How fashion retailers are helping the environment

This article was written by  KARISHMA DIPA for THE STAR

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As one of the largest polluters in the world, the clothing industry has taken an initiative to minimise the hazardous effects it has on the environment.

Global fashion retailer H&M has been one of the chain stores to take up the challenge. According to H&M South Africa spokeswoman Amelia-May Woudstra, the store has a “global garment collecting initiative”.

“This initiative is in place in all of our stores, 365 days a year,” she told The Star. It involves customers bringing their old clothes into H&M stores and in return they qualify for a 15 percent discount on a future purchase at the fashion outlet.

During World Recycle Week last month, customers who brought their unwanted clothes into the store qualified for two 15 percent discounts during the seven-day period.

Although the collected items are still being tallied, Woudstra said globally about 25 000 tons of clothes had already been recorded as being donated during the week of recycling.

As part of the initiative, H&M has partnered with I:Collect (I:CO), the international organisation that buys the donated clothes from the retailer, as well as other well-known clothing brands – including Levi’s and Puma.

The solutions provider, with offices in Germany, the UK, the US and Japan, then reuses or recycles the garments.

“I:CO aims to keep consumers’ clothing and shoes in a closed-loop production cycle where the goods can be reprocessed and reused again and again through I:CO’s take-back system and global infrastructure,” the organisation said on its website.

“This protects the environment, reduces waste and preserves resources.”

As part of the process to get the donated garments to the organisation, Woudstra said the collected clothes from all the stores in South Africa are sent to Joburg.

The attire is then stored in a container and once it is full the garments are shipped off to I:Collect’s nearest split point, which is in India.

The clothing donated by H&M customers is then sold to the organisation by the kilogram, where it is sorted to either be re-used, re-worn or recycled.

The money H&M gets from the garments sold to I:Collect is then donated to the UN Children’s Emergency Fund and South Africa’s early childhood development programme.

“The rest of the money earned will then be donated to the H&M Foundation and earmarked for investments in innovation projects for closing the fashion loop on textiles,” said Woudstra.

These initiatives are seen as a step in the right direction, as the fashion industry operates under strenuous conditions of production, textile manufacturing, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and ultimately disposal of the garment.

On its website, I:Collect said the production of a T-shirt alone consumes between 10 000 and 30 000 litres of water and emits 3.6kg of carbon dioxide.

The organisation said only five to 10 percent of these quantities are used or produced with a recycling process.