Avery Dennison – CFS+ 2021 Session – blog

UpWest, ReCircled & Avery Dennison – collaborating for circularity

Partnership vs Ownership: Bringing full circularity to life

For anyone eager to understand how circularity in fashion can become a practical reality, the ‘Partnership vs Ownership’ virtual session at CFS+ 2021 (7th October) was essential viewing.

Representatives from US retailer UpWest, apparel recycling company ReCircled, and Avery Dennison joined forces to share their experiences of a successful sustainable fashion programme.

UpWest, ReCircled & Avery Dennison – collaborating for circularity

This was a deep dive into how Avery Dennison’s Digital Care Label solution can be used in an upcycling context. Not only were UpWest sweaters granted a second life thanks to being ‘re-imagined’ into new items, digital triggers also made the new products traceable and transparent for consumers to continue the sustainability journey.

Jon Day, MDM for digital product & sustainability, Avery Dennison said: “We wanted to see what it would look like to really scale up upcycling, and show the possibilities of extending the life of a garment.” He said that while Avery Dennison has been around for 80 years, the company’s focus is very much about facilitating circularity in fashion for a greener tomorrow. “Today we have a fully-fledged vision for digital innovation for consumer engagement – truly advancing the circular economy.”

Similarly, UpWest is continually seeking ways to benefit the planet, explained Rob Smith, the lifestyle brand’s director of sourcing & production. As part of this mission, the company began exploring how upcycling could extend the life of products. They began talking to ReCircled, which was founded in 2019 and has circular fashion processing facilities in Nebraska and Colorado in the US, and Tuscany in Italy. A collection of UpWest chenille sweaters was ‘re-imagined’ by ReCircled, resulting in a range of winter blankets, dog sweaters and mittens, which launched online in October 2021.

UpWest and ReCircled enlisted Avery Dennison to provide the digital triggers and data connectivity essential to complete the circularity loop. Consumers simply scan a product’s QR code at purchase with Avery Dennison’s Digital Hang Tags and post-purchase via Avery Dennison’s Digital Care Label. Helping engage consumers, the QR codes take shoppers on an information journey. The digital experience, activated through a smartphone, provides guidance on garment care and allows customers to engage closely with the UpWest brand.

This pilot has showcased Avery Dennison’s ability to provide a total solution – a physical trigger to a digital experience, data management, and applications for brands, consumers, and the wider apparel industry to utilize.

Start with carefully-chosen partnerships

Rob at UpWest said a key challenge had been finding the right partners to help enable upcycling and provide the digital element which could tell the story as well as provide traceability and transparency. “This was not just creating something new out of existing products, but also telling a story and challenging norms,” he said. “We knew we needed to find the subject matter experts that would cultivate our ideas. We spent time and effort in building up the right relationships, to be able to do some pretty cool things together.”

Practical steps toward shared goals

Scott Kuhlman, CEO of ReCircled said the chosen sweaters were perfect to work with, because 98% of the product could be re-used.

“In order for the garment to continue its onward journey in the circular ecosystem it was important that it was digitally connected. With simple QR codes it’s possible to demonstrate the story – the consumer can react in ways that will continue the circular journey.” For instance, it’s useful to make clear to consumers what the difference is between recycling and upcycling.

Scott spoke of how Digital Care Labels will be pivotal in the upcycling process as circularity is embraced by the fashion sector. “It’s like everything. The more information you have to begin with the more value you can get from the product,” he explained. “If we have it on a Digital Care Label we can make processing decisions very quickly. We know what we are dealing with, and we can embark on a much clearer, purer process for recycling. That’s much-needed for the second life strategy to work at scale.”

Consumer education is the key

Consumers today are unsure what to do with garments at the end of life, because brands lack an easy on-garment way of educating them. Currently many consumers remove the physical care label, while brands underutilize it. This increases the risk of the garment ending up in landfill rather than being resold, upcycled or recycled. However, by using Avery Dennison’s Digital Care Label solution, brands like UpWest are advancing the circular economy by connecting with recyclers and upcyclers who can be confident of composition. Equally, resellers will be able to check authenticity.

The beauty of projects like this is that data can be gathered, and learnings shared with others in the industry, eager to make progress on their carbon reduction programmes, and ESG reporting. 

Jon Day at Avery Dennison says his “key takeaway” has been “strength in collaboration”. Rob at UpWest spoke passionately about “looking forward to products for next Fall”. He added: “I’m already thinking: How do we design a great product based on what we learned? As a company we want to be proactive rather than reactive.” 

Finally, Scott at UpCircled urged the wider fashion sector to design with circularity in mind. “Being circular does have costs,” he said. “But if you think about reimagining products ahead of time, we will be so far further ahead, and able to make critical decisions about extending value. My key takeaway is: Think circular before you start designing.”  

You can find out more about this partnership and the Digital Care Label here

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