Fashion brands with take-back programs offer added reassurance against landfilling for mindful consumers — and many gain an edge for showing responsibility.
But are consumers biting?
At the end of 2019, sustainable swim and lifestyle brand Fair Harbor launched its online-only “Round Trip” take-back initiative aimed at closing the loop on its swimwear, which is already made of recycled plastic bottles. The brand also recently launched a kid’s line.
“In an effort to bring our entire process full circle, we started Round Trip to give outdated, old swimwear a second life. To date, we have received and recycled hundreds of swimsuits,” said Caroline Danhey, cofounder of Fair Harbor, who also spoke of the mammoth issue of plastic and microfiber pollution. “Our mission is to protect the places that we love by keeping waste — including clothing — out of landfills and waterways.
Customers go to the brand’s web site, fill out a form and receive an email with a prepaid shipping label to return swimwear — no matter the brand. In exchange, they also receive a $5 credit toward a future Fair Harbor purchase.
Behind the scenes, Fair Harbor partners with 2ReWear, a New Jersey-based post-consumer textile waste recycling company that utilizes its proprietary “Reuse and Reloop” recycling process to keep thousands of tons of used clothing out of landfills each year by redirecting garments to markets in need.
Since launching in 1993, Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program has repurposed 30 million shoes, earning clout as the oldest take-back program in the industry. The service is currently available in more than 150 stores in North America and will eventually expand to apparel.
The same year that Nike’s take-back program launched, Swedish footwear brand Vagabond Shoemakers was born — but its take-back program is still more nascent, running since 2017.
“End of 2019, we had two-and-a-half tons of used shoes collected. For 2020 it will unfortunately be much less due to the pandemic,” said Anna Fahle Björcke, Vagabond’s head of communications.
Vagabond works with a recycling partner called I:Collect, which also works with H&M Group. The service is available at the brand’s physical concept stores and is not available in the U.S. market.
“If you cannot collect with our program, we urge for our consumers to ask for and find other local solutions,” she said, attacking the heart of the issue: “First of all, the most sustainable thing to do is to only buy what you really love, care for it and wear it a lot. After that you pass it on to someone else or make sure it does not become regular waste.”
In other strides, footwear start-up Thousand Fell included the vision of its take-back program at launch, last November.
“We are spearheading true circular retail. We aren’t downcycling into other waste streams that eventually end up in landfill nor are we sending out sneakers waste-to-energy. We are turning old sneakers into new sneakers through like-for-like recycling,” said Stuart Ahlum, cofounder of Thousand Fell.
The program is available online at ThousandFell.com and Madewell.com, and is seeing enough traction to recycle its “first batch” in the spring, with more partnership announcements in store in the coming months.
Knickey is a New York-based organic underwear label giving customers recycling options for their intimates that they may not have known existed.
“Interestingly, the Recycling Program is often the first point of introduction to Knickey for new customers, and has proven to be a significant solution for people who consider the full impact of their disposal habits,” said Cayla O’Connell, founder and chief executive officer of Knickey.
Since launch, Knickey — small but mighty — has recycled thousands of end-of-life underwear, bras, socks and tights (of any brand) into insulation through a local nonprofit partner. On average, the brand receives 19 items per shipment from customers for recycling. And 54 percent of those orders are driving repeat business, based on one year of data.
“In an ideal world, clothing would be designed for reuse or regeneration, and in the absence of a perfectly circular fashion system it is absolutely the responsibility of the brand to consider the impact of their design choices — even after the products are sold and worn,” O’Connell said.
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