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Fashion Industry - can we close the loop? (23/05/2016)

We have been considering whether it could ever be possible to have a closed loop system when it comes to the fashion industry? With the "World Recycle Week" campaign launched by H&M, it got us thinking about what steps have already been taken to close the loop and if this industry will ever be completely sustainable?

H&M is a great example, as their stores around the world offer take-back of bags of worn or unwanted clothing and reward customers for doing so by offering store vouchers in exchange for bags they donate. Since introducing this in 2013, they have collected around 22 tonnes of garments which can be sorted and resold in second-hand markets around the world. If unable to be sold, the material can be recycled back into new clothing. This recycled material can be found in a number of known high street brands' clothing, such as Cheap Monday, WEEKDAY, COS and Monki.

Whilst H&M have certainly shown that positive steps can be taken, does this mean that closing the loop completely will ever be achievable? There are a number of issues to consider when considering a project of this magnitude.

The first hurdle to overcome is the consumer-driven nation we live in. It is easy to see items such as clothing as "disposable" especially when we have so many cheap fashion retail stores on our high streets. To avoid increasing the amount we buy, wear, dispose of before buying more, we need to learn to see value in the clothing we own.

It is also important to consider how recyclable certain materials are. For example, worn out cotton alone may not be strong enough to make new clothing, so it needs to be mixed with virgin cotton to improve the quality. This not only means that new items may never be '100% recycled', it also means that at the end of life it is difficult to separate the mixed fibres which may not be able to be recycled again.

Some countries in the EU have made voluntary textile regulations which a number of company voluntarily comply with. In France, they have gone one step further and made textile legislation mandatory. This imposes a financial contribution towards recycling of textile materials on all producers.

In summary, there is a lot more than can be done and would need to be done before we can tackle the challenge of closing the loop in the fashion world. The more companies that follow the example set by retail brands like H&M, the more likely that saving money and resource in this industry may be achieved.