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Asos, H&M Cleaning Up Fast-Fashion’s Not-So-Circular Rep

From new denim constructions, weights and washes to the steps global mills are taking to reduce impact, Rivet's SS23 In Season Look Book: Denim & Trims has everything you need to know for a successful denim season.

Competitors, or collaborators?

There’s a movement happening within the denim industry in which companies are sharing their secrets to success in order to drive positive change at scale, whether it’s through an open-source formula for the world’s first-ever Cradle to Cradle Certified Gold denim fabric, like in G-Star Raw’s case, or by partnering with a competitor to create co-produced fabric and garment collections, as Soorty and Isko did in July.

The latest to share its findings is U.K.-based e-tailer Asos, which on Tuesday debuted a circular design guidebook in collaboration with longstanding sustainability partner Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), a division of the London College of Fashion, while H&M came out with its own circular innovation to be open-sourced down the road.

The book, available in a 22-page interactive and 112-page non-interactive format, teaches others—including Asos’ fast-fashion competitors—how to design for the circular economy. According to Simon Platts, Asos’ responsible sourcing director, helping others demystify circularity is key to making a lasting impact.

“Launching this guidebook together with CSF means we can help accelerate the transition to circular design across the entire fashion industry, [which is] critical to achieving the sustainability we all want to see,” he said. “This in-depth, accessible and easy-to-use resource should prove invaluable to other brands, designers and students looking to implement circular design in practice and marks the next step in our journey to be more circular through fashion with integrity.”

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The Asos Circular Design Guidebook provides detailed information on circular design strategies and materials, as well as recycling technologies currently on the market. Developed through consultation with CSF and with input from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it covers the brand’s nine circular design strategies: innovative materials, recycled materials, minimized waste, zero waste, upcycling, durability, versatility, mono-materiality and disassembly.

The duo’s partnership stretches back to 2018, when Asos piloted a circular design training program with the London College of Fashion. As part of the program, 15 members of Asos’ design team conducted a series of half-day workshops, discussions and drop-in sessions to develop concepts, case studies and real-life applications of circular principles with CSF researchers. The program was then rolled out to the rest of Asos’ staff on a continual basis.

In 2020, the company released its first circular collection in partnership with CSF, a 29-piece collection made according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s three tenets of a circular economy, which include reducing waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. Each garment in the collection included a QR code that consumers could scan to learn more about Asos’ circular design principles and how their purchase was made.

The CSF was one of many industry groups encouraging collective ingenuity at the recent the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow earlier this month. The groups called on world leaders to address the climate crisis and seek ways to help in the shift from a linear to a circular economy.

In addition to circular design tips, the guidebook outlines Asos’ own sustainability goals, which in recent years have become more aggressive. In September, the company updated its Fashion with Integrity program, a sustainability strategy it established in 2010, to include four key 2030 goals: Be Net Zero, Be More Circular, Be Transparent and Be Diverse. Targets include ensuring that 100 percent of Asos products and packaging are produced using more sustainable or recycled materials by 2030, expanding the use of circular design strategies across its full product range over time, and facilitating product recovery programs for reuse and recycle in key markets. It will debut a dedicated circular design strategy by the end of 2023.

H&M Group Debuts ‘Circulator’ Tool and Fashion Collection

Meanwhile, H&M Group aims to have 100 percent of its products designed for circularity by 2025, and it’s banking on the internally designed “Circulator” tool to reach that goal.

“We need to transform how we design and produce our products in order to meet our ambitious circular and climate goals,” said Helena Helmersson, CEO of H&M Group, which will eventually share the tool with external brands. “We also recognize the need to accelerate industry transformation and the Circulator tool will support both. Collaboration is the only way forward and we want to show leadership in the transition towards circular fashion.”

Launching this fall, the Circulator’s downloadable guide defines what a circular design process is and lays out a four-step process—know your customer, define your product purpose category, choose your materials and select your design strategies—to steer product teams toward to smarter decisions. H&M, Arket, Monki and Weekday case studies offer examples of products designed for circularity.

The Circulator’s second component, a digital scoring tool, will be informed by feedback and practical learnings from the guide’s initial launch phase, and piloted with partners including PVH Corp. and Asos.

The tool scores all a garment’s components—from material to fabric treatments—according to their environmental impact, durability and recyclability. The finished product’s total Circular Product Score pinpoints where it can be tweaked to become even more circular.

“To enable a real industry change, we need to collaborate and jointly work on innovative solutions,” said Sarah Hayes, business expert for circularity at H&M Group, which recently signed onto the 2025 Recycled Polyester Challenge, a project that aims to increase the global percentage of recycled polyester to 45 percent. “We feel the sense of urgency, which our industry as a whole is facing, and we want to learn together to fast track the industry’s transition to a circular economy. We value progress over perfection—we know we don’t have all the answers, but we will learn on the way and it’s time to turn words into action.”

H&M is already putting the Circulator to good use, launching the “Circular Design Story” collection made for sharing, repairing and recycling. Available in select stores and online on Dec. 9, the collection’s garments are designed for multipurpose versatility, with blazers doubling as dresses, straps that alter the fit of shirts or coats, adjustable zips that widen pants, and a ball gown comprised of a top and skirt. Polka dots, bows, frills, tailoring and jacquard all feature in the collection, according to Inside H&M, the retailer’s digital magazine.

The collection’s fabrics include Repreve Our Ocean fibers sourced from bottles collected from global waterways, as well as Resortecs, a dissolvable sewing thread that attaches sequins and beads and allows garments to easily disassembled and recycled at their end of life.

Additional innovations in the collection include Vegea, a vegan material partly made from grape skins, stalks and seeds discarded during wine making and turned into a leather alternative, and Cycora by Ambercycle, a fabric crafted from old garments and end-of-life textile waste.

To create the collection, the H&M design team worked with stylist and creative director Ib Kamara, who styled the campaign shot by photographer Rafael Pavarotti.

“I was proud to work with H&M on a collection that is so committed to circularity and positive change, while also embracing style, bold color, great fit,” Kamara said.

The “Circular Design Story” is the fourth in H&M’s series of Innovation Stories dedicated to promoting more sustainable materials, technologies and production processes.

The first, “Science Story,” championed cutting-edge sustainable materials. The second, “Colour Story,” prioritized more sustainable methods of working with color. The third, “Co-Exist Story,” centered on animal-friendly fashion and alternatives to animal-based textiles.

Sustainable collections are becoming a larger part of H&M’s overall business model. In 2020, 64.5 percent of the materials sourced for company-wide products met the retailer’s definition for sustainably sourced materials. But it’s aiming to reach 100 percent by 2030 at the latest. And earlier this month, H&M said it plans to slash its carbon footprint by 56 percent by 2030 from a 2019 baseline.

Along the ride with H&M in its journey is Global Change Award winner Circular.fashion, which helped develop the Circulator.

“We contributed to the development of the Circulator with our experience of circular design and recycling projects, as well as insights from our developed tools and frameworks such as our Circular Design Criteria and Scoring and we are excited about this exchange, amplifying each other’s expertise, experiences and tools to arrive at common industry consensus on product circularity, actionable solutions and leverage collaborative impact,” said Jonna Haeggblom, circular design strategy lead at Circular.fashion.