Eileen Fisher Shows How A Recycling Program Should Be Done

by: Lucy Jones | 2 years ago | News

A worker at Eileen Fisher’s Tiny Factory in New York. Image Source.

According to a recent report, less than 1% of the materials used to produce clothing are recycled to create new clothing. Instead, around 87% of the 98 million tonnes of non-renewable resources that the textile industry churns through each year end up being burned or sent to landfill. This is because most fashion companies follow a linear model — make, use and dispose — rather than a circular one. A circular business model — make, use and reuse — has the potential to drastically reduce clothing waste by repurposing existing products to create new products.

Fast fashion brands like H&M have launched recycling programs as a way to manage their enormous levels of unsold stock. The company claims that it recycles old clothing to make new garments but there is no evidence that this is actually taking place. In fact, an investigation carried out by Swedish television channel SVT in 2017 suggested that H&M was destroying large quantities of clothing instead of recycling them. Conflicting reports about H&M’s recycling efforts suggest that the company is trying to greenwash consumers by projecting an environmentally responsible image without actually being environmentally responsible. The trendier sustainability gets, the more this will happen. That’s why it’s so exciting to see a company like Eileen Fisher showing us how (and why) recycling should be done.

According to the Business of Fashion, the American clothing company launched a clothing return program in 2009 and has collected over 900,000 garments since then. This year, they opened a facility in Irvington, New York, where they repair or reuse these garments.

“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,” the label’s founder Eileen Fisher tells 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.”

The brand’s circular business model is all about getting the most out of the finite resources that are used to produce our clothes in the first place. Firstly, they offer customers a $5 payment for returning their used clothing. They sort through this clothing at the Tiny Factory, cleaning and then reselling what they can — 55 to 65% — in their Renew collection. The lower price point of these clothes also allows the brand to attract a wider range of customers. Stretched, stained or otherwise damaged garments are either repaired, by dying over a stain, for example, or used as materials to produce new garments. Bigger items of clothing are cut into new designs and smaller ones are used to make one-of-a-kind patchwork garments. A small percentage of these damaged garments are also donated to women’s shelters, art schools and disaster relief efforts. The company also recycles all of its labels, buttons and zippers to use in new collections or garment repairs.

The Tiny Factory houses a felting machine that shreds fabric to produce a new textile. This fabric is used to create one-off garments, home wares and wall hangings.

“Waste can be art,” Fisher explains. “It’s a statement about the possibilities.”

Cynthia Power, who manages the brand’s Renew collection, says that the closed loop approach needs to be adopted more widely if the fashion industry hopes to address its clothing waste problem. 

“At the end of the day we are still a relatively small company, and even if we were to become completely closed loop or circular, it’s not enough,” she explains.

Fisher agrees adding this call to arms: “Let’s change the industry, let’s work together, let’s share what we know.”

You can read more about Eileen Fisher’s innovative business model here.

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