Less than a week after revealing plans for a notable shift in strategy, Netherlands-based sustainable innovation platform Fashion for Good is making a push into an area sorely lacking in attention: extending the afterlife of garments in response to the growing problem of textile waste.
In an exclusive look at the Rewear project before its official announcement today, Sourcing Journal took a peek at what it means—particularly in light of the regulatory changes coming up in the European Union (EU). But also, as the first initiative after Fashion For Goods’s reveal of a new five-year strategic plan.
Speaking to SJ ahead of the launch of the project, Georgia Parker, innovation director, validation at Fashion for Good, described the essential need for the Rewear project.
“Our aim with this multi-stakeholder collaboration approach is that we really have a very comprehensive exploration of the textile waste space and the sustainable solutions that exist within the industry. All of the partners across our sorting projects really see the importance of mapping the journey of both the textile waste and rewearables in the different geographical locations because it helps them build a deeper understanding of where their product goes, how much is going where and what are the opportunities that may present themselves to do something there,” Parker explained.
“Obviously, regulation and legislation play a really important role in driving this, and what’s most exciting about this project is that it came from the brands themselves who said, ‘We have this problem, how can we collaborate together to drive toward a solution?’”
The Rewear project will bring together some of the biggest brands that have provided catalytic funding for the initiative, including Adidas, Bestseller, Bonprix, C&A, Inditex, Levi Strauss & Co., Otto Group, PVH Corp. and Zalando. They join some of the largest industrial textile sorters in Europe, including Erdotex, ModaRe, Humana People to People Baltic and Wtòrpol.
The goal: to address the challenge of sorting for rewearable textiles and better understand the resale potential and demand across the secondhand market.
Used textiles have tripled over the last two decades, from slightly more than 550,000 tons in 2000 to approximately 1.7 million tons in 2019.
Their fate has been somewhat uncertain—sometimes being shipped to textile recycling units within Europe, at other times across to Asia and Africa. Given unknown trajectories and requirements much of it often ends en masse in incinerators and landfills, creating a crisis for their destination countries as well as significant amounts of waste.
Could they have a better afterlife as rewear—and what would be the sorting process involved?
“It is complex,” said Parker. “Even within Europe, there are different processes in different stages of their journey. There’s a lot of work to do, in terms of alignment, scaling up these different technologies and solutions,” she noted, adding that there have already been “multiple iterations and workshops and discussions with the partners to make sure that any project really has a hypothesis that looks to address a problem that is being faced either by them or by the industry.”
There have also been learnings and perspectives from the Sorting for Circularity program, which was launched in 2021 across Europe, the United States and India on textile recycling—a sort of sibling project to the upcoming Rewear.
The Rewear project itself is starting with a select geography, being launched first in Lithuania (Nordic/Baltic), the Netherlands (Western), Poland (Central-Eastern), and Spain (Southern Europe).
Marianne Connolly, innovation analyst at Fashion for Good, explained that the locations were chosen based on the main import/export hubs in Europe.
“One of the reasons we chose these—other than the fact that they are the biggest import and export hubs—is that they also have a varied end-market profile,” she said. “Textiles collected within Germany and Netherlands, for example, are not always sorted within these countries and are exported to Poland and Lithuania which is why those regions are also very interesting to include. Having those large volumes makes these regions hotspots for change. They are really driving that export of secondhand textiles from Europe. So these regions, and the sorters there, act as key agents for change. That really helps us in better understanding how to redesign business models and how they can work with brands, resale initiatives, repair initiatives and really be those key change agents, as well as how to increase the percentage of rewearables and reuse activities that are happening within Europe and hopefully outside Europe as well.”
While many of the brand partners have worked with Fashion for Good before, new to this initiative are C&A and Otto Group.
The idea appears to be evocative across the value chain.
As Marieke Koemans-Kokkelink, Head of Sustainability, Erdotex, a big player in the sorting and processing of post-consumer textiles, observed: “With this project, we hope to clarify the myths and half-truths on post-consumer waste dumping, but also salvage those by understanding the processes and journeys these garments travel. Then we can reach true circularity.”
