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The majority of our clothes are made of a mix of polyester and cotton, and there’s no commercial method to fully recycle these garments. A lot of startups are on it – and the big players are too. In late November, Monki launched a grey tracksuit claiming to offer the first scalable solution – with the help of the Green Machine. Here’s what you need to know.

Did you know that an estimated 1 procent of all clothes are recycled into new ones? The need for innovation in the recycling area is pressing, to say the least, if we’re ever to approach ’circularity’ in fashion in any broader sense. Because that’s what ’cirularity’ in fashion is all about, right – to produce nothing that goes to waste, to insert end-of-life clothing into the production circle again, making something new. Recycling won’t solve it all – we need to, well, shop less!, and scale other sustainable options to conventional fibers while making sure these new fibers’ provide long lives for their clothes, so that they don’t have to be hastily replaced.

The most commonly used textile fibers are cotton and polyester. We all know by now that these need to be replaced, urgently. Cotton, because pesticide use and irrigation during the cultivation process contribute to toxicity and water stress, and polyester, because of its fossil resource origin (it takes about 200 years to decompose) and release of microplastics.

The most common mix of fibers used in garments, then? Yup, polyester and cotton. Most garments that we wear today are actually are made of a mix of materials, and the poly-cotton combo is exceptionally tricky to recycle, because the fibers, once twisted together, are nearly impossible to separate.

As Vogue Business reports, there are several actors problems tacking this problem, to varying degrees of success. It’s not easy – finding the technology is one thing, but it also has to be commercially viable and possible to scale.

Last month, the H&M Group presented its work in process with what they call the Green Machine through the release of a Monki capsule collection. It’s the first collection – well, it’s actually a tracksuit! – using the Green Machine system. The Green Machine is the result of a four-year research collaboration between the non-profit H&M Foundation, HKRITA (The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) and one of Monki’s key suppliers. The technology separates poly-cotton blends with a hydrothermal method in a closed loop of only water, heat and biodegradable green chemicals.

The reclaimed polyester is blended with organic cotton to generate a soft feel. The garments are made in a limited edition, as the availability of the reclaimed polyester is limited. But, of course, there are plans of using the Green Machine again, next year.

While there are still challenges to tackle – reclaimed polyester sheds microfibers, too – the innovation is seen as a big step forward. “I think this is the first technology we’ve seen that has actually produced something from poly-cotton separation,” Ashley J. Holding, a circularity consultant and former innovation manager at Fashion for Good tells Vogue Business.

Monki is on a mission to become a fully circular brand. Its head of sustainability Jenny Fagerlin says that as a fashion brand, Monki has a responsibility of pushing ideas that contribute to ’closing the loop’. As she tells Vogue Business: “We have, in the past two years, mobilised ourselves to try and build a sustainability strategy that really turns the table upside down in our organisation.”

Let’s turn the fashion world upside down.

Read more about Monki’s capsule here and about the Green Machine here.


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