The global COVID-19 pandemic proves to be a challenging time for the fashion industry in many ways. We want to bring forth the voices of the manufacturing sector into the mainstream conversation, and in the Perspectives series, we speak to our partner factories on how they are coping with current circumstances, the need for digitalization, sustainability, and more.
About this partner
Recover is the Ferre Company’s textile system that manufactures high-value upcycled yarns for fashion, home textiles and accessories, from textile waste. Both pre and post-consumer textile waste and clothing is collected from across the world, sorted. shredded and spun into long-lasting, high impact Recover yarn. In 2019 alone, they saved 40 million litres of water, 54,479 tones of CO2 emissions and 2.7 million kgs of textile waste. Some of their products include Recover Jeans, made from pre and post-consumer denim, Recover Tech made from rPET and upcycled cotton and Recover Earth made from a blend of upcycled and virgin organic cotton.
Perspectives is a SupplyCompass series that focuses on our supply chain partners operating at the intersection between innovation, efficiency and sustainability, to help shape more inclusive conversations in the fashion industry.
We spoke to Paqui Ferrer, Marketing Director of Recover on the history of the business and their post-pandemic visions for the circular economy and fashion industry.
Can you explain a little about the history of Recover yarn and the Ferre Company and how the business started all the way back in 1947?
In 1914 the company started as a small business in Spain, producing fabrics mainly from jute and cotton. Some of these fabrics were used to make big bags for fertilizers and it was a system where when you were finished with the sack of fertilizers you could send it back and they would reuse it several times. After a certain point, some of these sacks could not be used anymore and were instead kept in storage. In the 1940s, after World War II and the Spanish Civil War, there was a big scarcity in Spain, especially in raw material. So the business had a very clever idea wherein they decided to recycle all of this textile waste that was stored, and make new fiber and spin new yarn; for this, they bought a small spinning machine. It was both because of necessity and because they wanted to continue the business. Thus the Ferre Company was founded in 1947.
In the beginning, the company was producing cotton fibre but for a very small market, with very thick yarns and mostly for cleaning but as time went by, they started to invest in new machines especially for recycling and improving the quality of the fibre. They were able to buy more spinning machines as well and produce yarn not only for cleaning products but also for knitted garments. In the late 1990s, they realized that there was a huge market for cotton waste because of the rise in fast fashion. So they started buying and looking for other sources of raw material and realized that a big part of this raw material was already coloured, thus allowing them to start producing coloured yarn without dyeing the fibre. It was a combination of necessity, several available sources in the market, and a continuous rethinking of the process, always based on sustainability. The company has always been recycling cotton and will always be doing this.
It’s very interesting to note how sustainability has been the foundation of your company since you started in 1947.
In the last decade, there has been a huge rise in the demand for sustainable clothing and textiles and the rise of circular economies. What does sustainability personally mean to you? What future do you envisage for the global circular economy?
I’m going to be very honest with you – about three years ago, I personally wasn’t even thinking about this. I was moving in a world where sustainability is still not considered important. And then I discovered Recover yarn around the time I had my child. I was overwhelmed by all the things that people were selling, telling me what I needed to buy for my kid, which I personally thought was crazy. At that time I started to change my point of view with regard to fashion and I started to think about what I was wearing, how I was wearing it and why I had cheap clothes in my closet that I never wore. I believe that people, especially the younger generation are becoming more concerned. We are all seeing what is happening to the planet and I don’t believe that anything, including the current situation, is not because of the planet telling us to stop.
In global terms, the circular economy, the way we manage resources, and the way we find new ways to reuse what has already been used before is going to be key in the next decade. And that is going to affect the lives of everybody and is going to be definitive.
I think anybody who works in sustainability can absolutely relate to what you said about your personal connection with clothing. What are some of your proudest achievements in terms of innovation in the industry?
I think that the company is really proud of three main achievements. The first is that the HIGG index by the SAC rated our cotton fibre as the most sustainable in the world. This is a very big achievement for such a small company like ours based in a small village in Alicante, Spain.
I think the second one is our ColorBlend® process. We were the first ones to take the colour from waste cotton clips and do all these combinations with different colours. We have 350 colours now already developed, in our colour range for yarns.
And the third and most recent innovation that we are happy with is the closed-loop service that we started 5 years back engaging with brands and retailers who have pre-consumer stock that they can’t sell, as well as post-industrial waste. We have several denim brands who have waste from garment suppliers lying in the warehouses which they then send to us to produce new denim yarn. Also, several retailers have started projects to collect garments at their stores which they again send to us and we convert to new Recover yarn. Sometimes we procure them through the Mass Balance system or sometimes it’s only their input.
These are the three main achievements we are proud of.
Recover’s supply chain works with post-consumer waste from all over Europe. How are you adapting your business in this uncertain time?
Our waste comes mainly from Portugal and Spain, but that doesn’t mean it’s directly sourced in Spain. We have a local agent/trader who sends us waste and he collects them from Europe, North Africa, Asia, India, etc. We have had no problem so far in terms of getting raw materials we need for our business. When everything started in China, we already set up a plan so we wouldn’t lack anything we needed to produce yarn. So it’s not affecting us at the moment, because honestly there is still a lot of textile waste produced every single day. And imports and exports are not restricted; there are strict measures but this trade has not been restricted.
What changes do you think we will be seeing in the fabric and apparel industry once this pandemic is over? Do you think the current situation will make the world rethink production and look at waste, be it pre or post-consumer, in a new light?
I don’t think there will be an increase or over-demand in the market. I feel that the big retailers are able to sell very cheaply because they buy very cheaply in big volumes. But we all know that they are not able to sell these big volumes, so I think that this will change. I also believe that consumers are not going to buy so many clothes anymore. They are going to look for more quality, durability, and clothing that can be reused in some way without being discarded.
In some areas, we don’t really know what will happen. I was speaking with the CEO of a children’s apparel company in Spain where they have many shops and he told me the same thing. We don’t know what is going to happen to retail shops, because people may be scared to come and try on clothing in shops. There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty in the market now, but we will definitely see a difference.
Sometimes when we think of sustainability, we only focus on materials but we don’t think of what happens when we buy a T-shirt produced in China for 3 Euros, in terms of CO2 emissions in transportation, for example. That’s going to change as well. I think big companies will still produce in the big hubs in Asia but a lot of production is also going to be moved to nearby countries. In the end, it’s not going to be so much a question of cost and price but of other factors like this.
I think one of the key points in all these new beginnings is going to be circular economies. It’s going to be a global change of mindset.
The biggest players are the weakest ones now, in the situation we are in. All their shops are shut down and they are as weak as the lady with a small shop in front of my house.
What digital tools and technology do you use at the moment to manage the production processes?
We do have a very easy and simple process which is a standard ERP. Everything is in one system, including information about the market and customers. We don’t have any complicated technology to manage production processes. We rely more on machines. Our recycling machines are unique wherein our in-house R&D team has adapted standard machines.
And finally, how important is collaboration to your business? Do you see technology and converting to digitalization aiding this process and your vision for the circular economy?
Collaboration with partners has always been important for us because we learn with them and they learn from us, and we become better in the process, which is what we want to achieve. Technology and digitalization of companies are going to be important because we are going to need to be able to receive information and make better decisions as there’s a lot to be done in terms of traceability and circularity. There are currently platforms connecting people with each other, including SupplyCompass helping small brands find the right partners for the whole production process. So I think these services emerging in the market are going to be very important in the transition of making clothes in the present to the way we make clothes say 10 years from now.