H&M Foundation & HKRITA, Stockholm

Looop, the first in-store direct-to customer recycling system form garment to garment (G-2-G), is now live in Europe, Stockholm, Sweden. Before, it was set up in Hong Kong. With looop, used clothes, post-consumer waste, will be transformed in new clothes, within a few hours. The groundbreaking technology presents a solution, heading into the right direction, towards a circular economy.

Currently, less than 1% of used products are recycled back into the fashion industry’s value chain (Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation). By 2030, we need to live in a world in which 1 in 5 garments are tradded through circular business models (Fashion on Climate, 2020). Looop has been developed by The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) and the non-profit H&M Foundation together with Novetex, a Hong Kong based yarn simmer.

The system has container size and can be transported. Glas keeps the noise and dust within the box. The transformation process does not need water or chemicals. A bit of virgin new material, like cotton, has to be added for the sake of the strength of the fibers. 

Members have to pay almost 10 Euro for using that service, bringing their old garments with them as well.  H&M has a garment collection program since 2013. With the “mini mill” about 40 sweaters per month could be produced (HKRITA). The design of the cloth does not change, there is no customization.

The upcycling process of looop is based on 8 steps:

1. Cleaning – Using ozone, the old clothes will be cleaned, removing any microorganism.

2. Shredding: The garment is shredded down into small chunks of fabric fibers. A mechanical recycling process is used.

3. Filtering – The next step consist of filtering the fabric chunks to remove dirt and extra virgin material is added to strengthen the fiber.

4. Carding – The fibers are transformed into a web and then pulled into slivers.

5. Drawing – Multiple fiber slivers are combined to create even stronger and thicker slivers.

6. Spinning – The thick fiber slivers are spun to create a single yarn thread.

7. Twisting – Single yarn threads are doubled and twisted together to increase their strength.

8. Knitting – The yarn is than knitted into a new, ready to wear design.

Not every material can be used for the recycling process. Materials like lycra, spandex ect. are not suitable.

Is the looop system really a business case for companies like H&M?

HKRITA and H&M use the looop system for educational reason at the beginning. They want their customers to learn, that their unwanted clothes have a value, and should not end up in landfill. H&M emphasizes “Getting customer on board is key to achieve a real change”. They show how complex the recycling process is and bring awareness for circular business cases. Further, the technology is scalable and will be licensed.

At first glance, the system looks like a real breakthrough, and it is a milestone in fashion industry.

Although, some big questions arises nonetheless for us.

  • What use case is that? Would be a repair services not be more suitable to keep the product in the loop. Or is it better, to give your unwanted sweater to a second hand shop? Or renting products? Of course, H&M is engaging in that kind of services as well.
  • Does looop has a positive impact on climate? It would be quite interesting to learn about the holistic approach of impact measurement of looop. All the resources and energy the system is using.
  • Why should I pay 10 Euro and more for a sweater, when a new one in sale could easily be brought for less money?
  • How often can be a looop-recycled sweater in good quality be recycled again?
  • Is the system financial sustainable?
  • Aren’t there “better” non-mechanical recycling processes out there?
  • How many looop systems do you need just in one H&M shop?

Closing the loop will also mean that H&M should produces less and in better quality from the beginning.  Alone in our hometown Berlin, 10 tons of unwanted clothes are reaching the Stadtmission in a week. There are just too many clothes in bad quality on the market.

Of course, it is important to bring information to the customers and make the recycling process visible. There are some challenges still existing, and that is just the beginning. We really hope that customers will engage and learn – and finally change their behavior, as well as H&M concerning their overall production. We think this is a first step, which needs further developing to really change something. H&M has the power to do so.


photocredit by H&M