On March 26, H&M will be the first retailer to sell clothing made out of Circulose, a novel “climate-friendly” material derived from old jeans, T-shirts and other discarded cotton clothing.
Re:newcell, the Swedish company behind the fiber has been teasing the commercial rollout since November. It confirmed in an email on Friday, however, that H&M’s sustainably themed Conscious Exclusive collection will have first dibs on its wholesale yardage, which will be combined with sustainably harvested wood fibers and transformed into an “easy blue day dress” inspired by “carefree days on the Côte d’Azur,” also known as the French Riviera.
“This is the piece that finally proves—recycling finally works,” wrote Circulose head of brand Harald Cavalli-Björkman, who previously described its move as nothing short of transformational for an industry that leans so heavily on virgin resources.
Less than 1 percent of old clothing goes on to be made into new clothing, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. In 2015, 73 percent of the total material used to make clothes ended up incinerated or landfilled, according to a study by the nonprofit.
But Re:newcell sees this waste as an untapped resource, and one destined for higher purposes than “downcycling” into rags, upholstery stuffing or building insulation.
The process of making Circulose, it claims, ends up storing greenhouse-gas emissions that would either be released into the atmosphere through incineration (carbon dioxide) or landfill degradation (methane).
Re:newcell takes garments that cannot be resold, strips them of zippers and buttons and then “de-dyes” them to remove any color. What remains is smashed into a pulp and picked clean of contaminants such as polyester so only cellulose remains. The slurry is then dried and turned into sheets of “pure Circulose,” which are packaged into bales and shipped for processing into textiles.
The process, which takes place in a renewably powered plant in Kristinehamn, is entirely closed loop, according to Re:newcell, meaning that chemicals and water are reclaimed and reused, rather than discharged as effluent. Clothing made from Circulose, the firm says, can be recycled several more times in the same way.
Blended fibers, difficult to tease apart, have long posed a challenge for the textile-recycling industry, but Cavalli-Björkman claims Re:newcell is the first company to overcome this on an industrial scale.
“Change in this business needs to happen at scale to be meaningful,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier of this landmark launch with H&M, a leading global retailer with a bold agenda for sustainability.”
The Swedish retailer snagged a minority stake in Re:newcell in 2017 as part of its aim to become “100 percent circular” by 2030. It has also thrown its support behind Finland’s Infinited Fiber, which says it can recycle textile waste into new fibers “infinitely,” and Britain’s Worn Again, a technology company that extracts polyester polymers and cellulose from clothing to create new raw materials.
“They’ve supported us in one way or another from the get-go, so it’s only natural that they’re first out of the gates,” Cavalli-Björkman said.