Turning old into new

Turning old into new
STAYING GREEN: Re:newcell spokesman Henrik Norlin, whose company has found a way to turn old clothes into new fibres.

Ronja Oldmar enters the largest H&M outlet in Stockholm carrying a large paper bag.

A frequent customer of the Swedish fashion store, Ms Oldmar, 22, is there this time to drop off clothes instead of taking them home.

She hands the bag - filled with old, unwanted clothes - to the cashier, who then gives Ms Oldmar a voucher with the words: "Thank you for not letting fashion go to waste."

Ms Oldmar, a sales assistant, brings in a bag of old clothes once every two to three months. Each bag gets her a voucher worth 50 Swedish krona (S$8.60).

Since the inception of its ongoing clothing recycling programme in February 2013, H&M has collected more than 300kg of clothes in all of its outlets in Sweden.

Worldwide, it has collected about 10 million kg.

In Singapore, H&M outlets have collected about 12,086 kg of old clothes so far.

Customers who drop off a bag of old clothes will get a $10 voucher. There is no minimum bag size or amount of clothing, but the maximum number of vouchers given out a day per customer is two.


In Sweden, the clothes that are collected are sorted. If they are still in good condition, they are donated.

Those that are in poor condition will be recycled to make textile fibres.

In July, researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm created the world's first garment woven entirely from recycled cotton.

Under their company Re:newcell, they patented the process of converting old clothes into fibres that are sold to clothing companies to make clothes.

Re:newcell spokesman Henrik Norlin said the clothes are cut into small pieces and dissolved in a chemical solution. The solution is then filtered and processed to be turned into fibres.

The company has been in talks with several retailers to turn these recycled fibres into garments.

"Technology has never been really good enough until now," said Mr Norlin of the company's breakthrough.

One company in talks with Re:newcell is Swedish outdoor sportswear brand Houdini.

At Houdini, every piece of clothing produced is made of a combination of recycled and non-recycled material.

Houdini, which has outlets across 16 countries, also encourages customers to give them their old clothes, but unlike H&M, it does not give vouchers to customers for doing so.

Houdini's marketing executive Mia Grankrist, said: "(Having a voucher system) is good in a way that you get people to hand in things, but it also encourages consumption and that is not something we should do.

"If you can encourage people to rent or buy second-hand, then that's truly sustainable consumption."

Mr Pontus Ryderberg, 27, who works at PUB Galleria, a large department store in Stockholm, finds that consumers are more willing to pay for environmentally-friendly clothing.


"People are more understanding about what sustainability is, what it does and where their money is going to. So when they buy something that is very expensive they know their money is (being) put to good use," he said.

As for Ms Oldmar, she does it simply because it is trendy.

After collecting her voucher, she headed towards H&M's Conscious collection, a clothing line with clothes made from recycled or sustainable material.

Though this line is slightly pricier, Ms Oldmar does not mind.

"I would pay 50 to 100 krona more for clothes made out of recycled cotton. About 70 per cent of my clothes are like that," she said.

Liu Kaiying and Toh Ee Ming are students from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. They were part of a group who went to Sweden this year for Going Overseas For Advanced Reporting (Go-Far), a journalism programme organised by the school.


This article was first published on Dec 16, 2014.
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