Of the Taka 200 crore, 60 per cent comes from the sale of yarn, underlined Mofazzal Hossain, President of the weavers’ body in the local market of Bogura, which is home to around 10,000 families of weavers, who for the last few years are making a real fortune from the waste fabric (a by-product of the country’s multi-billion-dollar RMG sector) by churning out yarns and clothes worth Taka 200 crore from waste fabric annually even as global entities, brands and retailers continue their mission to drive circularity in the country’s export-oriented garment manufacturing sector.
Recently, Global Fashion Agenda has announced a new project focused on driving forward circularity even as the BGMEA claimed there is potential for Bangladesh to earn as much as US $ 4 billion off its fabric scraps through the new partnership with GFA.
Gaining currency over the last few years, sustainability and circularity have become integral part of apparel industry! It had to be at some point, considering the dubious distinction of the industry in contributing towards environmental pollution. Around 85 per cent of garments end up in the landfill; leave alone the extensive use of pesticides and chemicals, leading to ecological degradation.
However, what gives these issues an added dimension is the Coronavirus-induced ‘New Normal’ where circularity has become an important tool towards attaining business viability and resilience. Bangladesh, the garment manufacturing powerhouse which is next only to China in terms of capacities and volume of exports, has picked up the ques and took to the so called 7Rs (redesign, reduce, reuse, renew, repair, recycle and retrieve) of circular economy in the right earnest. If the credit goes to brands and partnerships (by global players) for driving forward circularity in the export-oriented apparel manufacturing sector of the country, the local weavers catering to the domestic market have apparently been at it since quite some time now and, in the last couple of years, the issue of sustainability has only gained the much-needed momentum.
As per reports, weavers in Bangladesh’s district town of Bogura – Bogura is said to be home to around 10,000 families of weavers – for the last few years are making a real fortune from the waste fabric, a by-product of the country’s multi-billion-dollar RMG sector, by churning out yarns and clothes worth Taka 200 crore from waste fabric annually.
Reports have it that some of the families of weavers had been doing business in the region since the British era by importing yarn from Kolkata. But after the independence of India, the supply of yarn from Kolkata came to a halt and the local industry collapsed during the late 1970s. But in the beginning of the 1980s, some weavers found fabric waste in Dhaka’s Mirpur area and considered getting back to the business that they have practised for ages, but had to give up temporarily, following the abrupt stopping of yarn supply from Kolkata.
They now make different products like blankets, shawls, sweaters, towels, socks, mufflers, caps, neck warmers, bedsheets, etc., from the waste fabric and then sell their products at a temporary local market, which convenes twice a week, drawing in buyers in large numbers from all across Bangladesh.
According to Mofazzal Hossain, of the Taka 200 crore, 60 per cent comes from the sale of yarn, and went on to add that around 1,200 small traders sell products worth nearly Taka 3.5 crore a week.
“I buy waste fabric at Taka 10-20 per kilogram and rejected yarn at Taka 100-300 per kilogram. I collect those items from Dhaka’s Mirpur and sell them in my area. My annual sales receipt hovers around Taka 1-2 crore,” disclosed Mofazzal to the media while adding that in the local market, there are over 1,500 shopkeepers who separate yarn from garment waste and sell them to the weavers and traders who come to collect warm clothes from the local manufacturers to sell in the different districts.
At a recent media briefing, the GFA team revealed findings from its mandatory final report as part of the close of its 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment (also called the 2020 commitment). With the principles of the commitment embedded forever more in many signatories’ strategies, the GFA took to highlighting its next endeavour focused on scaling fabric scrap recycling in Bangladesh called its ‘Circular Fashion Partnership’.
“The 2020 commitments are a great starting point and great acceleration of that [circular] vision,” said Francois Souchet, Lead of Make Fashion Circular at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, while adding collaboration, investment and large-scale innovation, will be key going forward.
The 2020 commitment was launched three years ago at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit (now referred to as CFS+) in a call to set the fashion industry on track toward circularity. Altogether, 86 fashion companies, representing 12.5 per cent of the global fashion market, signed on to the initiative. The signatories are broken down into ‘large industry players’ such as ASOS, H&M, Nike, Inditex, Kering and Target, and small-to-medium enterprises such as Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans, LA-based Reformation and buzzy Copenhagen-based label Ganni. SMEs represent the majority, or 63 per cent, of the signatories.
As the final report noted, signatories reached 132 of the 207 targets set, or roughly 64 per cent — citing COVID-19 as a major hindrance. Goals were set across four action areas including design strategies for cyclability, volume of used goods collected, volume of used goods sold and increasing the share of goods made from recycled post-consumer textile fibres. Progress on targets are not peer-reviewed or verified by GFA. The organisation is the sole producer, with consultation from Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).
