Circular principles continue to drive a more sustainable future, as the fashion, carpet and steel industries zero in on resource efficiency and innovative raw materials.
Over the last decade, Eileen Fisher has established itself as a leader in the sustainable fashion movement, a position that is largely the result of its ability to successfully integrate circularity into its supply chain. In 2009, the label launched a clothing take-back program which now serves as the backbone of its Renew and Resewn collections. A key player in this process? Tiny Factory — the company’s fledgling circular workspace, where reclaimed garments are given new life.
Tiny Factory, which is only a year old, emerged out of a need for more space to sort and repair reclaimed garments but has become a crucial component of future-fitting the company. Establishing a closed-loop system for its materials has not only allowed Eileen Fisher to reduce impacts, it will help the company offset future costs as resources become scarce and prices increase as a result.
“I’m a believer that we have to take responsibility for the stuff we put out there, and we have to take responsibility for how it is made,” Fisher told Business of Fashion. “It points back to our materials — when you start with quality materials that are sustainable, whatever you create is beautiful, you feel the integrity of it.”
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At Tiny Factory, received garments go through an exacting sorting process. Those in good condition — approximately 55 to 65 percent — are cleaned and resold as part of the Eileen Fisher Renew collection at a reduced price. The Renew collection is available in Tiny Factory’s storefront; The Lab store in Irvington, NY; and Eileen Fisher stores in Seattle, WA; New York; and Northampton, MA. Last year, the line produced $2.5 to $3 million in sales and generated $200,00 – $300,000 in profits.
The remaining 35 to 45 percent — garments that are damaged, stretched or stained — are submitted to further sorting, with the most common damages noted to inform future product development and facilitate future reuse. Clothing is repaired or overdyed in the case of staining and then finds its way back into the ranks of the Renew collection.
Items beyond repair are sorted by fiber content, construction, color and style and are used to make new products. Labels, buttons and zippers are removed and returned to Eileen Fisher’s factory partners for use in the mainline or for repairs. New pieces are produced using engineered patterns (adapting Eileen Fisher patterns to available materials) or yardage, a process in which damaged garments are cut into squares, stitched together and treated as conventional fabric. In both cases, the results are unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.
Leftover scraps and garments that cannot be salvaged pass through a felting machine. Fabrics are shredded and layered into a felt material that can be used to make new pieces, well as architectural insulation and upholstery. The company is currently exploring the possibility of creating a range of felted decor.
Since the creation of its take-back program, Eileen Fisher has collected around 900,000 garments, but the success of the program presently outweighs the company’s distribution capacity. Currently, over 100,000 Renew pieces are sitting at Tiny Factory awaiting their fate. However, there are plans in the works to bring Renew and Resewn to more markets. A recent partnership with retail giant Nordstrom is one solution. In September, Eileen Fisher hosted a series of pop-up shops at five Nordstrom locations across the country. The fashion label also plans to open a store in Boerum Hill in Brooklyn, where it will sell new, recycled and renewed clothing. According to the company, this format will help highlight the interconnectedness between the new season collections and the Resewn and Renew lines and help drive sales.
This final point is an important one. Beyond its environmental benefits, the company’s closed-loop supply chain has helped the brand open itself up to new market opportunities. Fisher says that price and purpose play a critical role in this. “Price is an issue, a barrier, for us too and we see [resonance] with the Renew basic resale prices. Philosophically is really where you can hook [the younger consumer]. She really likes that we are doing this and she can feel good about shopping here… We definitely think it’s a pathway.”
This sentiment is echoed by a growing pile of evidence linking sustainability performance and consumers’ spending habits. Consumers are increasingly seeking out more sustainable products and brands that take a stance on environmental and social issues.
Meanwhile, DSM, a Dutch science-based multinational focused on health, nutrition and materials, and startup Niaga (‘again’ spelled backwards) have entered into a partnership with the common goal of cleaning up the carpet industry.
Glues present a significant problem to circularity, making it difficult for components and materials to be separated and salvaged at product end-of-life. This issue is particularly relevant for the carpet industry, where considerable volumes of carpet make their way into landfill each year due to the difficulty and resultant economic unviability of carpet recycling. Together, DSM and Niaga have decided to tackle the problem at its root, designing carpets that are fully recyclable.
‘Reversible’ glue is the centerpiece of the new design. Unlike conventional glue, DSM and Niaga’s adhesive solution works like a screw and “unclicks” when exposed to a signal after use, thereby allowing the recovery of materials and enhancing the business case for recycling.
In addition to enhancing recycling, the simplified process also allows for easier installation, while the new formula has improved carpets’ fire and stain resistance, as well as the energy and water efficiency of their production.
DSM-Niaga are now exploring other applications for its reversible adhesive. The partners recently announced a collaboration with mattress firm Royal Auping to redesign mattresses for circularity. Mattresses, along with carpets and diapers, are in the top five items sent to landfill globally.
Finally, ArcelorMittal, the world’s leading integrated steel and mining company, has been commended by The Circulars, the most prestigious award program for the circular economy, for its leadership and innovation in applying circular economy principles to its business models.
The company is in the process of transitioning to zero waste and has been collaborating with internal experts, academia and its customers to uncover new ways to transform the way it does business. In particular, the company is being acknowledged for its use of new technologies to create new products and materials, maximize efficiency, minimize waste and create jobs.
Partnering with technical and industry leaders to develop and scale up groundbreaking carbon capture and utilization technology, ArcelorMittal has created products such as Steelanol, a biofuel made from waste carbon monoxide, with the help of microbes. This high-grade ethanol can be used for transportation and to make plastics. The company anticipates Steelanol could create 2000 direct and indirect jobs and generate €300 million a year by 2025, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions — five million tons worth a year by 2025.
The company has also been manufacturing a low-carbon cement, ECOCEM, from its slag and selling it directly to customers. In France alone, this has already reduced the cement industry’s CO2 emissions by nearly two million tons and from 2018 onwards, it is projected to further reduce those emissions by an additional one million tons a year. Selling this by-product generates over €100 million in revenue annually.
ArcelorMittal has also been working to stretch product lifecycles by leasing sheet piles for short-term projects, rather than selling them — and then leasing them again. The company’s comparative studies show reusing sheet piles has 86 percent less global warming potential than permanent sheet piles and 90 percent less global warming potential than a concrete retaining wall. Similarly, through the circular building exhibited at the London Design Festival in 2016, the company demonstrated the concept of steel reuse for entire steel structures, given they are designed, dismantled and reused with the circular economy in mind.
Additionally, the company has been torrefying waste wood and using it to replace coal in its blast furnaces, harnessing and using energy that would otherwise have been lost. In doing so, ArcelorMittal expects to recycle two to four million tons of waste wood each year by 2025, saving it approximately €100 million annually.
The Circulars 2018, an initiative of the World Economic Forum and The Forum of Young Global Leaders, run in collaboration with Accenture Strategy and given at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos. The award recognizes individuals and organizations from around the world who are making notable contributions to the circular economy.
“Being highly commended by the Circulars 2018 is a fantastic achievement and highlights how far we have come as a steel company to change not only the way we do things, but also the way we are perceived as a corporate citizen,” said Alan Knight, General Manager and Head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development at ArcelorMittal. “We have long talked about the value steel brings to people’s lives and its unparalleled recyclability, but now we are finding ways to take those ideas further and become a zero-waste company by integrating circular economy principles into everything we do.”