Need Some Extra Holiday Cash? This Company Wants You to Recycle Your Clothes for Credit

SuperCircle's used clothing bins hit Blank Street Coffee locations this month

New Yorkers walking into their neighborhood coffee shops this month may have noticed something a little unexpected for a caffeine-slinging establishment: used clothing bins.

That’s thanks to a partnership between Blank Street Coffee and SuperCircle, a platform that connects clothing brands with recyclers. It aims to make the logistics of textile recycling accessible to sustainability-minded companies looking to avoid contributing to the mountains of fashion waste generated annually—totaling around 92 million metric tons, according to some estimates.

“Fast fashion isn’t going away—it’s only getting bigger,” Stuart Ahlum, co-founder at COO at SuperCircle, told Adweek. “SuperCircle is coming in to create accountability for that waste and have a really operational and legitimate infrastructure to capture [it].”

Prioritizing accessibility

In a pre-holiday activation that concluded today, the brand installed textile recycling receptacles at seven Blank Street Coffee locations around the city. Each bin features information about textile waste, its environmental impact and the opportunities that recycling can create.

“[People] love to recycle if it’s accessible,” explained Vishal Duvvuru, head of marketing for SuperCircle.

Launching the initiative ahead of the holidays was intentional, he explained. In return for dropping off old clothes, people got a credit to use with one of SuperCircle’s brand partners: Mate the Label, Thousand Fell or tentree. That offers brands a way to reach new customers when cost per acquisition on Facebook and Instagram are at a relative high.

For consumers, it offers a solution for clothing they don’t use anymore, while encouraging them to reengage with the brand and rewarding them for doing so.

“Tentree wanted to have a circularity program, but the only way it seemed feasible and scalable would be to work with others,” Kathleen Buckingham, the brand’s head of sustainability, told Adweek. SuperCircle has made that possible.

Building a new recycling system

Fast fashion has grown exponentially since the 1990s, with major retailers popularizing the idea that fashion can be trendy, low-cost and high turnover. But as cheap, oil-based synthetics have flooded the market, waste systems have failed to keep up.

Consumers either toss their old clothes in the trash or donate them to charity stores, which struggle to resell poor quality items. Those are then sold to intermediaries looking for anywhere to send textile waste, resulting in enormous shipments of old clothes to makeshift landfills in poorer regions of the world.

For brands, the problem is both logistical and structural. There’s little, if any, economic incentive for brands to take their products’ end-of-life into account. Given that reality, SuperCircle is working to build a system that connects brands to a network of recyclers and lifts the logistical burden of finding, tracking and sorting used garments.

“The problem is too difficult to solve once everything’s commingled and you don’t know what it is,” Ahlum explained. “You have to be able to work your way upstream on the source side of it in order to figure that out. That’s what we’re doing here.”

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