Fashion for Good Project Tests AI Sorting Technologies for Textile Circularity

Shirts for sale at a secondhand clothing store

(Credit: Fashion for Good)

by | Jan 19, 2024

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Fashion for Good has announced a new textile circularity project that will use automated sorting technologies to assess garments’ potential in the resale market.

The Sorting for Circularity Europe: Rewear Project, an 18-month undertaking, will use AI to collect product information, like color, style, and quality, allowing sorters to efficiently categorize secondhand clothing based on product data. This data collection should help ensure textiles achieve their highest value potential within local, European, and export resale markets. The project will specifically focus on the flow of textiles in Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain.

The project will help expand the Sorting for Circularity framework, which aims to target the root causes of the fashion industry’s waste burden, particularly as huge volumes of textile waste are exported to landfills in regions without the recycling infrastructure needed to process it. Findings from the project will be shared with a report and accompanying roadmap for future investment decisions in the textile recycling and resale markets.

The project is supported by funding from multiple brand partners, such as Adidas, Levi Strauss & Co., and Conprix. Industrial textile sorters, including Erdotex, ModaRe, Humana People to People Baltic, and Wtorpol will work together on the project.

Addressing Growing Textile Waste, Potential Revenue for the Circularity Market

Fashion for Good, a global initiative to improve sustainability in the fashion industry, has already conducted studies meant to identify the potential for textile reuse and recycling. The company explains that used textiles exported from the European Union have tripled over the last two decades, reaching nearly 1.7 million tons in 2019.

At the conclusion of one of its projects in 2022, Fashion for Good found that 74% of 494,000 tons of low-value, post-consumer textiles were readily available for recycling within six European countries. Moreover, the organization found that an additional $80 million could be generated each year by reintroducing these sorted and recycled textiles back into the value chain. According to major online secondhand fashion retailer, ThredUp, the textile resale market is expected to value $350 billion by 2027.

With such potential for increased textile circularity, the new project may help identify efficient ways to sort collected textiles, keeping them from landfills and instead reentering them to the market.

“With this project, we hope to clarify the myths and half-truths on post-consumer waste dumping, but also salvage those by understanding the processes and journeys these garments travel,” said Marieke Koemans-Kokkelink, head of sustainability for Erdotex. “Then we can reach true circularity.”

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