Late last month, Reformation, the brand behind cool-girl sustainable dresses and a “sustainability in progress” mindset, announced a new partnership with SuperCircle, a fiber-to-fiber recycling program.
Collecting clothing donations by other brands to be recycled is SuperCircle’s next goal, with Reformation as their inaugural brand partner. Brands like For Days, Girlfriend Collective and Madewell currently run similar “recycling as a service” initiatives.
One of the biggest issues with fiber-to-fiber recycling is that a large amount of clothes is needed to start the process — so the more brands that can participate, the better. Typically, a brand must collect at least a ton of clothing in a particular fiber or fiber composition in order to process it.
In the U.S., over 16 million tons of textiles are tossed in the trash each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. To help combat this issue, Reformation is launching RefRecycling, powered by SuperCircle, an experiential recycling program that was founded by the same people behind shoe brand Thousand Fell who worked together on their initial launch. Reformation previously worked on a RefRecycling program with Community Recycling in 2015.
To participate, customers can drop off items at any U.S. Reformation retail location or request a shipping label online. SuperCircle manages the tech interface, collection and sorting of items. It then gets the items to best-in-class textile recycling partners which convert consumer waste into new fibers to use in new products. In exchange for responsibly recycling, customers receive Reformation credit for future purchases: $25 for shoes, $15 for jeans, and $10 for sweaters and activewear. And they can see whether a donated piece was ultimately upcycled, recycled or downcycled on Reformation’s initiative website.
“With RefRecycling and the collaboration with SuperCircle, this is a first chance to collaborate across other brands that might be doing similar take-back programs with similar fibers or compositions. We are working with SuperCircle to develop really strong relationships with the fiber recycling partners based on the category and to get a lot of other brands involved,” said Kathleen Talbot, Reformation’s chief sustainability officer and vp of operations.
Recycling as a service can be a useful way to engage consumers in seeing the value of their worn garments. For many, convenience still wins when it comes to clothing that cannot be re-sold for a profit. Although traditional retailers like H&M and Uniqlo have offered limited run take-back programs for years, DTC online brands other than Reformation are only going there now. As such, there’s new potential for progress: If businesses work together, fiber-to-fiber recycling will be possible for a larger pool of brands.
“There are a lot of take-back programs where brands have been doing this for years, but they’ve never hit the product minimum to do anything with what they are collecting. They probably have a container of slowly accumulating items that customers have sent back. But it’s not making a difference yet; it’s not being put back into the fashion system,” said Talbot. “In some ways, that feels a little bit performative.”
Reformation has focused on transparency in its sustainability journey, documenting its progress in quarterly sustainability reports. It’s been carbon-neutral since 2015 and is working toward being climate-positive by 2025, as it’s detailed in a roadmap. Each of its products comes with a description and a score communicating its environmental footprint, and it sells countless pieces that are made with upcycled or sustainable materials in fair-wage environments. Reformation has also invested in donating to projects that have provided 140 million gallons of freshwater to critically dewatered rivers and wetlands in California and Colorado, to offset its own impact. In addition, its customers can take advantage of reselling Reformation styles on the ThredUP site in exchange for store credit.
With second-hand markets in developing countries struggling to keep up with donations, the idea of a closed-loop cycle for fashion brands seems like an easy solution. Stuart Ahlum, co-founder of SuperCircle and Thousand Fell said, “This isn’t just a take back program — Reformation aren’t just taking responsibility for the garments that they created and offering to dispose of them for customers. They’re actively pushing the boundaries of innovation by turning old Ref garments into new Ref garments, which leads to large scale post consumer recycling of cotton into rCot yarns and polyester into rPET yarns. We’re selectively working with 10-15 of the world’s most innovative brands this year, onboarding them to the SuperCircle platform to power recycling programs.”
“Within the SuperCircle platform, customers can track [a donation] and see where we end up sending it. It’s giving us a lot of visibility and tracking [information], with the intent being that we can understand the impact of the program and as a brand better,” said Talbot.
While Reformation is keen to make sure that donated items are first repaired, re-sold or re-used, the hope is that this solution can address the end-of-life process for garments in a way that incentivizes consumers. The brand also plans to work with SuperCircle’s partner mill and fiber producers to help source new materials, so that it can design its future collections with the end-of-life of its garments in mind.