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Jeans Redesign: Tackling jeans to make the fashion industry circular with ASOS, H&M & Tommy Hilfiger

The fashion industry globally produces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the combined annual output of all the world’s international flights and maritime shipping journeys. This is something that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation wants to change. It has put forward a vision for a circular economy for fashion that will transform the industry.

This is based on the premise that products will be used more, made to be made again and produced from safe or renewable raw materials. “This will change not just garments but the services, supply chains and business models,” says Juliet Lennon, programme manager, Jeans Redesign, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Jeans Redesign is the project launched in July 2019 to start realising this vision. It is focused on an iconic product that is made in a very resource intensive way and is difficult to remake after wear in order to demonstrate that it is possible to redesign products fit for the circular economy.

With the help of 72 brands, retailers, garment manufacturers, fabric mills and others – including ASOS, BAM Bamboo Clothing, Banana Republic, C&A, Chloé, Gap, H&M, Lee, Levi Strauss & Co, Marks & Spencer, Monki, MUD Jeans, Primark, Reformation, Tommy Hilfiger, Urban Outfitters EU and Wrangler – it has been investigating existing solutions and barriers and identifying innovation gaps.

Two years after it first started its work, the project has published common guidelines and definitions showing how jeans can be produced that are durable, traceable and recyclable, and made from safe materials using safe processes.

More than half a million redesigned pairs of jeans “fit for the circular economy” and manufactured using these guidelines have now gone on sale. “This is still a fraction of the total jeans market. However, the point of this project was to prove that it’s possible, to be the starting point and to build from that,” says Lennon.

Jeans Redesign has not only driven innovation and identified gaps and barriers that are yet to be overcome, but also proved what the industry can achieve. In the first two years, some criteria were consistently reported as being among the toughest requirements for participants to meet. These include:

  • Sourcing cellulose-based fibres produced in nature-positive ways;
  • Finding hardware solutions that don’t use conventional electroplating – a technique that generates hazardous waste;
  • Sourcing zips that can be removed and reused or recycled without losing fabric; • Sourcing buttons that can be removed;
  • Working out how sewing can replace rivets designed to add strength to areas such as pockets; and limiting non cellulose based fibres to 2% or less to ensure recyclability, while still delivering styles and comfort that appeal to customers (including jeans with stretch).

During this time, new business models for jeans have evolved including rental and made-to-order, while large organisations have broken down silos, started working across teams and shared knowledge of the circular economy across different parts of their business.

This article was originally featured in the Sustainability 2021 report. For further information on COP26 in the context of retail, consumer perceptions of sustainability and retailer transparency, download the full report here.

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