“To meet C2C gold level standards for the new cashmere sweater, there was a requirement in place that meant a program had to be in place that would enable the recycling of that product,” said Devon Leahy, the corporate head of sustainability at Ralph Lauren.
The fashion supply chain is very complicated, and the origin of most clothing is opaque. The C2C certification is significant because it means that Ralph Lauren, and its partners, can account for every step of its production, from farm to finished product. So far, only small brands like Alabama Chanin or Mother of Pearl, or extremely expensive ones (like Bamford or Loro Piana, whose cashmere sweaters retail for closer to $3000) have publicly said that they are up to such a task. Ralph Lauren, one of the biggest names in global fashion, earned annual revenues of $6.2 billion last year.
Re-Verso has been recycling “pre-consumer” cashmere, or waste material collected from garment factories, for almost a decade, but this program will be the first to be directly sourced from a brand’s consumers, explained Marco Signorini, the company’s head of marketing. Currently, Re-Verso recycles around 600 tons of cashmere a year, a figure he hopes will now rise.
At a time when more luxury brands are investing directly in — and monopolizing — suppliers, Ralph Lauren will not have exclusivity rights or ownership of any of the regenerated materials that are produced from the cashmere sourced from the program. The brand will also not be selling recycled cashmere pieces as part of its luxury collections.
To what extent customers will buy into the program, however, remains to be seen. Ultimately, without their participation, the program can’t work.
Katie Ioanilli, chief global impact and communications officer at Ralph Lauren, said the C2C certification lets consumers know the fabric “will biodegrade in a non-disruptive way. And those with old cashmere items have a new option on how they might do that responsibly and with minimal hassle. It might not be perfect. But to us, it feels like a start.”