Circular fashion Doing more good

With the global population set to reach nine billion people by 2030, nature will struggle to meet human demands like never before. That means there’s an urgent need to achieve our goal of making circularity the norm across the value chain.


Sustainability means rethinking how we design our products for their next use. We want to evolve the apparel industry to a future where every material is used and reused safely, where ecosystems are protected, and where people are provided with dignified work. This means making products that are ‘made with their next use in mind’ and where we no longer talk about ‘end of life’, but rather ‘end of use.’ This is the philosophy of circular fashion. For the apparel sector to become truly circular, each part of the value chain must evolve.

To address the challenges of the linear fashion model, C&A has developed a strategy with three major elements:

  1. By creating innovative products that are designed according to circular economy principles, we will be able to phase out substances of concern and only use good materials, make effective use of human and natural resources, and move to renewable and recyclable inputs that can radically improve recycling rates.
  2. By further developing our garment collection scheme in the retail markets where we operate, we will be able to make sure that garments can be collected, sorted, and eventually recycled at scale.
  3. By supporting partnerships that help accelerate the transition to a circular economy and supporting innovations that will enable circularity, we can help transform the apparel industry.


For a closer look at our circular fashion strategy, view this video.


Circular fashion products

Product innovation

Why we need to develop circular fashion

In 2017, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a new report, entitled A New Textiles Economy. The report demonstrates the growing momentum in the industry to move towards a circular economy, and gives us a strong environmental, social and business case for doing so:

  • In 2015, around three-quarters of the plastic used in clothing ended up in landfill or was incinerated.
  • Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, equivalent to a loss of more than $100 billion of materials a year.
  • The textile industry’s share of the global carbon budget will rise from 2% in 2015 to 26% by 2050 if it continues on its current path. Moving away from a linear and wasteful system is crucial to keeping within the 2ºC global warming limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
  • With current production systems, the weight of plastic microfibres in the oceans could increase to 22 million tons by 2050. That’s equivalent to two-thirds of the fibres currently used to produce garments every year.
  • 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.

Throughout the value chain – from raw material extraction to end of use – the apparel sector has a large impact on the environment. To truly create the pathway to a new normal, we must reimagine much of what we do.


In a circular model, products are designed and developed with their next use in mind. This means they are produced with pure materials, using safe chemicals. This way, fibres can be reclaimed at the end of the garment’s use to be reused or recycled into new clothing, carpets or other products – or safely returned to nature through composting. Social justice, including safeguarding health and safety and fair labour, water stewardship, and the use of renewable energy, are also an integral part of the circular model.


Read more about sustainable chemical management  

Read more about safe and fair labour


Why circular fashion is necessary for sustainable apparel production

For more about our circular fashion strategy, view this video.

Our vision

We believe in circular fashion. Our vision is one of a restorative circular economy, where nothing is wasted in the creation or disposal of our clothing.

We believe there are six enablers of a circular fashion industry and are currently working on all of them through our own programmes or in partnership with Fashion for Good. Our commitment is demonstrated through our Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products – all supported by our ever-expanding in-store take-back programme that allows customers to recycle clothing that has reached its end of use. 

The six enablers to a circular fashion industry

Our 2018 actions

Continue our partnership with Fashion for Good, focused on incubating and accelerating circular technologies in the apparel industry.

Drive industry alignment through Make Fashion Circular initiative from Ellen MacArthur foundation.

Launch another major innovation and pioneering achievement in our Cradle to Cradle-CertifiedTM jeans.

Expand our in-store take-back programme in additional geographies and online in Germany.

Our 2018 performance

Pioneering circularity in stores

In 2017, C&A brought the first Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products to market in stores across Europe, Brazil, and Mexico. We have since developed many new products and collections, which reached the selling floor later in the year, as we expanded the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM collection from Ladies’ to include Men’s, Kids’, and Teens’ items in some of our markets, and offered new innovations such as stripes, embroideries, and prints to add richness to our offerings.

In 2018, we developed and offered the world’s first Gold Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Jeans in several Men’s and Ladies’ styles. Notably, in collaboration with Fashion for Good, we also made publicly available a set of resources for other apparel companies to use in developing their own Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products. These mark important steps on our own journey — as well as that of the apparel industry — towards circular fashion.

