Our regular analysis selects one or more news stories from fashion technology, and presents The Interline‘s take on why they matter to our global brand and retail audience – as well as what they might mean for the longer-term future of fashion. As always, this analysis is also delivered to Interline Insiders by email and signing up continues to be the best way to get a fresh look at the fashion technology news, completely free, in your inbox.

Action across the full spectrum of sustainability

There have been developments across the entire scope of sustainability this week – from regulations and secondary markets, to new initiatives and new data on the scale of recycling and repair.

First up: major brands and retail groups continue to invest in improving the sustainability profile of new products – lessening the impact of their current first-hand model, and working to increase their ability to comply with tightening regulations. As a potent example, Gucci and its parent company Kering have launched  an innovation centre in Tuscany, called the ‘Circular Hub’, to “foster breakthrough innovation to accelerate the circular transformation of luxury fashion.” The wording here seems slightly odd, given that the additional details appear to be more focused on softening the impact of bringing new styles to market rather than extending the lifespan of existing ones, but in practice the two go hand-in-hand; products designed to have longer lives, and multiple owners, are, by definition, going to be the foundations upon which tomorrow’s circular economies are built.

Staying in the luxury space, high-end fashion marketplace owner Yoox (with its reported 4.2 million active customers) is opening up their channel for the secondary / preloved market, to keep precisely those kinds of products in the rotation for as long as possible.

But what about products that have reached the end of their useful lifespan in both primary and secondary markets? That’s where we enter the sphere of repair and recycling, which are just as much part of the circular economy as a channel to move aftermarket goods.

And recycling is what Swedish company Renewcell are working on, announcing their ambition to perform textile-to-textile recycling at industrial scale (this is distinct textile to other uses, as is the case with other models of recycling and repurposing, such as using denim to make housing insulation).

Renewcell’s new initiative is being billed as the first commercial mill capable of using chemical recycling to process the equivalent of more than 1.4 billion T-shirts every year by 2030. Although estimations of the total number of new t-shirts made and sold every year varies, that figure is likely to represent a significant share of the total market segment – making the claim something of a milestone if the vision is realised.

A cloud, though, hangs over how the industry will continue to assess and manage the scale of this problem, since a vast amount of used textiles are currently leaving the EU with little traceability. According to the European Environment Agency, used textiles that were exported from the EU have spiralled upwards from around 550,000 tonnes to almost 1.7 million tonnes in the last two decades. 

Where do these textiles go, exactly? Some are downcycled into industrial rags or filling, or re-exported for recycling in Asia or for reuse in Africa. However, of the estimated 100 million garments produced each year, 92 million tonnes will end up in landfills, painting a dim picture of the share of used products that become part of the circular economy today. 

It’s clear that the fashion industry has a traceability problem post-product too, just as is the case with new products. On that basis, as compelling as Renewcell’s solution seems at the pure scale level, the hidden benefit of this and other similar approaches could give the fashion industry a way to also capture some degree of certainty as to what happens with its products post-consumer.

And this week also saw the reveal of some further data that could help to substantiate just how often a particular product type successfully has the kind of extended lifecycle that will characterise the circular economy. Another Swedish company, Nudie Jeans, has been offering repair services to its customers for several years, and the brand has now broken down the statistics of that programme from 2019 to 2022. 

Nudie Jeans performed 63,281 repairs in 2019, saw a slump in the scheme during the pandemic, and then measured it scaling back up again last year – to 58,000 pairs. For a single brand of this size, these are impressive but not industry-changing statistics. But while these repairs probably only indicate a small share of the total number of products Nudie Jeans sells, and are likely contingent on the quality of the original product to begin with (nobody is going to be repairing cheap jeans as readily), this type of added benefit has demonstrably incentivised customers to buy, according to the brand’s statistics, and has also opened up the conversation around circularity – illustrating just how significant each pillar of sustainability is going to be to minimising fashion’s footprint, no matter their scale.

Setting a standard for inclusivity

Outdoor gear retailer REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc) has taken a noteworthy step this week by establishing a new baseline for inclusivity. For the uninitiated, the company sells its own-brand products, but also stocks apparel, footwear, accessories and equipment from a who’s who of outdoor and mission-driven brands like Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and Salomon. In total, REI sells more than 1,300 brands across a network of 170 physical stores and its online channel.

To achieve their commitment to ‘inclusive outdoor culture’, the outfitter has just revised its inclusivity standards for all the brands that it stocks; requiring that each of them offers a fully comprehensive size range across all its products, with price parity even at the different ends of the sizing spectrum. This edict also accompanies stricter rules around diversity and inclusion in marketing materials, and the enforcement of a ban on cultural appropriation.

(For clarity: some of the brands REI stocks, including those we mentioned, will already meet these standards, as the result of years of proactive effort.)

These new standards – from a retailer of notable scale – are important because they encompass both “soft” metrics (cultural appropriation has a significant subjective element) and “hard” ones (sizing is either inclusive, with numerous stops across ranges, and calculations of ratios). But both are likely to be featured in future standards set by other retailers, and while cultural appropriation is a sensitive task for design, mandated inclusive sizing requires much broader-reaching practical considerations.

For those brands that already have comprehensive size ranges, this is vindication of their approach. However, for brands that don’t have as many different stops across the sizing spectrum as this mandate requires, compliance will be a challenge. The difficulty will come from a fit engineering perspective – where they’ll need to introduce new models and new grading rules – and also from a costing point of view, since the requirement is to offer new sizes without also raising prices for garments at the different ends of the size range, where they will need to use more (or fewer) materials, and where size ratios (i.e. the relative percentage of SKUs that are made in those sizes) have made it traditional difficult to realise a profit. 

This week and in previous newsletters, we’ve already talked about standards and regulations being set at the government level, but this is an example of how brands that sell through other avenues than their own direct-to-consumer channels will also find themselves being influenced by new standards and new baselines for everything from inclusivity to sustainability. Because REI might not be setting a environmental gateway for their brands to pass right now, but they (or any other major stockist) could easily do so in the very near future – whether the roots are in government policy or not.

The best from The Interline:

This week we published a collaboration with online fabric sourcing platform, SwatchOn on how digital fabric twins are defining fashion’s new trajectories. We also published two exclusive features, written by the CEO of Alvanon, and by the Founder and CEO of WORLD OF MESH – both extracted from our industry-defining DPC Report.

With more people than ever joining the 3D / DPC journey in both directions, we worked with SwatchOn – creators of both a platform for physical fabric sourcing and a new service and library for turnkey access to genuine digital fabric twins  – to produce a feature exploring digital fabrics: one of the most important parts of fashion’s creative and commercial futures.

In her feature, Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon, a global fashion innovations company reinventing the way fashion works and shaping the future of fit, questions whether fashion’s adoption of 3D has prioritised aesthetics over producibility?

In her feature, Marie Bastian, Founder and CEO of WORLD OF MESH, a 3D fashion service agency, explores whether cultural change and organisational composition could dictate how successfully brands are able to migrate to digital-native working.