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Circular Catalyst: Reformation to Recirculate 500,000 Garments in 5 Years

Reformation is a brand that has always put sustainability at the heart of its women’s apparel and accessories business, as evidenced by its decision to produce goods exclusively using sustainable and upcycled materials. The company has also established an annual sustainability report, invested in carbon offsets and created its own sustainability methodology—the RefScale—which is shared on every product page of its website to inform shoppers of each garment’s specific impact on the environment.

But while the women’s wear brand has a laser focus on sustainability, getting true circularity out of a fabric like denim is a whole different beast to tackle.

“Unfortunately, denim has a large impact on the environment,” said Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s chief sustainability officer and vice president of operations. “From the quantity of water and pesticides needed to farm cotton to the toxic chemicals used in dyeing and finishing, it has a significant impact on the planet. Given the mass appeal and visibility of denim, increasing circularity in the industry is really important.”

With Reformation joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign program, Talbot and her team see a big opportunity to collaborate as an industry and continue to push the consumer conversation. Additionally, this cements the brand’s commitment to transforming the way jeans are produced when it comes to durability, material health, recyclability and traceability.

Even prior to the company’s work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Reformation has had some major wins in its circularity journey, such as expanding its annual RefVintage collection to additional markets, which are reworked by the brand’s in-house seamstress so they almost look like new, or training its product development and design teams on designing products specifically for circularity.

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Reformation is also looking to partner with more companies to spread circularity initiatives across both the supply chain and retail. The brand has teamed with a Los Angeles-based fiber recycling solution to cut waste in the product development process and is offering store credit to customers who resell and recycle their used clothing through partnerships with online resale platforms like ThredUp.

“We encourage buying vintage (and sell one-of-a-kind vintage pieces in a few of our stores as well as through online drops), and about 10 to 15 percent of our materials still come from deadstock as well,” Talbot said. “These initiatives encourage and empower circular practices—for us at Reformation and for our customers.”

And with that in mind, Reformation has set some lofty circularity goals. “This year, we also signed the 2020 Circularity Fashion System Commitment Letter, with the goal of recirculating 500,000 garments in the next five years and have already been able to reuse or recycle 357,296 garments this year,” Talbot said.

When sharing the lessons that can help future innovations, Talbot noted that the company now sees new opportunities to collaborate with like-minded brands, suppliers and other stakeholders to try and overcome circularity challenges and create innovative solutions.

“As we consider how to lead even bigger shifts within the industry, we’re moving beyond just thinking about used clothing and deadstock fabrics, and considering the potential for circularity in the fibers, dyes and garments to create a more holistic system to begin with,” Talbot said.