From clothing... to clothing

Posted on 06 May 2021.

Through a closed-loop textile recycling process, the Garment-to-Garment system turns old clothes into new clothes. A feat.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 12% of materials used in clothing are recycled. More specifically, the vast majority of our old clothes are under-cycled (or recycled 'from below'), meaning that the value of what we get after recycling is lower than the value of what we started off with. Usually, they are used for thermal insulation, mattress stuffing or dusters.

The Garment-to-Garment (G2G) system does the opposite. Developed jointly by the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) and the H&M Foundation and Novetex Textiles, a major producer of Hong Kong textile yarns and knitted fabrics, G2G enables new garments to be manufactured.

This is made possible by a complete closed-loop textile recycling process, which uses no water or chemical products, and which allows the collected clothes to be disassembled and reassembled. Here’s how.


Open doors in Hong Kong

The old garment is first disinfected with ozone. It is then shredded into small pieces of textile fibre. A virgin material is added to strengthen the fibre. In most cases, this is cotton, HKRITA says, with the percentage varying depending on the quality of the original garment and what has been lost in the process. This is followed by carding and spinning to obtain yarns that will be knitted into a brand new piece.

These steps are carried out inside a standard 40-foot (12-metre) container, designed to fit into a department store or shopping mall. The space has a see-through screen, allowing onlookers to observe the whole process.

For example, Garment-to-Garment opened up in September 2018 at The Mills, a complex housing a business incubator, cultural spaces and concept stores and operating from a refurbished former spinning mill that existed in the golden age of the textile industry in Hong Kong.

The system is operational, but only on a small scale. It recycles jumpers and t-shirts transforming them into V-neck or round neck jumpers. Customers must make an appointment and can only bring one item of used clothing at a time.


Clothing recycling machine in Sweden

In October 2020, H&M installed a similar device - this one called "Looop" - in one of its stores on Stockholm's Drottninggatan pedestrian street. For 100 to 150 Swedish krona (between approximately 10 and 15 euros), customers can drop off their used clothes and watch them being recycled in real time. All profits must go to materials research projects.

This is the first time that a recycling system of this kind has been installed in a store, according to the manufacturer, which hopes to encourage other major clothing retailers to step up their textile recycling efforts.

However, this initiative should not obscure the fact that one of the fundamental principles of more sustainable fashion is to produce and buy fewer clothes, i.e. to slow down the crazy pace imposed by fast-fashion brands like H&M