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Re:newcell to Launch First Garments Made from Circular Cotton

Re:newcell is getting serious about recycling.

The Swedish startup is poised to roll out the world’s first garments made from Circulose, a new “climate-friendly” material derived from old jeans, T-shirts and other discarded cotton clothing.

It’s the first company, it says, to accomplish the feat on an industrial scale.

Circulose garments will be available to buy in stores in partnership with select brands early next year. The company describes the move as nothing short of transformational for an industry that relies so heavily on virgin resources.

“The fashion scene is always changing but the industry itself never really has,” Harald Cavalli-Björkman, head of brand for Circulose, said in a statement. “It has always been about growing more cotton, pumping more oil or harvesting more trees in order to sell more of the must-have pieces of the season.”

Yet less than 1 percent of old clothing goes on to be made into new clothing, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. In any given year, 73 percent of the material used to create garments ends up in the landfill or incinerator, the nonprofit found.

“It’s crazy,” Cavalli-Björkman said.

But Re:newcell thinks it has an answer. It takes garments that cannot be resold, strips them of any zippers or buttons and then “de-dyes” them to remove any color. What is left is crushed into a pulp and picked clean of contaminants such as polyester so only cellulose remains.

Finally, the slurry is dried and turned into sheets of “pure Circulose,” which are packaged into bales and shipped for processing into textiles. Clothing made from Circulose, Re:newcell says, can be recycled several more times in the same way.

“Circulose was created with the ambition to shift the entire industry to circularity and to dramatically lower the impact fashion has on the environment,” Cavalli-Björkman said.

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One brand that has already thrown in its support its H&M. The Swedish retailer took a minority stake in Re:newcell in 2017 as part of its goal to become “100 percent circular” by 2030. (It has also invested in Infinited Fiber, a Finnish firm that says it can recycle textile waste into new fibers “infinitely,” and Worn Again, a U.K.-based technology company that extracts polyester polymers and cellulose from clothing to create new raw materials.)

“Re:newcell’s” technology has the potential to become a commercial and scalable solution for the industry and accelerate the journey from a linear fashion industry towards a circular one,” Cecilia Brännsten, H&M’s environmental sustainability manager, said at the time.

More collaborations are on the horizon, too. In May, Singapore’s Royal Golden Eagle, which operates Sateri, one of the world’s leading viscose producers, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Re:newcell to trial production of viscose using recycled cotton.

“Fashion will kill this planet if it doesn’t change,” Cavalli-Björkman said. “As a new material, we knew Circulose had to do three things in order to make a real difference in the industry—it needed to be circular, it needed to be affordable, and it needed to deliver the quality that people expect. And here we are! We’re now incredibly excited about our upcoming collaborations with some of the world’s leading brands to bring this material to the fashion runways and into the closets where it belongs.”