New UK hub promises to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for circular fashion #852


Three British organisations have joined forces to scale up the use of circular solutions like rental, repair, resale and recycling.

Experts agree that circular business models are the key to making fashion and footwear more sustainable — but there are still many barriers to uptake. A new initiative launching this week in the UK hopes to provide a solution.

Circularity platforms Recomme and ACS have joined forces with the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) to launch Repurpose, a processing and innovation hub that claims to be a “one-stop shop” for circularity. Repurpose will combine Recomme’s sorting software with ACS’s existing rental, resale and repair services. They also plan to develop next-life solutions with partners, recycling old fibres into new ones where possible — which, if successful, would crack the code on one of fashion’s biggest obstacles when it comes to achieving circularity.

Circular solutions have been challenging to scale for businesses. Currently, brands have to work with multiple third-party platforms for different services, which can be complex and expensive. And there are many hurdles to recycling, primarily the lack of textile recycling technologies operating at scale. The widespread use of blended fibres is a particular challenge technologically, and footwear brings its own problems, given the variety of materials used to put together a single shoe.

Repurpose aims to increase efficiency and profitability for brands and retailers, and provide them with data to help scale their solutions. “By bringing together our expertise and resources, we are making circular infrastructure more accessible — both commercially and logistically, which we know is one of the key hurdles to many presently,” says Tom Grafton, founder of Recomme.

Based at ACS’s existing facility in Scotland, Repurpose will act as a triaging service that ensures unwanted and damaged products are sent to the right place to maximise their value rather than going to landfill, according to the founding organisations.

Repurpose promises to offer textile-to-textile recycling by partnering with external companies such as wool and cashmere recycling platform Iinouiio. Repurpose says it will be able to offer recycling solutions for a range of materials including cotton and man-made cellulosic fibres, synthetic fabrics as well as blended materials — a tall order, considering none of these technologies exist at scale (and given textile recycling startup Renewcell’s bankruptcy filing in February).

Grafton insists the project will deliver. The plan is to run commercial pilots on existing recycling technologies for these fibres, investing in those startups to scale them up and potentially move them in-house. He declined to name what technologies and partners are involved aside from Iinouiio due to “commercial sensitivity”, only sharing that cotton, man-made cellulosics, synthetics and blended materials will be recycled in the UK and EU, while wool will be managed in the UK and down in the EU.

ACS currently has the capability to process more than 10,000 returned items per week, and says it provides a “wide range of repairs” for apparel and footwear — but did not specify what will happen to clothes that are non-repairable. ACS will separate the garments by type and have a series of partners who specialise in recycling, according to the company. That will be an important detail to watch, as fashion’s take-back programmes often send clothes to markets where they end up as waste.

The triaging process is complicated: for example, the threshold for determining whether a garment will be repaired by ACS is based on the time it will take compared to the potential resale value. Garments that go through ACS’s rental and resale systems will be tracked, and those that are recycled through Recomme are tracked up to the end destination of the next-life product made from the recycled fibre. When the brand has enough tonnage of product to be recycled, Recomme can be even more specific, pointing to the batch or postcode that the next-life product has ended up in. However, most brands with significant volume are likely to want their recycled materials to be sent back to their manufacturer.

Grafton says part of Repurpose’s remit is to test out and invest in technologies that could help to streamline and improve these processes, and develop the circular solutions that are currently available to brands. The majority of the funding for this will come from the Recomme and ACS — which are backed by private investors — supplemented by government grants.

Repurpose is also teaming up with US-based circular innovation startup ReCircled to share technologies under licence and build out the infrastructure for the circular economy globally; Repurpose will look after ReCircled clients in the UK, while ReCircled will take care of Repurpose’s US clients.

The UKFT has been exploring ways to create a circular fashion ecosystem in Britain, including partnering with the British Fashion Council and non-departmental government body UK Research and Innovation to lead the Circular Fashion Innovation Network (CFIN), a programme that aims to develop recycling infrastructure and promote circular business models. The association will help to connect Repurpose with research organisations, including universities, to extend circular solutions commercially.

“The vision and ambition [of Repurpose] is exactly what the industry needs right now,” says UKFT CEO Adam Mansell. “By fostering innovation, driving sustainability and creating a circular economy, Repurpose sets a bold precedent for the future.”

The key to driving the UK’s progress on circularity and sustainability is collaboration, says Andrew Rough, CEO of ACS. “Through Repurpose, we aim to establish a seamless ecosystem where brands, retailers and innovators come together to accelerate to a truly circular economy.”

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