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H&M Puts Weight Behind Textile Waste and Secondhand Fashion

H&M is doubling down on circularity through new initiatives focused on sustainability and secondhand fashion.

On Thursday, the Swedish fast-fashion retailer’s pre-owned fashion partner, Sellpy, released mobile apps for Android and iOS. The move comes after H&M, which took a stake in Sellpy in 2015, helped the eight-year-old Stockholm-based startup expand into nearly two dozen new markets last summer. Similar to ThredUp, Sellpy provides consumers with a kit (for a fee) to fill up with used fashion in good condition from desirable brands like Nike and Ralph Lauren. It takes care of the logistics of photographing, listing and distributing approved items.

“We are really proud to now launch our e-commerce on both iOS and Android,” said Max Frelén, chief product officer for Sellpy, which aims to “iterate on it over the coming months.”

“We are planning to add more features step by step to make the shopping experience even better,” he added.

Sellpy co-founding CEO Michael Arnör said the app launch will help the startup “meet our customers wherever they are.”

“In our strivings to provide a seamless and friction free shopping experience, we are happy to offer this new touchpoint, where customers in all of our 24 markets can update their wardrobes and homes in a more sustainable way,” he added.

H&M is also working in-house to give more of its intact garments a second life by launching a “Pre-loved” section for used apparel on its e-commerce site. For now, the offering is only available in the brand’s home market, though the firm told Just Style it planned to expand to Germany and possibly other regions following the pilot.

Through the Pre-loved program, shoppers can purchase garments from the H&M brand as well as others like Asos, Nike and Zara that are inspected and “quality assured” by H&M. Swedish shoppers can browse the products on a microsite on HM.com, adding both new and used goods to their cart and checking out in the same process as they would normally. Pre-owned purchases are delivered separately, however, as the program is facilitated by Sellpy.

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H&M aims to use 100 percent recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030, and can already qualify 65 percent of its inputs as such, the company said. Creating a channel through which apparel can remain in circulation underscores that goal while addressing an industry-wide conundrum. Clothing production has doubled over the course of the past 15 years, though usage has decreased by 40 percent, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“We need to consume less of the planet’s resources and we need to use what we already have,” H&M wrote on its Pre-loved site. To further incentivize shoppers, the company is rewarding H&M members with points toward future purchases when they buy secondhand clothes through the program. Members are also rewarded for choices like bringing their own shopping bags to stores, or donating to its garment recycling program, which collects clothes in stores and processes garments through European textile sorting and recycling firm I:CO.

The fashion firm’s non-profit arm has also invested in its own efforts to curb textile waste alongside the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA). In December, the duo debuted the Green Machine—the result of a four-year, 5.8-million-euro ($6.4 million) partnership that began in 2016. The project, which was sidelined for nearly two years by the pandemic, was designed to use hydrothermal power, water and less than 5 percent of a “biodegradable green chemical” not unlike lemon juice to dissolve the cotton component of blended materials, allowing polyester to be extracted and respun into new yarns.

Last fall in Los Angeles, H&M debuted a garment using textile recycling startup Ambercycle‘s proprietary Cycora regenerated polyester fabrication. Ambercycle accepts donated clothing made with all types of poly-blends, using a chemical reactor to isolate the polymer content. That substance is made into chips, then pellets, and finally extruded into fresh yarns. At an event launching its Circular Design Story collection, H&M dressed model and actor Rosario Dawson, who has starred in the brand’s ad campaigns, in a pair of slim, black, beaded trousers made with Cycora.

Sorting for Circularity

Earlier this month, H&M announced that it is signing onto Fashion for Good’s Sorting for Circularity Project, an initiative launched nine months ago with the goal of creating greater synergy between textile sorters and recyclers. As a key project partner, H&M will help the Fashion for Good’s mission to address the challenge of recycling materials effectively at scale.

Alongside other newcomers to the project like Spain-based apparel reuse and recycling group Moda re-Cáritas Group, and Wtórpol Sp. z o.o., a textile waste management and recycling firm from Poland, H&M will help drive a widespread analysis of the composition of textile waste and map Europe’s existing recycling capabilities.

According to Fashion for Good, the new textile sorting partners will help drive insights into the region’s ability to handle discarded apparel, while H&M brings its own unique expertise fostered through years of material innovation. The joint research will culminate with an online platform matching textile waste with recyclers, driving the circular economy.

Sorting for Circularity was created to address the inefficiencies of current textile recycling processes. Today, most clothes sent for recycling are manually sorted in an unreliable process, as absent clothing labels force sorters to operate with limited information. A true understanding of material composition is essential to understanding how to recycle a garment.

When the project launched in 2021, it brought together partners like Adidas, Bestseller, Zalando and Inditex, as well as manufacturers Arvind Limited and Birla Cellulose and firms like Levi Strauss & Co., Otto and PVH Corp as part of a wider working group. The groups pointed to Near Infrared (NIR) technology as the pivotal tool for accurate waste analysis. Over the next nine months, Sorting for Circularity aims to see its open digital platform come to life, creating greater alignment between all parties as they work to build a more robust recycling infrastructure for the industry.

Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.