The next piece of fashionable clothing you own may come from the garbage, as conglomerate Reliance Industries has started converting used plastic bottles into clothes with some help from fashion brands and designers.
Reliance Industries, which has its roots in polyester business, aims to make ‘sustainable clothing’ affordable and accessible, drawing inspiration from the success of the group’s telecom venture Jio in getting volumes with competitive pricing, a top executive said.
“For us, sustainability is not a fashionable word, we are making fashion out of it and it is a sustainable business,” Vipul Shah, chief operating officer of petrochemicals division at Reliance Industries, told ET. “It is time we look at sustainability beyond corporate social responsibility.”
The company is already processing two billion used PET bottles every year and plans to scale it up to six billion in two years, he said.
RILNSE -1.17 % has launched an umbrella brand, R|Elan, for eco-friendly fibre made from used plastic.
The manufacturing process is aimed at reducing carbon footprint at every stage by using biofuels and pre-dyed fibres, which eliminate the water and chemical discharge from wet dyeing.
The strategy is to manufacture co-branded apparels and RIL has already partnered with brands like Arrow, Wrangler, Raymond, Lee, among other international brands.
The global petrochemical market stares at several challenges as US trade disputes with China and Mexico have upset global supply and new capacities are coming up. But experts believe that recycled polymers may see strong demand coming from global brands that are increasingly looking at sustainable products to respond to growing awareness among consumers.
Italian brand Prada has decided to switch to recycled material for its iconic nylon bags, while British label Burberry has launched a collection made out of green yarn.
Consumers in many developed countries are embracing ethical or sustainable fashion, and are even ready to pay a premium for it. The Indian buyer, though, is still very price conscious.
RIL’s strategy is to build scale and create an ecosystem for sustainable fashion to make it affordable and accessible. “The demand for these products will grow, but nobody is going to pay a premium for sustainable products,” Shah said. “We have to create a mass movement with the right pricing that makes commercial sense. Premium pricing for sustainable clothing will not lead to a substantial change, which is what the environment needs.”
As a strategy, RIL is selling the sustainable fibre on the basis of attributes that it will provide to the clothing made from it at a price competitive to non-sustainable products with same attributes.
Indian performance wear brand Alcis Sports and designer Narendra Kumar have joined hands to launch a collection of sustainable gym and workwear under the label ‘Alcis X Nari’ using R|Elan fibre.
“There is a low recognition among consumers for sustainability,” Kumar said. “Most consumers are yet to understand the magnitude of the environmental issues we face. So we have worked to incorporate elements of fashion but made it functional and affordable. We are telling consumers, don’t wear these clothes to save the world, wear it because it is fashionable and affordable.”
RIL and Kumar are also working on ways to further recycle these products once they have been used by consumers, so that they don’t land up in landfills.
“We will have a system in place where customers can return used products at the store and get a discount,” Kumar said. “The clothes can then be sent back for recycling. The whole value chain is cyclical.”
Global brands are making everything from swimwear to winter wear to backpacks with recycled material. India can catch up soon if it looks at its waste as a resource.