Global Fashion Agenda is closing one chapter and kickstarting another project focused on driving forward circularity in Bangladesh’s garment industry.

In a press event Monday, the GFA team revealed findings from its mandatory final report as part of the close of its 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment (also called the 2020 commitment). With the principles of the commitment embedded forevermore in many signatories’ strategies, the GFA took to highlighting its next endeavor focused on scaling fabric scrap recycling in Bangladesh called its “Circular Fashion Partnership.”

“The 2020 Commitments are a great starting point and great acceleration of that [circular] vision,” said Francois Souchet, lead of Make Fashion Circular at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, during the virtual event. Collaboration, investment and large-scale innovation, he said, will be key going forward.

The 2020 commitment launched three years ago at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit (now referred to as CFS+) in a call to set the fashion industry on track toward circularity. Altogether, 86 fashion companies, representing 12.5 percent of the global fashion market, signed on to the initiative.

The signatories are broken down into “large industry players” such as Asos, H&M, Nike, Inditex, Kering and Target, and small-to-medium enterprises such as Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans, L.A.-based Reformation and buzzy Copenhagen-based label Ganni. SMEs represent the majority, or 63 percent, of the signatories.

As the final report noted, signatories reached 132 of the 207 targets set, or roughly 64 percent — citing COVID-19 as a major hindrance. Goals were set across four action areas including design strategies for cyclability, volume of used goods collected, volume of used goods sold and increasing the share of goods made from recycled post-consumer textile fibers. Progress on targets are not peer-reviewed or verified by GFA. The organization is the sole producer, with consultation from Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).

The roadblocks inhibiting industry-wide progress on the target areas, according to the report, include a lack of common language on circular design, limited opportunity for brands seeking to trial small-scale recycling runs and infrastructure limits. Access to “viable chemical recycling technologies” is limited at best, according to the report.

RELATED: Behind the Sweden-based Partnership Scaling Up Textile Recycling

Despite some goals left unmet, brands found the process rewarding.

By direction of the 2020 commitment, Copenhagen-based sustainable label Ganni rolled out circularity workshops for its design, production and technical teams. Yet, Alicja Jordan, sustainability coordinator at Ganni, said, “We have already realized that it’s not enough to just roll out these workshops. We have committed ourselves to continuing this work.” The brand has incorporated the guidelines into Ganni’s two-year sustainability strategy to build off the momentum of its upcoming softwear line, made with post-consumer recycled content.

California-based circular brand Dhana Inc. embedded the four principles of the report into its “Circular Memory” jacket, which launched on Kickstarter last year, while Nudie Jeans established its Re-Use secondhand online channel in a push to educate consumers.

“When we think of a sustainable product the cost is more just because we are not allocating all the related costs and loss in value from a linear product,” said Simone Colombo, head of corporate sustainability at Italian retailer OVS on the perceived economic trade-offs to investing in sustainability.

As with other brand signatories, he found the 2020 commitment an important aid in realizing the vision of a circular fashion economy — which complements GFA’s next “workstreams.”

The report’s close helped lay the foundation for GFA’s new endeavor: a cross-sectorial partnership with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and software platform Reverse Resources, with the support of environmental nonprofit Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals (P4G) and recycled cotton fiber firm Cyclo (Simco Spinning & Textiles Ltd.), an affiliate partner.

The goal of the project, which runs until the end of 2021, is to find a “scalable transition to a circular fashion system in Bangladesh,” according to Holly Syrett, GFA’s senior sustainability manager.

There is no cost to join the collaboration and manufacturers like Bangladesh-based Tarasima Apparels Ltd., brands like Bestseller and recyclers like Swedish chemical recycling firm Renewcell are already involved. Their hope is to capture and direct post-production fashion waste and put it back into the production of new fashion products, alongside finding a marketplace solution to deadstock fabrics and overstock garments in Bangladesh. Eventually, the learnings may be rolled out to garment sectors in Vietnam and Indonesia, too.

“For us, the circular economy is no more a concept — it is the future. We cannot afford to use virgin materials at the rate we are currently consuming right now,” said Dr. Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA. The fashion industry has a sizable role to play in shifting away from a linear economy — with equally important gains, she said.

In early projections, the partnership claims it will have an immense impact.

While existing systems of textile recycling in Bangladesh are still informal with only a fraction of garments recycled today, Huq said there is potential for Bangladesh to earn upward of $4 billion from its fabric scraps. “It has to make business sense for everyone,” she stressed.

Partners like Reverse Resources, a software solution for fashion production waste to brands sourcing in Bangladesh, hope to do just that by creating waste data visibility in real-time for garment factories.

“The aim is by having one formal waste-handling partner to increase earnings for the factory while decreasing costs for recyclers,” said Nin Castle, cofounder of Reverse Resources.

Recycler Renewcell will work to coordinate and organize sourcing with mills and traders (or waste-handlers) in Bangladesh while overseeing the quality of feedstock, as Jenny Fredricsdotter, circular business manager at Renewcell shared. The recycler purchases loads of waste by the container, which is then transported by sea to its plant in Sweden.

While certain barriers remain as to the price of recycled yarns to virgin equivalents, or the brand penchant for pulling its own products from the supply stream, Fredricsdotter did emphasize the benefits in starting with post-industrial waste being better traceability of fiber composition and chemicals.

“This will become a demand,” said Hasan Mahmud, executive director of Bitopi Group at Tarasima Apparels Ltd., referencing the dual play of data collection and waste management.

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