This Is Plastics: High Fashion Brands Are Creating Luxury With Recycled Plastic


High Fashion Brands Are Creating Luxury With Recycled Plastic

Fashion powerhouses are leveraging plastic and innovative recycling technologies to enable a circular economy.


Fashion powerhouses are leveraging plastic and innovative recycling technologies to enable a circular economy.

Silk, leather and furs are hallmarks of luxury fashion, but the sourcing of these materials has become increasingly problematic. Alternative materials, like synthetic plastic fibers including nylon and polyester, are more versatile, affordable and durable than invasive animal byproducts. Most importantly, unlike animal products, synthetic fibers can be recycled and repurposed in the circular economy. While many small and specialty brands are already incorporating recycled plastics into their product lines, major luxury fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada are also beginning to recognize the material’s value and potential.

High Fashion Supports Advanced Recycling for Fabrics

For decades, synthetic materials have been a core part of the fashion industry, from apparel lines to packaging and shipping. Textile recycling, however, is a blooming new part of the industry. Fashion for Good, an industry consortium whose members include Chanel and Stella McCartney, is developing new advanced recycling processes focused on transforming textiles. The organization’s Full Circle Textiles Project researches advanced recycling capabilities to recycle polyester and create a more circular economy for clothing.

Advanced or molecular recycling, which works in tandem with mechanical recycling systems, breaks down plastics into their original polymers using heat or chemicals so they can be used again to make new, valuable products. While advanced recycling systems take time to scale up, investments from fashion houses and industry are bridging that gap. Luxury brand LVMH’s Perfume & Cosmetic Division recently partnered with Eastman Chemical Company to develop Eastman Cristal Renew co-polyester packaging, made with 30% recycled contents, for their product lines. Parfums Christian Dior has already adopted the packaging and other brands in LVMH’s portfolio are expected to follow suit. Just this month, Eastman announced plans to invest as much as $1 billion to build the world’s largest material-to-material molecular recycling facility in LVMH’s home country, France – the fashion capital of the world.

Although the global textile recycling rate currently hovers at about 15%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the global fashion industry is working to boost this number as more fabric is made out of synthetic polymers. In fact, increasing textile recycling rates by just 10% would keep over one million tons of fabric out of landfills. This 10% increase in recycling could save over $55 million annually in waste management fees, while also keeping more valuable material out of the trash. Advanced recycling solutions for synthetic polymers can have environmental and economic benefits that allow us to keep valuable products in the economy and out of the landfill.

This Recycled Plastic? It’s Gucci.

While large scale advanced recycling will be key, individual brands are also creating more robust end markets for recycled plastic by investing in product lines that use recycled materials. Several luxury brands use Econyl, a regenerated nylon produced via advanced recycling from discarded clothing and fishing nets, to keep synthetic fibers out of the environment and in the economy.

In 2019, Prada launched their Prada Re-Nylon campaign of Econyl fabric clothing, and has since expanded the original capsule collection of six styles to a full-house plan that will shift all of their products to Re-Nylon in two years. The Adidas for Prada Re-Nylon line of sportswear, launched in January 2022, is a joint commitment by industry leading, high quality brands, to a circular product lifecycle.

Not to be outdone, Gucci created the Gucci Off The Grid collection with five Econyl products as part of the Gucci Circular Lines full-house initiative to incorporate regenerated materials and textiles into their products. The products are made with Econyl recycled nylon and recycled polyester thread, and are even delivered in a recycled polyester dust bag. Gucci is also going beyond their products to recycle excess fabric created during production into new Econyl, minimizing waste and ensuring circularity in the production cycle.

Other top-notch brands are also recycling fabrics, and Louis Vuitton’s Felt Line of bags, created by the late designer Virgil Abloh, are made of 100% recycled polyester from recycled plastics and pre-consumer fabric waste.

Recycled Textiles Fit Fashion for Everyone

While the everyday consumer may not buy a designer handbag, even one made from recycled materials, everyday brands follow the example set by major fashion houses. More affordable brands like H&M and Zara look to high fashion brands, everyday looks, and celebrities to find common threads and trends when creating new products, and clothing made from recycled plastics is increasingly popularized. From Louis Vuitton and Prada’s high fashion recycled lines, to the Adidas for Prada sportswear collection, and celebrities like Lil Nas X modelling the Gucci Off the Grid collection, recycled textiles are proving to be more than just a niche trend.

As more brands boost the demand for recycled plastic product lines, and industry groups invest in advanced textile recycling infrastructure, more clothing will be recycled into new garments, conserving plastic used and decreasing the amount of material in landfills. These luxury brands are leading a movement towards a fully circular product lifestyle, with recycled plastic at the center.

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