members of the Sustainable Clothing Leaders’ Forum; an innovative business leader’s workshop which runs four times a year in the UK to provide peer to peer knowledge sharing amongst brands, retailers and their supply chain partners in the UK.  We’ve been exploring a number of sustainability issues this month, including the role of extended producer responsibility on driving greater focus on end of life recycling and reuse programmes in the near future.

Our clients come from the full spectrum of the apparel sector but the common theme is that they are all taking leadership roles, demonstrating and communicating about their sustainability strategies and embracing their part in the development of a circular economy. And if leadership is the carrot, the stick (to prompt those lagging behind) is in the hands of the likes of Greenpeace and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – if you haven’t seen the mountain of clothes the UK produces in 10 minutes, you are in for a shock!

So if a representative sample of clothing labels where to be taken (not just those mentioned above), do you think we have reached the tipping point? Has sustainability become mainstream in the clothing sector? I don’t think the answer ‘yes’ is far off.

More on Fashion Revolution Week and ethical labour next week, but let’s big up #worldrecyclingweek every week, and in the meantime I’m going to enjoy wearing a hand-me-down dress today – circular fashion trends helping the cause!

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