Last week saw the first event of the renewed All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, at Portcullis House. A full house of 65 guests saw a broad panel of speakers, chaired by Baroness Young of Hornsey, wrestle with the question: What contribution to fashion sustainability do clothing take-back schemes offer?

Hubbub is delighted to now be providing secretariat support to this group, along with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. For this event we assembled a panel which would debate the question from a number of viewpoints: the brands who run the two most notable high street take-back schemes, H&M and Marks & Spencer; industry experts Professor Kate Fletcher (Centre for Sustainable Fashion) and Dr Andrew Brookes (Kings College London); Cyndi Rhoades from textile innovators Worn Again and our own Trewin Restorick.

There was a dizzyingly broad spectrum of views which reflects the complexity of this issue:

First up was Prof Kate Fletcher, providing a bigger picture overview of the issues facing fashion, the world’s second most polluting industry. She expressed concern that the sector is caught in a cycle of volume up, quality down, which doesn’t prompt responsible behaviour from consumers. Do take-back schemes legitimise waste and encourage a throw away culture?

Trewin spoke about the need to focus on reuse rather than recycling to retain maximum value from an item of clothing. He described Hubbub’s From a Mother to Another project around Mother’s Day earlier this year; where customers of JoJo Maman Bébé gifted good-quality unwanted baby and children’s clothing to Barnardo’s service users. Its success (50,000+ garments donated, 4,000 families benefitting) was due to it being a gifting campaign between Mothers rather than handouts or donations, and the fact that the recipients were UK families. Hubbub will repeat the initiative in 2016 and is currently looking for new partners.

Cecilia Brannsten from H&M explained their resource and waste challenges and why they have introduced take-back schemes in every store in all 60 of their markets globally. Since its launch in 2013 it has collected the equivalent of 80 million t-shirts. H&M have now introduced their Close The Loop collection made from 20% recycled materials –the highest proportion that current technologies will permit.
        

Adam Elman explained the thinking behind Marks & Spencer’s Shwopping initiative, launched in 2012. He was clear that M&S are proud to make clothes that last but equally pointed out that a staggering 10,000 items of clothing go to landfill every minute, an issue Shwopping was set up to deal with. Adam explained the other elements of Plan A which tackle important issues such as responsible supply chains and making use of recycled fibres. Textile recycling is important but just one part of the picture. 

Cyndi Rhoades explained how Worn Again are developing textile recycling technology enabling end of use clothes to be collected, processed and made back into new textiles again and again. This is the holy grail of textile recycling, but the technological fix that everybody craves doesn’t yet exist and there are complex issues with recycling blended fabrics.

Finally Dr Andrew Brooks offered the international development perspective and explained the impact on the developing world of the influx of second hand clothing from developed nations. His belief is that in many cases it negatively impacts upon human dignity, livelihoods, local economies and balance of payments.

My conclusion was that take back schemes are a part of the solution, but by no means are they the end solution. Brands have a responsibility to deal with the sheer volume of textile waste generated and should be encouraged to communicate the issue to their customers. However one of the recurring themes of the event was how to encourage people to value their clothing more. As well as taking responsibility for the waste generated, brands must promote more responsible purchasing and use of clothing.

This is exactly why Hubbub chose fashion as one of the main areas in which we work; we want to continue to find ways to retain the value in clothing and encourage mainstream shoppers on the high street to do the same. 

What’s your view on the merits of clothing take-back schemes? Comment below - we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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