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Clothing Companies Start Creating Their Own Circular Economy

Everyone has to have clothes, but what to do with them when they’re done. H&M and North Face are starting pioneering programs to take old clothes and help extend their lifecycle.

Take-back programs are the most efficient form of recycling. Returning apparel to its maker raises its chances of re-use, or re-purpose. So, it’s good to see two more retailers getting into circularity: H&M and North Face.

North Face is installing Clothes the Loop bins in 10 stores in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. And they’re prepared to accept not only North Face clothing. The material is going to I:CO recycling, where it will be resold or recycled into insulation, carpet padding, and stuffing for toys. H&M is putting in "Long live fashion!" boxes at stores in 48 markets. In return for returning, customers get 15% off their next purchase. They can leave two bags a day.

North Face points out:

In 2010, the U.S. EPA estimated that over 26 billion pounds of apparel, footwear, and other textiles were thrown away. Nearly 85 percent of which ended up in the landfill. That’s about 70 pounds per U.S. resident! Much of that can be reused or recycled and kept in a closed production cycle. By doing so, you help protect and preserve valuable material resources and help build a healthier planet.

Other recent examples of circularity in the apparel sector: Mud Jeans, which leases its products to ensure they’re returned; and Patagonia, which repairs and helps you resell their products.

A recent report called apparel the new frontier in the circular economy. With the chance to reduce input costs, and form a "circular" relationship with customers, the idea seems worth exploring for retailers.