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The role of secondary raw materials in fashion

Secondary raw materials are an incredible resource for fashion brands interested in sustainability

In a world where the fashion industry is constantly under pressure to be more sustainable, secondary raw materials are becoming an increasingly important part of the equation.

What are SRMs? And what benefits do they bring to fashion companies?

Secondary Raw Materials (SRMs)

Secondary raw materials are obtained from raw material processing waste or end-of-life products that are recovered and treated in special facilities. The European Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) designates SRMs as those materials and products that can be used as raw materials through reuse, recycling, or rehabilitation. Within a country's economy, secondary raw materials are marketed in the same way as virgin raw materials.

So, SRMs are materials that have already been used in a previous product cycle, then collected and processed for reuse. Their key benefit is that they require fewer resources to produce than their primary raw materials, making them more sustainable.

Some examples of SRMs in fashion are:

  • fabrics: recycled cotton, cashmere, wool, denim but also recycled polyester or tencel;
  • accessories: upcycled buttons and zippers;
  • materials coming from other industries: recycled plastic or rubber.

Regarding textile SRMs, we can divide them into two categories:

  • Pre-consumer textile waste, such as offcuts from factories or post-manufacturing leftovers.
  • Post-consumer textile waste, such as clothes collected for recycling from second-hand shops, charity organisations, and consumers.

An example could be Brazilian sunglasses start-up Preza which makes its products from the wood chip waste recovered from luxury furniture production. Orange Fiber, an Italian company which has patented the pulp production process for citrus by-products, to produce the first-ever TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibre made of orange and wood pulp was adopted by Salvatore Ferragamo for their Maison homewear line.

The role of secondary raw materials in fashion

Benefits of secondary raw materials in fashion

Textile production has a significant environmental impact: it requires large amounts of water, produces a lot of waste, and employs pollutants. In addition, textile recycling is not easy: often fibres are too short to be reused, garments mix different materials, and sometimes recycling itself is too expensive to be viable. In short, compared to other industries, fashion starts at a disadvantage in the race for sustainability. This is why secondary raw materials are so important. Regardless of whether they are already broken-down materials or second-hand products, SRMs are one of the ways for fashion brands to be part of the circular economy.

By using secondary raw materials instead of new ones, fashion companies can save energy and water in production processes, as well as help to reduce waste. At the same time, SRMs help companies save money and increase profits since they are generally more affordable than their primary counterparts and waste management is minimised. They also create an opportunity for fashion companies to differentiate themselves in at least 3 different ways:

  • secondary raw materials open up new possibilities for product design, giving brands the freedom to create unique and innovative finished products,
  • they provide an opportunity for collaboration between fashion companies and waste collectors, recyclers, factories, and other stakeholders in the circular economy,
  • SRMs give brands the ability to tell stories about their commitment to sustainability, which can help them stand out from their competitors and improve their brand image. This is particularly important, as consumers are becoming more aware of environmental issues and they expect brands to take action.

As you can see, it’s a win-win situation.

Traceability, the key to successfully join the circular economy

Despite the unquestionable advantages, the use of SRMs poses an important issue for fashion companies: traceability. In fact, companies must be sure of the origin of the materials they use, but they must give this same assurance to their consumers as well. Often these materials are new, and the consumer is not yet aware of them. What can they do?

Connected products can be very useful in this regard. By connecting to the product with a smartphone a QR code or an NFC tag attached to the product, launches a web-app that can explain how the product is created, and show the consumer a digital product passport, which is a certificate that contains all the information about a product in one place.

And that's the fact: connecting garments to the Internet allows companies to provide customers with information about the origin of their raw materials, manufacturing processes, and supply chain. This is particularly important for secondary raw materials: through connected products, customers are able to see how that item is part of a circular economy, who collected it, who recycled it, and how. This guarantees greater transparency, credibility, and trust. All of these are essential elements to build relationships with customers in the fashion industry in the era of sustainability.

27 Jan 2023

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