Approaching a circular economy

With the global population reaching nine billion people in 2030, there will be pressure on natural capital to meet consumer demand like never before. One of the ways C&A can create leadership as a global retailer is to move away from the make, use, and dispose economy to one that allows us to keep resources in use for as long as possible. This means extracting the maximum value from them while in use, then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of their service life. 

There are endless opportunities to bring circular ambitions to life, and we know will be necessary to support the future of the apparel industry.

Why a circular economy is necessary for apparel production

Enablers for a circular economy model in the apparel industry

In the UK alone, over 1 million tonnes of clothing are consumed each year, where many challenges prevent closing the loop on apparel. In a circular model, clothing fibres are reclaimed at the end of life and recycled into new clothing, carpets, or other products. If the apparel industry moves to a circular economy, it would reduce the need for virgin fibres, limit waste, improve efficiency, and create social fairness. From our research there are 6 areas where we can enable circular economy in the apparel industry.

Enablers for a circular economy model for the apparel industry

newborn collection

Partnering to develop a circular strategy

Our analysis


increase in CO2 emissions if current growth rate in apparel continues to 2025.1

30% of clothing is currently being reused or recycled in the developed world.1


Technologies for sorting and recycling of used clothing lack sufficient maturity and scale.1

Partnering with C&A Foundation to create system change

Throughout this report, we have emphasised the challenges in the global apparel industry, and we believe that there is a solution to its environmental and social impacts. In partnership with C&A Foundation, we aim to create a new future for apparel production by making a commitment to enabling the use, reuse, and rebirth of clothing.

Our partnership will create a hub focused on incubating and accelerating technologies that support the circular economy in the apparel industry. The hub will contribute to deeper industry collaboration, putting in place the incentives and structures to develop and deploy the technologies needed to start creating endless flows of fibres and clothing. More specifically, the partnership will provide research space, financial support and mentorship to develop and commercialize next generation manufacturing technologies.

The hub will also pursue blue-sky innovations that have the potential to fundamentally transform the industry to do more good. Our joint aim will be to transform the broader industry through the creation of open-source solutions that can be adopted by all actors in the apparel industry. We will launch this partnership in March 2017.


1 McKinsey Analysis for C&A, 2015


Over 350,000 tonnes of clothing end up in UK landfills alone per year, and their potential value as resource is lost. Because today’s apparel production model is still based on virgin raw materials, the volume of clothing waste will probably grow as more consumers buy—and eventually discard—even more clothes.  Learn more about how we are addressing this important issue in our own operations.

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electronic items collected for recycling across stores in Brazil.


tonnes of clothing recycled by Vökotex in Europe.

Case Study

China: Helping C&A employees play a central role in our circular economy plans

Making sure employees know how they can integrate circular principles into their daily work is vital to achieving a genuine circular economy.

C&A China held a workshop for 60 employees in 2015, hosted by cradle-to-cradle pioneer Bill McDonough. He encouraged participants to re-think the way we design, source, and make clothes and to see waste as an ‘ingredient’ to be used again.

Brazil: Encouraging electronic waste recycling

In addition to clothing, our stores in Brazil also sell electronic devices.

We run annual campaigns to remind customers to bring their old cell phones and batteries to our stores for proper disposal. In 2015 we collected more than 64,451 items.

Brazil: Giving employee uniforms a new lease on life

When we redesigned employee uniforms in 2014, we wanted to keep their old uniforms from going to waste. We collected nearly 67,000 items at our first collection in 2014, and another 10,000 uniforms and 600 shoes in 2015.

This recycling initiative allows our NGO partners to create jobs for local women from underprivileged backgrounds, who use the material to make key fobs, bags, and notebook sleeves. We often buy these gifts to present to employees, visitor or partners.

Brazil: Recycling hangers – 5.6 million and counting

C&A’s reuse and recycling system for hangers covers all 297 of our Brazilian stores, including those in remote areas. In 2014, also we changed the hanger plastic from polystyrene to polypropylene, making them more durable and reusable.

In 2015, we recycled approximately 5,600,000 plastic hangers. If we didn’t recycle these hangers, they would become about 224 tonnes of waste annually.

Europe: Inspiring customers to recycle clothing

To support the transition to a circular model, C&A customers in our Dutch stores can get a 5% discount voucher for donating old clothing of any brand under the slogan "Bring your old clothes to C&A and give them a second life”. Our recycling partner, I:CO, an international apparel and shoe recycling expert, decides which items can be sold again on the second-hand market, and which can be recycled to create raw materials for new products. For every kilo of garments or shoes collected, I:CO makes a donation to the organization CharityStar, which supports underprivileged European communities. We hope to extend the recycling programme to other European countries and regions. We also took steps to reuse and recycle unsellable merchandise. In 2015, 564 tonnes of clothing were also recycled by Vökotex.

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