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Transforming habits – and old rags

As a non-profit foundation, our job is to influence the entire fashion industry to rethink how fashion is made, worn and reused. Why? Because there is no planet B. But the industry can’t solve the problem alone, they also need to have their customers onboard.

A textile recycling system developed by HKRITA and H&M Foundation

Since 2016, we have partnered with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparels (HKRITA) to accelerate research on textile recycling. However, during our work together, it became clear that while we might come up with outstanding recycling technologies, we still need to access old textiles to have something to recycle. But today’s consumers aren’t used to recycling clothes, instead almost of all it is thrown away.

“We realized we must make recycling relevant and tangible. Seeing is believing. If you see it, you believe it. And it’s not until then that you can change your behaviour and start recycling instead of throwing it in the bin,” says Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation.

Making the impossible possible

Together with HKRITA and Hong Kong-based yarn spinner Novetex Textiles, we developed a miniaturized recycling facility, with the aim of putting it in shopping malls and stores across the world for customers to see, learn and understand the benefits of textile recycling.

“First the engineers said it was impossible. Now they say it’s very difficult. I see that as progress!”

Edwin Keh, HKRITA

However, to shrink the huge recycling machines to fit in a small space wasn’t easy. “First the engineers said it was impossible. Now they say it’s very difficult. I see that as progress!” said the ever-optimistic Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA during the process. And they did it! The first version of the Garment-2-Garment (G2G) recycling system opened in 2018 and was placed at the experiential retail space in Hong Kong. We invited the world to come and visit. “As our role is to influence the entire fashion industry, all results are shared and licensed free for maximum impact,” says Erik.

Join the conversation and change habits

In October 2020, H&M was the first brand to launch their own G2G, called the Looop, in one of their stores in Stockholm. H&M’s customers were invited to hand in their old rags and get a new garment, made of the same material, at the other end. “For example, you can put your grandma’s old jumper in there, and out comes an updated version that you can wear for years to come,” says Erik and continues: “however, it’s not the number of garments recycled in the G2G that will have an impact, but the conversations around it, which will help educate and inspire us consumers to recycle our old clothes.”

We hope this will spark more dialogue and eventually changed behaviour between brands and consumers about extending the life of fashion and in the end, recycling it.