Want to refresh your wardrobe every season without racking up big bills and stuffing your closet full of clothes you don’t wear? It’s possible, thanks to the growing number of retailers embracing the concept of “circular fashion.” By buying back your old garments in exchange for a discount on new ones, or recycling previously worn jeans, jackets, and t-shirts into brand-new items, these companies hope to keep clothing in circulation longer.
More and more big companies, including Levi’s, H&M, Madewell, North Face, Patagonia, and Eileen Fisher, offer recycling and donation programs that give you discounts for your castoffs. But many small fashion startups are building their businesses around these kinds of efforts and taking them to another level. Aeon Row, for example, uses “revived” fabrics made from recycled cotton reinforced with recycled polyester to create its affordable t-shirts, skirts, and dresses. According to the company, “the average t-shirt requires 700 gallons of water and 1/3 pound of chemicals to be produced.” Its upcycled t-shirts and other clothing, by contrast, use “no land, water, chemicals, or cotton dyes.”
Like Aeon Row, Bluer Denim and Cuyana give discounts in exchange for donations. Bluer Denim’s “Buy One, Give One” program knocks $5 off the price of new jeans when you send in an old pair, which the company then distributes to someone in need. By choosing Cuyana’s “Lean Closet” program at checkout, you get a bag with your purchase that you can fill with used and unwanted garments and send back to the company for free, plus a $10 credit to redeem on your next purchase.
Then there’s Danish company Better World Fashion, which boasts that its products are nearly 100% sustainable. BWF takes old leather jackets and refashions them into cool new ones, thereby eliminating the use of toxic chemicals common in leather manufacturing (to say nothing of sparing the lives of animals). When you get tired of your recycled jacket, you can send it back and get a 50% discount on your next one.
BWF also offers leather-jacket “leases.” With its subscription model, you can trade in your jacket for a new one every six months. European startup MUD Jeans, which calls itself “the circular alternative,” has a similar program. Rent your jeans for about $9 a month, and at the end of the year you can keep them, swap them for another pair, or return them to the company’s Netherlands headquarters for recycling (in specially provided reusable packaging of course).
The circular approach, MUD notes, is “a guilt-free solution for conscious people who have a desire for newness.” If you’re one of them, these days you have more options than ever.