Fashion giants to ‘transform’ their jeans in circular economy drive

More than 40 companies have signed up to the new Guidelines

Convened by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as part of its ‘Make Fashion Circular’ programme, the ‘Jeans Redesign Guidelines’ set out the minimum resource management requirements that fashion designers, retailers and manufacturers should follow to ensure their jeans have a place in the circular economy.

The document details what best practice looks like across garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability, outlining the practical steps fashion companies can take to reach this level of sustainable resource use.

On garment durability, the Guidelines state that all jeans should be able to withstand a minimum of 30 domestic laundry cycles and should include clear information on product care on their labels.

For material health, it requires all jeans to be produced from natural fibres, sourced from suppliers that use “regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods”. The use of hazardous chemicals and sandblasting – a high-carbon and resource-intense method used to give denim a distressed look – are prohibited.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, following these principles will help boost the recyclability of jeans, provided that companies also design out their use of metal rivets and ensure that any non-natural fibres added to their denim are easy to recycle.

The final facet of the Guidelines, covering traceability, states that information regarding compliance with the framework should be made “readily available”, and that all compliant products should bear the Ellen MacArthur foundation’s new ‘Jeans Redesign’ logo.

More than 40 companies from across the fashion value chain have pledged to shift their jeans portfolios to comply with the Guidelines, including the likes of H&M Group, Gap, C&A, Tommy Hilfiger and Lee. Other signatories hail from the manufacturing, collection, sorting, academic and NGO space, with media giant Vogue also committing its support.

“The way we produce jeans is causing huge problems with waste and pollution, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s lead for Make Fashion Circular, Francois Suchet, said.

“By working together, we can create jeans that last longer, that can be remade into new jeans at the end of their use, and are made in ways which are better for the environment and the people that make them.”

Make Fashion Circular

The Make Fashion Circular initiative was first launched last May, in response to research which found that $460bn is currently lost each year to the underutilisation of clothes globally, as well as $100bn from clothing that could be used but is currently lost to landfill and incineration.

Its founding partners – Gap, H&M, Nike, Burberry HSBC and Stella McCartney – have committed to creating business models which keep garments in use, utilise materials which are renewable and find ways of recycling old clothes into new products.

Other participants include the likes of Primark and the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB). Indeed, the scheme has inspired LWARB, in partnership with C&A’s charitable arm the C&A Foundation and circular economy consultancy QSA Partners, to launch a similar initiative exploring whether resource-efficient business models such garment repair, resale and rental are viable for big-name retailers.

While the seeds of change are undeniably beginning to sprout for circularity in the global fashion system due to leadership examples such as these, research has repeatedly warned that wider progress on creating a closed-loop model for the 100 billion garments produced annually is too slow.

Last week, Global Fashion Agenda reported that just one-fifth (21%) of the 2020 circular economy commitments made by the fashion companies to have joined its collaborative campaign issue have been achieved. These commitments cover designing for circularity; collecting more used garments and footwear for recycling; increasing the volume of product resold and increasing the proportion of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in garments and/ or footwear, with participants recording particular challenges in the latter two areas.

Sarah George

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