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Adidas, H&M’s Circular Fashion Pilot Clears Key Milestone

Adidas and H&M will be launching the first garments to emerge from a European Union-funded project that is bringing together brands, manufacturers, innovators and researchers to pilot and scale circular fashion.

“They will be the first to be produced through a collaborative consortium dedicated to demonstrating the potential of a circular model for commercial garment production, testing a new, innovative and more sustainable way of working,” the three-year New Cotton Project, which began in 2020, said in a mid-way point update this week.

With the cooperation of its 12 partners, the process of sorting, managing and then recycling cellulose-rich materials, has become a well-oiled machine.

Tasked with managing the textiles sorting and mechanical processing phase of the project, Frankenhuis analyzes the fabric composition of the collected materials to identify the correct feedstock for Infinited Fiber Company. It’s supported by REvolve Waste, whose ongoing remit is to map the location and content of textile waste across Europe.

Xamk, a scientific institute, has optimized a pre-treatment process for the collected textiles. Infinited Fiber Company, which is building a commercial-scale factory in Finland, works its magic to create Infinna, a regenerated man-made cellulosic fiber that has also won buy-ins from Ganni, Pangaia and Zara. The recipients of this bounty are manufacturers Kipas, Inovafil and Tekstina, which test, produce and dye the resulting high-value yarns and fabrics.

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Now that they have successfully tested and developed styles made with Infinna, Adidas and H&M are gearing up for commercial production. Infinna, which the New Cotton Project said “looks and feels just like virgin cotton,” will infuse “pioneering pieces” by the two nameplate retailers this fall/winter, offering a proof of concept for truly circular fashion.

But challenges abound before more recyclable garments can become a broader reality. One stumbling block? Attitudes. A survey conducted by Adidas across three key markets revealed a continued “lack of understanding” around circularity as it relates to textiles, underscoring a need for greater consumer education.

There are bright spots, however. More than half of respondents said they want to engage with brand-independent take-back schemes. This includes returning clothing and footwear featured in the sportswear giant’s Made to Be Remade lineup, which is designed to be shredded and reconstituted into a “new generation” of products.

The survey also uncovered an overall positive perception of recycled fabrics, including a willingness among those polled to accept variations in recycled fabrics. This suggests that a “larger offer of recycled clothing will be well received in the market,” the New Cotton Project said.

Since sorting for recycling is critical to unlocking circularity within the industry, limitations in fiber-identification technologies and the lack of a unified system to allow more consistent feedstocks are stymying progress. Mandatory reporting requirements for fiber composition in garments can also help reliably assess material recyclability, it said.

Also important is designing for circularity and end-of-life solutions in the first place. Because the recyclability of a garment is determined at the design phase, elastane use, multiple layers of different textiles and unnecessary fiber blends must be minimized.

Then there is the need for “new ways” of communicating and working throughout the value chain, the New Cotton Project said. A key to success, it stressed, is closer collaboration among designers, sorting facilities and recycling technologies.

As a “test and learn process,” the New Cotton Project has incorporated the learnings it has gleaned thus far to “highly positive results.” And whatever the future holds, the two capsules are undoubtedly a milestone, it noted. So far only 1 percent of clothing produced worldwide is recycled into new ones, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“This is an important step as we strive toward a system change in the way we produce and consume fashion,” the New Cotton Project said. “Moreover, this project should hopefully serve to inspire other industry players to drive and adopt circular practices of their own.”

As it moves into its back half, the New Cotton Project will continue to home its attention on data collection and analysis to “highlight relevant insights for the industry,” it said. The results, which will include a “blueprint of the circular ecosystem” from Aalto University, will be disseminated by innovation platform Fashion for Good. RISE Research Institutes of Sweden will develop a life-cycle assessment, ”identifying progress opportunities to further develop the concept.“