H&M wants its customers to see how old clothes can be transformed into new.
On Oct. 12, the Swedish retailer will launch Looop, a container-sized garment-to-garment recycling system that will debut in one of its Drottninggatan stores in Stockholm, where it will mechanically shred cotton and wool castoffs into fibers, spin them into new yarn and then reknit them into “new fashion finds”—specifically a sweater, a scarf or a baby blanket.
Part of a partnership with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) and Hong Kong-based yarn spinner Novetex Textiles, the system is similar to a setup that rolled out in the Tsuen Wan neighborhood of Hong Kong in 2018. Like its predecessor, Looop uses no water or chemicals, making the process of remaking garments less of a strain on the environment than creating clothing from scratch. Some virgin material is still needed, but H&M says it will work to make this share “as small as possible.”
For 100 Swedish kronor ($11.26), members of the retailer’s loyalty club can watch Looop turn “their old garment into a new favorite.” For non-members, the price is 150 Swedish kronor ($16.89). All proceeds will benefit projects related to research on creating more circular materials. H&M did not specify how long customers will have to wait for their new threads, but the Hong Kong system was able to recreate looks in as little as four hours.
As a stand-alone structure that is only nominally pegged to any scaled-up program, Looop, in its current form anyway, is more theater than strategy, and one that would be hard-pressed to keep up with the 29,005 tons of textiles H&M collected in 2019 through its take-back program. Not to mention, Looop cannot handle polyester or polyester-blended garments, which comprise the bulk of clothing manufactured today, though H&M told Sourcing Journal it is “fine-tuning” the system to accept other types of garments. (Polyester surpassed cotton as the world’s most popular fiber in 2007.) Still, the retailer says it’s part of a bigger ambition to become “fully circular and climate positive.” By 2030, H&M aims for all its materials to be either recycled or more sustainably sourced. The figure, as of 2019, stands at 57 percent.
H&M Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, has also provided funding for HKRITA’s efforts to solve one of textile recycling’s biggest challenges: how to tease apart post-consumer cotton-and-polyester-blended fabrics and recover their constituent components. That technique uses heat, water and less than 5 percent of “biodegradable green chemicals” to degrade the cotton fibers into cellulose powder and separate them from the entangled polyester.
“We are constantly exploring new technology and innovations to help transform the fashion industry as we are working to reduce the dependency on virgin resources,” Pascal Brun, head of sustainability at H&M, said in statement. “Getting customers on board is key to achieve real change and we are so excited to see what Looop will inspire.”
H&M, perhaps in response to criticisms about the profligacy of so-called fast fashion, has doubled down on textile recycling, investing heavily in startups like Re:newcell and Infinited Fiber in its quest to crack the code on waste and shrink its virgin footprint. Because of the limitations of mechanical recycling, only 1 percent of all clothing is currently recycled into new ones, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Brands looking to boost their eco bonafides are betting on green-chemistry firms, however nascent, to eventually fill the breach.
“We must innovate materials and processes while inspiring customers to keep their garments in use for as long as possible,” Brun said.