Circularity and Recommerce: ACT Paving the Way

Credit: Artem Beliaikin

At this month’s Sustainability Summit, Abigail Kammerzell, H&M’s head of sustainability for North America, said her company is doubling down on its circularity focus, noting its importance to the larger industry. “We’re a big one, and we have a lot of responsibility,” Kammerzell said. “It’s up to us, with our size and scale, to amplify, accelerate, innovate and support those smaller players.”

Founded in June 2022, the American Circular Textiles Group (ACT) is a coalition seeking  to establish U.S. leadership in textile waste and circular fashion policy, with a focus on the waste hierarchy. Founding members include Rent the Runway, The Real Real, thredUP, Arrive and Fashionphile. H&M just recently joined ACT to advance policymaking efforts in the U.S.

For more insight into how circularity in apparel is gaining traction, Multichannel Merchant checked in with Rachel Kibbe, founder of the Circular Services Group and founder and executive director of ACT.

Multichannel Merchant: We are seeing a lot of traditional apparel retailers with linear business models, also referred to as take-make-waste, looking to transition to a more sustainable or circular fashion model. Consumer sentiments have been building for some time now, so what are the biggest catalysts for this shift and why now?

Kibbe: It’s been a long time coming, and movements like this take a lot of time to develop. I think that we now have an entire generation or two that has grown up during a time where climate change was less of a politicized issue and less negotiable. We have a generation growing up with social media and access to information about climate change that want to shop more sustainably.

MCM: Ultimately, at its core, ACT is looking to influence policymakers and legislative change on Capitol Hill. Can you talk to what policies are front and center, receiving most of your attention right now?

Rachel Kibbe

Kibbe: A lot of our work right now is in education; policymaker education and education on the problem. Some examples of movement that we would like to support and be responsible about including extending producers’ responsibility for textiles. We have already seen some of that legislation taking shape in California. Sales and use tax exemptions for secondhand materials are already on deck and in bills that are moving through committees. Taxes are never simple, but if these bills are passed it can create more consumer demand for circular fashion.

Circularity in fashion is not a concept that most consumers generally have their heads wrapped around just yet. So, there is a sort of marketing component to our work in shaping policy that can also have an impact. For example, our communication around how apparel shouldn’t be taxed twice.

We haven’t seen the attention to policymaking that is currently dedicated to sustainable energy and transportation efforts offered to fashion. We see the potential for circularity fashion to have a seat at the table.

MCM: One of the most surprising subplots has been the willingness of competing brands to collaborate for the greater good. In some cases, they have shared their findings with potential competitors around sustainability and recommerce initiatives. Have you seen this within ACT and if so, why is this the case? Is this something that ACT fosters, and if so, how?

Kibbe: The circularity space is interesting. It’s one of those fragmented and competitive spaces, and also it also understands that the reverse supply chain only works in terms of market demand and the economics of collaboration. So the industry understands that they have to get in a room together over certain things.

That said, I think the way that we’re approaching this is making it a very singleness of purpose to start, which provides certain guardrails and a comfort level to get in a room and think through, “What is the policy education that has to happen to support us collectively?”

MCM: ACT has gained additional momentum in recent months, and your membership now includes H&M, thredUP, Rent the Runway among other top brands leading the charge in recommerce and sustainability efforts. Why now and what are some of the benefits that can be realized by joining ACT?

Kibbe: I think that the political space globally and nationally has set the stage already for us to all understand that policy is happening around our space. So, the environment is right for us to have conversations together about what that means and what we would like it to look like. This runs from the stakeholders who have an interest in involved from retailers, to recyclers, recommerce, sorters and repairers. Our membership is broad in that sense. Their businesses can be better by understanding the challenges that their partners are facing as well.

We’ve seen policy change already happen as it relates to fashion in California. There is policy on deck there and in other states, but it hasn’t yet really been applied to the recommerce space or the recycling space. And it will be, so we want to ensure that that is executed in a way that supports the existing players and supports innovation and new players.

MCM: Looking ahead, what does ACT see as the biggest threats to the advancements of circular fashion models in in 2023 and 2024?

Kibbe: I think that fear and short-term frustration that things aren’t moving fast enough and not sort of staying the course on all levels. That can be from an investment perspective or a policy lens. It can just be from the decisions that retailers and brands make, understanding that everybody has to run a business. But I do think this is something that is going to take significant unsexy dollars.

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in hearing more of Rachel’s thoughts, you can check out Hot Buttons, a weekly podcast on the intersection of fashion, culture and sustainability on a changing planet.