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Level playing field for circular workwear

Circular workwear can make an important contribution to the great ambitions of the Green Deal Circular Textiles. During the first Meetup Circular workwear, it appears that many players in the chain are already working on the subject and that there is a lot to learn from each other.

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area has great textile ambitions: by 2030, no more circular textiles will go into the incinerator. In the Green Deal Circular Textiles various parties are working on this subject from different angles. For example, a Denim Deal has already been concluded, the focus is on a Repair Shared Services Center, the development of circular protective clothing for care and work is being done on the integration of circular principles in education and research.

In this first meetup on circular workwear, the Amsterdam Economic Board brings together manufacturers and clients to further explore this topic. “We hope to see what is already happening and what challenges you face when dealing with circular workwear”, says Claire Teurlings, lead Circular Economy of the Board at the opening.

NTA for circular textiles

Marien Groenendijk (former director of Groenendijk Bedrijfskleding) is personally committed to making workwear circular. For example, he collaborates with various organizations on the NTA (Nederlandse Technische Afspraak) for circular textiles of the NEN. The NTA describes what we mean by circular textiles and forms the standard for producers and clients. “Circular design will play an important role in the NTA, so that we can process more targeted and higher-quality textiles.”

Groenendijk: “At Groenendijk, customers are motivated to join the circular journey, but a lot of technical clothing with all kinds of safety standards cannot yet be reprocessed or recycled to a high standard. Then attention is paid to other matters.”

For example, reduce and refuse, two R’s that are high on the circularity ladder, of which you see an image. “Groenendijk’s customer, for example, no longer receives a standard package with pants and a skirt for women, but employees can put together a package themselves. At another customer, they are working on a return system for clothes that have been worn little and can possibly be offered refurbished.”

Circular workwear for Albert Heijn

In the past year, the 100,000 employees in the Albert Heijn stores were given new circular workwear. Bart Hofmans of Ahold Delhaize explains how, as a client, they gave potential suppliers a lot of freedom in the tendering process. “We first carefully selected a small group of potential suppliers. We outlined our ambition and asked them to come up with a solution. By setting few conditions, we were able to make optimal use of their innovative strength. In close collaboration with the employees, we have made a selection of the best proposal. And we then submitted that to the market in a tender.”

This way of working is very satisfying, says Shirley Schijvens of Schijvens Corporate Fashion, the company that won the tender—their largest contract ever. Two interesting components are the return logistics system that was developed with PostNL. This is used to collect discarded clothing so that new yarn can be made from it in Turkey.

The open cost calculation also proved to be a bull’s eye for Albert Heijn. This gave them insight into the costs of all the different parts of this complex operation, so that they could make a balanced, sustainable and circular decision on each part.

Interesting collaborations

As is also apparent today, a lot is already happening around circular workwear. Groenendijk is participating in the European research project Circtex. In this, various parties in the chain closely examine their contribution to recycling and circular production of workwear.

And Rick Schurink, commercial director of producer Texet, discusses the challenges for larger producers of ‘off the shelf’ products. Major steps were first taken in the field of making the materials more sustainable. Now that that basis is correct, they are taking circular steps in a Flemish collaboration. A so-called Non-Profit Association has been set up for this. “With three other companies in our sector and laundries, we are thinking about how we can, for example, organize return logistics in a smarter way and how to create more mass for circular textiles. In the Netherlands, we are also open to such a collaboration.”

Logistics, standardization and education

In the breakout rooms it also appears that there is a great need for exchanging experiences and cooperation in this area. For example, Shell is working on a tender for uniforms at the gas stations. There are still many questions: for example about the logistics surrounding collection and reuse and what do you do with uniforms that are still good for employees who leave? Maybe they can knock on the door of the municipality of Amsterdam, which has just put out a tender for the uniforms for special investigating officers (boa). In this they tackle, among other things, the problem that some boa officers now sometimes have ten sweaters. Returned worn clothing is now re-used.

Yvonne Onnink of Vattenfall says that until now her company mainly purchased custom work, but that this is an expensive solution. “Maybe we should move towards more standard products. I would like to see with other companies whether we can create mass for this together.”

Sofie Rockland of producer By Rockland states that education is also an important part of the road to circular corporate clothing. “We are not yet ready to close the loop, also because our customers are still at the beginning of this process. I notice that customers are open to the innovations that are already available in the market and I try to include them in that. But a lot is still unknown to the customer.”

Crusade in Jeans

Everyone is still on a crusade in jeans, Roosmarie Ruigrok of the municipality of Amsterdam and Reflow Project concludes at the end of the meeting: one side of the chain is looking for the right tender questions and is struggling with the assessment of the offer, the other lace innovates and thus works on circular textiles. There are so many choices that can be made.

There is also a conversation about an easy-to-read label or symbol such as the stars of the better life label and standard Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for transparency and to combat greenwashing. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management is currently working on this.

Next steps

The participants agree that we must work together to create mass for circular workwear. In a next meetup, after the summer, we will continue to work on joint tendering, make statements about quality marks, SLAs and labeling and jointly develop an ‘off the shelf’ standard product. Then think of overalls, a softshell or a shirt.

The Guide to purchasing circular textiles which will become available in mid-June, will certainly help with this and you will receive it in your mailbox. We will certainly pay attention to this in the next meeting.

During the Meetup #3 Circular Textile on 29 June various topics of the Green Deal Circular Textiles will be the focus.

If you want to think about the next steps, send an email to Claire Teurlings.

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