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H&M’s Circular Design Story Capsule Showcases Regenerated Polyester

H&M’s newest sustainable capsule collection centers on circularity—and the company tapped a Los Angeles materials producer for help sourcing an input that’s both recycled and recyclable.

On Monday, the Swedish fashion firm previewed its Circular Design Story, the latest chapter in a series of lines using ecologically focused inputs and processes. H&M showcased the capsule of men’s and women’s apparel, which drops Thursday, at the Downtown L.A. headquarters of textile recycling company Ambercycle, a longtime partner and recipient of the H&M Foundation’s 2016 Global Change Award.

The cold-weather collection, which ranges in price from $49-$549, includes knee-length trench coats, power suiting and occasion-wear like cocktail dresses. Each garment incorporates textiles and fabrications made from waste materials—from Vegea’s vegan grape-skin-derived leather to ocean plastic fiber Repreve and Naia Renew’s cellulosic acetate, made from plastics and carpet destined for landfills.

Monday’s showcase also highlighted Ambercycle’s signature product, Cycora, a regenerated polyester made from textile waste that starred in a pair of slim, black, strappy trousers with detachable, embellished ankle cuff straps made with recycled glass beads and Resortecs’ dissolvable sewing thread. Rosario Dawson, a model and actor as well as the face of H&M’s spring 2019 Conscious campaign and an expert on the company’s Global Change Award Panel, modeled the pants at the event.

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H&M's black trousers were made using Cycora regenerated polyester.
H&M’s black trousers were made using Cycora regenerated polyester. Ambercycle

Ambercycle, founded in 2015 by material enthusiasts and environmental advocates Shay Sethi and Moby Ahmed, has garnered interest from industry heavyweights like H&M for its proprietary polyester re-processing technique. The company collects used garments not fit for resale from organizations like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, as well as from consumers interested in doing good. It accepts clothing made with poly-blends of all kinds, isolating the polymer content in a chemical reactor.

“The easiest way to think about it is that we’re just cooking the clothing,” Ahmed said on a tour of the company’s processing plant. “All of the all of the synthetic material is liquefied” and then re-spun into new fibers.

“We’re not shredding and re-spinning,” he said, which results in yarns made from shorter fibers that are less durable than virgin material. Instead, the polymers are melted down into a resin and packed into plastic pellet form, ready to be extruded into yarns by the company’s partners. “What that allows you to do is create a new material without sacrificing quality,” Ahmed said. What’s more, fabrics made using Cycora can undergo the same process indefinitely, effectively closing the loop, he added.

Dawson at Ambercycle's Cycora production facility on Monday.
Dawson at Ambercycle’s Cycora production facility on Dec. 6. Ambercycle

The process provides a solution to one of the industry’s most pervasive problems: textile waste. The sector has struggled to find circular solutions for the tons of garments discarded each year, both because of overproduction and the prevalence of complex material blends that have proven difficult—if not impossible—to separate and repurpose. While the issue looms large in the eyes of conscious consumers, it also represents an opportunity, as “there’s a lot of material that’s capable of being regenerated through new technology,” Ahmed said.

Working with one of the world’s largest fashion firms and being awarded its Global Change Award has helped put Ambercycle on the map, co-founder Sethi said, and the six-year-old venture is looking to scale to expand its impact. Ambercycle is exploring production space in the Southeastern U.S. and the Midwest, he said, which would broaden its footprint and capacity. Currently, the L.A. facility processes about 1,000 T-shirts-worth of fabric per day, and Ahmed hopes to see that figure increase ten-fold when new facilities open.

“Our core technology is what our broader vision of circularity is built around,” he said. “We want to eliminate the concept of waste, and this technology allows us to turn that waste into a new resource.”