The 18-month program, which is expected to track and analyze these issues, takes on added importance given the legislative changes looming in the EU, including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes mandating accountability on garments placed on the market, and the Waste Shipment Regulation which imposes stricter restrictions on textile exports outside EU borders, underscoring the urgency for comprehensive solutions.
“2024 is a very pivotal and even a transformational year for the textile industry when it comes to policy development,” she added.
Dolly Vellanki, Innovation Associate, Fashion for Good, concurred.
“Of the main policies that are being developed or the milestones for 2024, the main one is the eco-design for sustainable products regulation. This is a cornerstone piece for the legislation within the textile strategy. This legislation overall is trying to improve the product circularity parameters whether that is durability, repairablity or recyclability, but also increase the uptake of recycled content and lots of other topics that include recycling and transparency. The European Commission is really working on the different delegated acts, so whether that is the digital product passport or the destruction of unsold goods, there are a lot of different acts being looked at in 2024,” she said.
Vellanki added that the program should help the different stakeholders who were anxiously looking ahead at the incoming legislation.
“This project is quite unique from the get-go because the brands came to us with a challenge that they were facing, it was a real procreative process as well, not just with the brands in Fashion for Good, but we also included sorters from a very early point on while looking at the problem over the last year and a half, and also the resale initiatives,” she said. “We were able to look at it in terms of data gaps, overlaps—opportunities for us to really play a role in solving the challenge and creating a comprehensive snapshot in terms of what’s happening in the rewearable textile space. [We looked at] where investments are needed, where infrastructure needs to be developed, what it would take to really unlock that circular business model in the value chain,” she observed.
This new initiative itself marks the first step in the evolution of Fashion for Good.
A heightened focus on innovation is key to the new five-year plan announced by the group last week, which will aim to drive implementation for select innovators within the supply chain, with support from key suppliers, brands and manufacturers. The new strategy will be focused on driving widespread adoption and expansion of regenerative fashion innovations, strengthening the innovation platform and its efforts in brand engagement, supplier integration, financing and impact assessment.
Since it launched in 2017, Fashion for Good has secured its position in fostering collaborative innovation for the fashion industry, having catalyzed 1.9 billion euros ($2.06 billion) in funding for innovators through a leading investor framework. More than 2,800 innovations have been assessed and 173 innovators have been through Fashion for Good programs with 34 percent, or 59 innovators, having realized first implementations with industry partners.
In a renewed focus this new strategy will center on five pillars.
- Innovators: Establishing a dedicated scaling team to provide bespoke support for winning innovations focused on brand uptake, supplier integration, financing and impact measurement.
- Suppliers: Launching the strategic supplier program to engage brands’ key suppliers in actively scaling and implementing promising innovations and orchestrating supply and demand.
- Brands: Enabling brand partners to facilitate cross-functional innovation agendas, structures and processes
- Investors: Stepping up investment support to cover all innovator stages and capital types.
- Public: Ensuring public awareness about the role of innovations by sharing insights, learnings and demonstrating proof points, amplifying the organization’s voice on innovations and industry change via its channels and through media partnerships.
“As Fashion for Good navigates the evolving landscape of the fashion industry, we are poised to intensify efforts through our Innovation Platform. This move is not only about adapting to change but leading it with focused and effective action,” Katrin Ley, managing director, Fashion for Good, said in a statement last week. “We’re making operational adjustments to drive industry-wide innovation adoption more effectively. This strategic shift goes hand in hand with the decision to close the Fashion for Good Museum.”
The aforementioned Fashion for Good Museum will be shutting its doors in June and transforming into an expanded, versatile, blended-use and co-working space as part of the evolution of the new plan.
The realignment of the museum is being seen as a “significant step forward in the journey,” with the museum learnings, collections, tools and objects made available through a free, open-access digital platform on the Fashion for Good website, for continued use and benefit of educators, the cultural sector and the wider public.
Meanwhile, the Museum’s closing exhibition. “What Goes Around Comes Around” will focus on circularity within various circles of influence and pioneering artists, innovators and designers working to shift the fashion industry with new solutions. It will run from Jan. 27 through June 5.