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A circular economy in very simple terms means a less wasteful one, but of course, it’s more complicated than that. Our economy is linear, that is, we take, make and waste. We take natural resources; some are non-renewable ones like fossil fuels and some are renewable ones like trees but use them in a way that stops them being able to renew. We make products using those resources and they are often single use or low quality and very rarely recyclable. We throw those products away both wasting the precious resources used to create them and polluting our environment. This is not sustainable. Neither is it smart.
A crop is harvested. Industrial processes turn it into a fibre and then a fabric. It’s made into an item of clothing which is worn for a year and thrown into landfill. It’s not just the clothing that goes into landfill, but the years spent growing and harvesting the crop, the energy and raw materials spent making the fabric, the human expertise invested at every stage. All lost.
A truly sustainable business is a circular one. Where resources are renewable, cultivated responsibly so that they can renew and used efficiently. Products are designed to last, be reused, be recycled or naturally returned to the soil. Materials, resources and the natural world are valued and conserved.
Our ambition is to become Impact Positive by 2030 by reducing any negative impacts created throughout the life cycle of our products to as close to zero a possible, but also going beyond that to drive meaningful and positive change within the industry.
When BAM published this ambition in 2019, we knew that circularity was going to be an important part of our strategy, especially as part of our Waste Goal. However, since then we have recognised that becoming a circular business is in fact crucial to the success of Impact Positive. Our goals around conserving water and land, reducing chemical pollution and protecting biodiversity all contribute to us becoming a circular and therefore a truly sustainable business.
Where to start?
We started with our materials, way back in 2006. From day one, we’ve used better raw materials. Like bamboo, a super-fast growing, renewable grass. And organic cotton, grown without pesticides and fertilisers and requiring little to no irrigation. We only use synthetic fibres when we need them for performance or durability, and overall, they account for less than 10% of our fibre usage.
So, although there’s still a lot further to go, we’re in a pretty good place when it comes to the ‘take’ part of the equation. But what about ‘make’ and ‘waste’?
Designing for circularity
A lot of brands, including BAM, are committing to using more recycled materials. The majority of these are synthetic fibres made using recycled plastic bottles which reduces the need for fossil fuels and stops plastic bottles ending up in landfill. This is a good step in the right direction but when it comes to circularity, it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Using recycled bottles (or any recycled materials) and using them in products which are not recyclable means those materials are still destined for landfill at some point.
We’ve always designed clothes to last and we’re far from fast fashion but designing clothes to be recyclable means taking a whole new approach.
We started by developing our innovative, low impact 73 Zero Denim, designed for any activity, designed for durability and crucially, designed to be much easier to recycle. We followed the Ellen MacArthur Jeans Redesign guidelines to create our denim, but there were no guidelines for our next project.
Our 73 Zero insulated jacket is high performance, made from recycled materials and 100% recyclable.
It’s the first of its kind to be designed with recycling in mind and we guarantee every element is recyclable through our recycling partners, Project Plan B. The metal trims, used for increased durability, are easy to remove and recycle separately. Absolutely every other part of the jacket is made from polyester. The whole thing can be melted down and made back into polyester fibres again, ready to be used in another (hopefully recyclable!) garment.
We offer a free take back scheme for all jackets using a QR code printed on the jacket, so even when it’s lived several lifetimes, it can still be sent to right place to ensure it gets recycled. Collaborating with Project Plan B was central to the success of this project. By working with them, we were able to understand the real-life challenges with textile recycling and design around them. A garment is only recyclable if a plant exists and knows how to recycle it.
We’re very proud of this solution, and fact that we’ve invested upfront to ensure this garment gets recycled many years down the line. But this is one jacket, and we are one company. We hope we’re leading the way. Because this isn’t just good for the planet, it’s also working smarter. Whilst our jacket is the first of its kind we hope working like will soon be standard practice. After all, it’s much easier to reclaim polyester from an existing jacket than to start from scratch.
Designing products to be lower impact and recyclable is fundamental, but wider collaboration across different sectors is needed to improve infrastructure and technology for textile recycling. Brands must start to consider impacts across the whole garment life cycle.
Recognising the need for more investment to drive real change and create more solutions for end-of-use clothing, BAM have partnered with the charity Sharewear to support them with their mission to end clothing poverty and reduce clothing waste. We’re also funding research into end-of-life solutions for our garments.
In short, we’re exploring every avenue. Because if the idea of a circular economy is simple, achieving it isn’t. It means looking at every process throughout the supply chain, every fibre, every component. We have to take the linear structure apart and put it back together again, better.