“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere. – Annie Leonard”
The current linear “take-make-waste” world of fashion (yup, sportswear is “fashion” too) basically means we take resources out of the ground, turn it into clothes, wear them for a while (according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, clothing utilisation, or how often we wear our clothes, has dropped 36% in the last decade), then throw it away.
The vast majority of fibres that make up clothes (whether synthetic or natural) are heavily reliant on fossil fuels either as the raw material, or to generate energy in one form or another, to grow, harvest, process, and manufacture. So it’s a very resource-heavy and damaging industry.
As a clothing industry we produce 100bn items every single year globally.
A Hundred Thousand Million items of clothes made every year.
Only 1% of garments are recycled back into clothing. The rest are either downcycled into things like insulation or rags, incinerated, or landfilled.
So we’re wasting huge amounts of valuable resources and the model is fundamentally unsustainable.
For the most part this is driven by the fast fashion model of ever-changing seasons demanding cheap throw-away garments. When you can buy a t-shirt for £4 or a pair of jeans for a tenner you can guarantee that no-one on the supply chain is going to be treated too well, including the environment. And clothes that cheap have no emotional value so they just end up in the bin soon after purchase.
What can you do?
The single most important thing you can do to reduce the impact of your garments is to buy once, buy well. Extending the life of your garments (one of the key principles of circularity) can significantly reduce their whole life-cycle impact:
WRAP research shows that extending the life of clothes by nine extra months can reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by around 4-10% each.
Only buy kit when you need it, as opposed to just wanting it, and spend as much as you can reasonably afford on your next purchase. If you spend more you’re likely to be investing in a company with a fairer supply chain (not always), and you’re more likely to build an emotional connection with a garment. If you love your jersey, care for it properly - you will find your jersey will last a few years instead of months, and you won’t be reaching for that “buy now” button quite so often. Better for the world, and for your wallet.
Then when you’re done with your garments instead of throwing them in the bin:
- Repair them if they’re damaged so you can keep wearing them
- Donate them (but if they’re in a bad way don’t just take them to a charity shop to ease your conscience as they’ll still end up in landfill, at a cost to the charity)
- Send your old Presca kit to us so we can recycle it (we’re currently working on a take-back solution)
Our next steps
Since the outset we’ve been more “circular” than our competitors, through the use of recycled materials in all of our garments but we have still had a way to go to reach full circularity
Design for circularity
So we’re in the process of making a fundamental shift in the way that we design our garments to ensure that all our garments are designed with circular principles in mind:
- From recycled materials
- Designed for longevity
- Recyclable / biodegradable at the end of life
We’re currently working on a design manual that will explore how we best meet the first three of these principles, through smart fabric choices and manufacturing techniques.
The main aim of making sustainable clothing should be to keep it in use for as long as possible. With that in mind we are currently investigating setting up a garment repair facility or working with a provider of this service in order to prolong the life of our garments.
The fourth principle, recycling, should always be the last step in the life of a garment, when it is truly beyond repair and reuse.
We can make garments more recyclable/biodegradable through the fabric choices we make. Specifically:
- Avoiding blends of synthetic and natural fibres
- Reducing use of Elastane in our garments, which is very tricky to recycle
- Avoiding complex fibre blends – some fabrics on the market have up to 5 constituent fibres. Increased complexity in the fabric = increased complexity in recycling
- Focus on mono-material construction wherever possible
We’re about to embark on a trial of a novel enhanced recycling process to deconstruct polyester fabric into its constituent elements, so that it can be reformed into of-virgin-quality polyester, to be made into brand new clothing.
We will trial garment recycling technologies in 2020 and beyond, in order to identify the best solutions to enable end-of-life recycling of our complete range, at the same time testing the logistical challenge of garment take-back.
Circularity Target: Our first circular range of garments will launch in 2020, and by 2022 all new garment designs will be fully circular, with a process in place to take these back and recycle them at end of life.