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Gap and Researchers Move Forward with Circular Design Solutions

While many can agree that a circular economy is crucial to reducing the apparel industry’s environmental impact, getting there requires significant collaboration and research. And that’s exactly what the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) and Gap Inc. are doing.

On Thursday, the two companies announced they’re working together on eco-friendly solutions to two major obstacles hindering the move toward circularity: spandex separation and denim decolorization.

“Change requires both innovation and a new mindset,”Art Peck, Gap Inc.’s president and CEO, said. “Gap Inc. is uniquely positioned to solve sustainability challenges at scale, and our partnership with HKRITA is an important step to develop new solutions that impact our planet and are deeply important to our customers around the world.”

To tackle spandex separation, HKRITA is working with textile manufacturer Artistic Milliners to separate the materials using bio-solvents. Fabrics are often blended with spandex to promote flexibility and movement, but the industry currently lacks a sustainable method for separating the material in order to re-use the remaining materials. HKRITA’s project intends to discover this method.

Similarly, denim recycling requires product to first endure a decolorization process to remove dyes and create a blank slate. The industry’s current processes use chemicals that damage the fabric and the environment—which is counterintuitive for a circular economy meant to lessen the environmental impact. HKRITA is tackling this issue by working with denim manufacturer Arvind Limited on a physical method to decolor the denim.

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“HKRITA always maintains close ties with the industry and keeps abreast of developments so that we are able to provide timely and workable solutions,” HKRITA CEO Edwin Keh said. “This is a good opportunity for us to join hands with Gap Inc. to develop textiles that are recyclable and can be used for a long time.”

Both research projects are operating on a 24-month timeline, after which the developments will be open for licensing.

Awareness of circular design is growing in the denim sector. In July, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released the “Jeans Redesign Guidelines” based on the principles of the circular economy. The guidelines provide a framework for brands to follow to improve garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability. Gap is among the companies that have committed to take part in the initial stages of the project.

At the WWD Apparel + Retail CEO Summit last week in New York City, Peck shared that he and his team are scrutinizing Gap’s entire entire supply chain. “We know what this industry is good at,” he said, citing the 85 percent of apparel cast off in landfills and the chemical-intensive textile finishing process, “but being good to the planet and good to the environment and pulling our values to the forefront of our customer value proposition hasn’t been a forte.”