In total, we have brought almost 4 million pieces of Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM apparel to market so far.

Following its successful launch in the Netherlands, we rolled out our in-store take-back programme to additional retail markets and now have take-back programmes in nine countries – with a view to further expanding the programme by 2020.

Read more about our circular fashion products

Read more about our in-store take-back programme

Read more about product innovation


Accelerating change through Fashion for Good

In March 2017, Fashion for Good – founded by C&A Foundation – was launched in Amsterdam, with C&A as one of its first brand partners. In 2018, we continued our work with Fashion for Good to help transform the apparel sector by supporting:

  • The Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator Programme to help start-ups grow
  • The Scaling Programme to scale up innovations and encourage their widespread adoption
  • The development of guides for other companies to use in developing Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM apparel
  • The Fashion for Good Experience, the world’s first interactive museum for sustainable fashion innovation, which has already received more than 23,000 visitors


As a multi-stakeholder organisation, Fashion for Good’s single focus is to transform the apparel sector, making ‘good fashion’ the norm by convening brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators, and funders to make this happen. Fashion for Good serves as an innovation platform that provides promising start-up innovators with access to funding and scaling support for their innovations. It also acts as a convener for change by bringing together a circular apparel community, building a good fashion movement, and creating freely available resources. The initiative has gained tremendous momentum, with over 75 innovators and more than 15 pilots facilitated so far.

Read more about our partnership with Fashion for Good


Who we work with 

Normalising circular fashion

Although we are proud to have brought the first Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products to market, we know circular fashion is still a long way from being ‘normal’. 

One of the most important things we can do to change this is continue sharing what we've learnt about circular fashion with the rest of our industry. For example, true circularity involves looking at how products are designed, developed, and manufactured. We know our certified T-shirts and jeans have been designed this way, making them better for the environment, workers, and their communities.

These products prove that circularity is possible today. We want to encourage others to join us so that attributes like this become part of the new normal. Since the launch of our circular products, other brands and retailers, as well as manufacturers, have launched Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM materials, showing that momentum is growing.

From wood waste to T-shirt: The Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator in action

‘Up to 50% of every tree cut down is considered waste. Timber companies are looking for ways to use this waste because there is too much of it. Often it is left to rot, which sends CO2 into the atmosphere, or it is burned, which also creates problems and can lead to climate change’.
Jane Palmer, President, Nature Coatings

In comes Nature Coatings and its first prototype: a high performing and inexpensive black pigment made from wood waste. Jane, who has worked in textiles her whole career, including owning and operating a dye house, wanted to identify a way to shift the textile industry away from petroleum-based ingredients – and reduce unnecessary waste along the way. Most pigments, she discovered, are petroleum-based, don’t biodegrade and use complex chemistry that has been linked to DNA mutations in fish and cancer in humans.

Nature Coatings’ black pigment offers a solution that is easy to substitute in the apparel supply chain. ‘There is no new technology required, no new costs. It actually stays ahead of the Restrictive Substances List (RSL) so saves any unintentional sales loss’, says Jane.

And now, thanks to the Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator, the pigment should be in market in the next few months. Since its launch, the Accelerator has awarded two cohorts of start-ups and innovators, working closely with them on transforming blue-sky breakthroughs into scalable innovations through an intensive start-up programme.

Nature Coatings was part of the intake. And, as Jane puts it, Fashion for Good as been everything it promised to be. ‘We came in with a semi-finished product. We had a solid product and a business development plan, but the Accelerator forced us to make some decisions, evolve our business plan, generate interest from investors and gave us critical access to big apparel brands to test our product’, she explains.

Connecting with C&A has been especially useful, she points out. Over a series of meetings, her team has had multiple opportunities to collect feedback and refine their value proposition. And the company has had the opportunity to work with one of C&A’s suppliers to test its pigment with one of their products.

‘Our message wasn’t very clear when we entered Fashion for Good. Today, we have a clear value proposition, we’ve been able to open multiple doors among investors and partners and generated overall excitement among the apparel sector for what we have to offer’, says Jane.