The roadblocks inhibiting industry-wide progress on the target areas, according to the report, include a lack of common language on circular design, limited opportunity for brands seeking to trial small-scale recycling runs and infrastructure limits. Access to ‘viable chemical recycling technologies’ is limited at best, according to the report.
The report’s close helped lay the foundation for GFA’s new endeavour: a cross-sectorial partnership with the BGMEA and software platform Reverse Resources, with the support of environmental non-profit Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals (P4G) and recycled cotton fibre firm Cyclo (Simco Spinning & Textiles Ltd.), an affiliate partner.
The goal of the project, which runs until the end of 2021, is to find a ‘scalable transition to a circular fashion system in Bangladesh’, according to Holly Syrett, GFA’s Senior Sustainability Manager who added that there is no cost to join the collaboration and manufacturers like Bangladesh-based Tarasima Apparels Ltd., brands like Bestseller and recyclers like Swedish chemical recycling firm Renewcell are already involved in it.
Their hope is to capture and direct post-production fashion waste and put it back into the production of new fashion products, alongside finding a marketplace solution to deadstock fabrics and overstock garments in Bangladesh. Eventually, the learnings may be rolled out togarment sectors in Vietnam and Indonesia, too.
“For us, the circular economy is no more a concept — it is the future. We cannot afford to use virgin materials at the rate we are currently consuming,” said BGMEA President Dr. Rubana Huq while adding the fashion industry has a sizable role to play in shifting away from a linear economy — with equally important gains, she said.
In early projections, the partnership claims it will have an immense impact. While existing systems of textile recycling in Bangladesh are still informal with only a fraction of garments recycled today, the BGMEA supremo said there is potential for Bangladesh to earn upward of US $ 4 billion from its fabric scraps.
“It has to make business sense for everyone,” she stressed.
Partners like Reverse Resources, a software solution for fashion production waste to brands sourcing in Bangladesh, hope to do just that by creating waste data visibility in real-time for garment factories. “The aim is by having one formal waste-handling partner to increase earnings for the factory while decreasing costs for recyclers,” said Nin Castle, Cofounder of Reverse Resources while Recycler Renewcell will work to coordinate and organise sourcing with mills and traders (or waste-handlers) in Bangladesh and oversee the quality of feedstock, as Jenny Fredricsdotter, Circular Business Manager at Renewcell shared.
The recycler purchases loads of waste by the container, which is then transported by sea to its plant in Sweden. While certain barriers remain as to the price of recycled yarns to virgin equivalents, or the brand penchant for pulling its own products from the supply stream, Fredricsdotter emphasised the benefits in starting with post-industrial waste that is being better traceability of fibre composition and chemicals.
“This will become a demand,” said Executive Director of Bitopi Group Hasan Mahmud at Tarasima Apparels Limited referencing to the dual play of data collection and waste management.
Meanwhile, the Danish fashion group Bestseller A/S, true to its motto ‘waste not, want not’,
is supporting two projects that are meant to accelerate its move to a more circular business model. One is about using the company’s own cutting waste and the other about creating recycling yarns. For both projects, Bestseller collaborates with suppliers in Bangladesh through its experimental sustainability hub Fashion Forward Lab because this is where a significant part of the group’s total garment production takes place.
As per reports, an estimated 400,000 tonnes of production waste is generated in Bangladesh each year, but less than five per cent of this is currently recycled domestically. The Bestseller Group has therefore launched a long-standing project for its Selected, Name It and Vero Moda brands and will work with GMS Composite Knitting, its largest jersey supplier in Bangladesh, to use textile scraps in its new collections.
The first such collections are expected to be available in Spring 2022.
“We’re working locally in Bangladesh with one of our big, longstanding suppliers to ensure our production waste is used within a closed-loop system in a fully transparent supply chain. In short, this means we are collecting and recycling our own brands’ cutting waste into new styles,” underlined Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, Sustainable Materials & Innovation Manager at Bestseller.
To develop desirable new recycled yarns, Bestseller is collaborating with Cyclo. “Mechanically recycling fabric scraps to make fibre has been around a long time. However, this fibre has traditionally been downcycled and the resulting yarn written off as too ‘low quality’ for the fashion industry. Our goal was to prove to the world that there is a tremendous opportunity to upcycle these fibres back into fashion,” maintained Cyclo Founder and Director Mustafain Munir.
While the collaboration with Cyclo and GMS Composite Knitting focuses on utilising waste immediately and implementing it directly in future collections, Bestseller joined the Global Fashion Agenda’s Circular Fashion Partnerships (CFP) already in its initial phase to work on a more structural level as well. The end goal is to succeed in implementing effective waste stream structures and to become ‘circular by design’.
Thanks to such efforts by the stakeholders coupled with the rising awareness among garment makers (who exports to the global market) as well as the local producers of yarns and clothes (who cater to the domestic market), circularity will set new benchmarks in Bangladesh in the years for sure.