Circular fashion Doing more good

In a circular model, products are designed and developed with their next use in mind. 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.



Why circular fashion is important

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation detailed the challenges and opportunities of a circular economy in A New Textiles Economy. The report demonstrates the growing momentum in the industry to move towards a circular economy, and gives us all 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.

The case for circular fashion

The case for circular fashion

Circular fashion products

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.  

To address the challenges of the linear fashion model, we have developed a strategy with three major elements to address the six enablers of a circular economy in the fashion industry:

  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.

The six enablers to a circular fashion industry

The six enablers to a circular fashion industry

Our 2019 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 Platinum denim.

Expand our take-back programme.

Our 2019 performance

In 2019, we focused on the following areas, where we demonstrated concrete results:

  1. Fostering our partnership with Fashion for Good to pilot circular economy technologies in our value chain
  2. Creating additional innovations in Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products
  3. Expanding our in-store takeback programme, 'we take it back'
  4. Executing our commitments under the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Jeans Redesign Project
  5. Engaging on policy

Piloting fashion for good innovations

  • Reverse Resources: This year we partnered with Reverse Resources, which sets up transparent trading and tracing of cutting scraps from textile manufacturers to recycling plants. In the C&A supply chain, they focused on setting up segregation and labelling of waste in supplier facilities and the process of handling the waste by collectors. This maintained the highest market value and best waste quality for recyclers, in turn providing the best price return for the supplier. The project also evaluated the increase in factory earnings as a result of segregating textile leftovers. We will also create a trace report of the waste for the recycler, and analyse the potential for cost savings and means of securing trust in the data accuracy to maintain those cost savings.
  • Circular polybag project: The Circular Polybag Pilot is exploring a solution to reduce the impact of single-use polybags in the fashion industry. Orchestrated by Fashion for Good in partnership with adidas, C&A, Kering, Otto Group, and PVH Corp., with Cadel Deinking (an innovator from the Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme), the pilot is a first in the apparel industry to trial a truly circular solution for polybags. Using polybag waste, Cadel Deinking’s innovation facilitates the creation of high-quality, recycled-content polybags — a solution that brings us closer to creating a truly closed-loop system.
  • SeaChange: The SeaChange process is designed to address challenges associated with concentrated industrial waste and to oxidise the chemically resistant, non- biodegradable organic materials and microplastics present in apparel wastewater. The process aims to enable treatment of 100% of wastewater while eliminating sludge production and mitigating GHG emissions. Initiated and coordinated by Fashion for Good, the pilot project included several partners, including C&A, supporting SeaChange to conduct a field evaluation of the SeaChange system at the effluent treatment plant of Arvind, a dyehouse, near Gujarat, India. The pilot demonstrated the technical viability of the SeaChange technology to process sludge.
  • Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot (OCTP): This groundbreaking pilot was initiated by Fashion for Good to test and validate on-product markers in combination with blockchain technology as a traceability solution in real-world practice. Fashion for Good, C&A Foundation,[1] and the Organic Cotton Accelerator collaborated with partner organisations C&A, Kering,  PVH Corp., and Zalando. C&A was instrumental to the project, leveraging our supply chain to fully explore production from fibre to garment. Invisible fluorescent, (synthetic) DNA tracers and microbiome technologies were applied in tracking the organic cotton through spinning, chemical treatments, high temperatures, and dyeing, The DNA and invisible fluorescent tracers emerged intact, positively identifying the cotton in consumer-ready garments and demonstrating that the blockchain platform can track transactions through the entire value chain. Read more about the OCTP
  • SMARTEX: This innovative system aims to reduce textile defects to 0%, avoiding textile waste during production. It uses machine vision algorithms and machine learning to improve defect detection rates in knitted fabrics. We are collaborating with SMARTEX to help our suppliers decrease textile defects and further eliminate waste during fabric production.
  • PreSize: PreSize is a three-dimensional body scanning technology that uses any smartphone’s camera input to find the best fit to a user's individual body. Unlike other smartphone fit solutions, PreSize is completely web-based and uses a video of the consumer to estimate key points of the body, ensuring a higher level of accuracy in measurements. C&A is piloting this technology in our on-line store.

Increasing innovations in Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products

This year we launched the world's most sustainable denim fabric, Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM at the Platinum level. The first ever Platinum level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM fabric is made with 100% rapidly renewable resources and is fully recyclable. We have also launched more collections that feature Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM items. In addition, all Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirts sold by C&A are certified at the Gold level.

Expanding 'we take it back'

This year, our 'we take it back' programme grew to additional stores in the retail markets, providing our customers with even more options to recycle unwanted clothing and contribute to the circular economy. In Europe, stores and an online collection option in Germany and France collected 1,397 metric tons of unwanted garments for reuse or recycling as part of the ‘we take it back’ programme. In Mexico, where the number of participating stores grew from 10 in 2018 to 34 in 2019, about 8.5 metric tons of clothing were collected in 2019.

In Brazil, where 157 C&A stores participate, Movimento ReCiclo, as the programme is known, collected more than 16.5 metric tons of items. Of this, 70% of the pieces were deemed to be in good condition and 30% were sent for recycling. The pieces in good condition went to Centro Social Carisma, an organisation that handles distribution for reuse. The pieces that cannot be used anymore were sent to Retalhar, which is responsible for the reverse manufacturing process, including sanitizing the items, removing trims, and defibration. The resulting material is used primarily in the automotive industry.

As an employee engagement strategy, in early 2020, the Movimento ReCiclo programme devised a challenge for employees at the head office. The goal was for employees to bring in clothes they no longer used — to 2,020 pieces in three weeks. Employees exceeded this target, bringing in more than 2,700 pieces for donation or recycling.

Jeans Redesign project

This new project applies circular economy principles to provide positive outcomes for people and the environment. The Jeans Redesign project aims to demonstrate action, focus innovation efforts, and increase transparency, and members of the fashion industry worked together to develop shared guidelines that represent a new level of ambition. C&A is committed to the Jeans Redesign guidelines.

Engaging on policy

Both within the European Union and in the member states, C&A has been active in shaping policy around the circular economy. We will continue our efforts as work on the European Green Deal and Product Environmental Footprint progresses, including member state actions.

Read more about our circular fashion products

Read more about our in-store take-back programme

Read more about product innovation

[1] In January 2020, C&A Foundation became part of Laudes Foundation.

Accelerating change through Fashion for Good

In March 2017, Fashion for Good – founded by Laudes Foundation[2] – was launched in Amsterdam, with C&A as one of its first brand partners. In 2018 and 2019, we continued our work with Fashion for Good to help transform the apparel sector by supporting:

  • The Fashion for Good Accelerator Programme to help start-ups grow
  • The Scaling Programme to scale up innovations and encourage their widespread adoption
  • The development of the open-source Cradle to Cradle toolkit to help guide companies 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 70,000 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 mentoring, funding and a global network of organisations that they need to scale and grow their innovations. It also acts as a convener for change, bringing together a circular apparel community, building a good fashion movement, and creating freely available resources. The initiative has gained tremendous momentum, with over 110 innovators and more than 60 pilots facilitated so far.

Read more about our partnership with Fashion for Good


[2] This work was started by C&A Foundation and continues under Laudes Foundation.

Who we work with