Design
Jun 13, 2024
by Karl Smith
The Second Coming of CIRCULOSE: Is This Fashion’s Recycling Reckoning?
by Karl Smith
Jun 13, 2024

Second chances in life are a rare thing. The sheer volume of music, films, and other popular culture media devoted to the subject ought to make that obvious. It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Against All Odds — all cultural touchstones, all anchored on the concept of getting another go around in one way or another. Without second chances, the human condition is just that little bit less bearable and less beautiful.

And while the rise and fall and potential rise again of Swedish textile-to-textile innovator Renewcell may not be a love story for the ages, it is most certainly a prescient story of second chances – not just for the next-gen company itself, but for the fashion industry at large.

First things first: Renewcell as it was no longer exists. As many media outlets reported at the start of the year, back when its shares tanked and the Stockholm-based outfit went under, Renewcell really is dead. But rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. It is, in many ways, a death in name only.

What that means in real terms is that, having found a new owner in Altor Equity, Renewcell may be dead and buried but CIRCULOSE is alive and well. Named after the innovator’s flagship material, the reanimated recycler is now ready to pick up where it left off.

But, if things are exactly where Renewcell left them, what’s to stop the same thing from happening again? Have circumstances really changed that much in just four months?

“This do-over signifies more than just a chance to one-up an old adversary. It’s a chance to put one over on the status quo; to not just come back, but to stage the kind of comeback which can’t be ignored.”

What’s important to remember is that Renewcell did make some mistakes – for one, it kept things a little too old school; kept its head down and got on with the hard work of building the technology and neglected the work of building a successful brand image. The former, of course, is very much to be applauded – but the latter also matters in the era of consumer engagement. Often more than it really ought to.

What’s also important to keep in mind, though, is that Renewcell is not entirely to blame for its own collapse. Despite promises from some of fashion’s biggest names, the company reported record-low uptake at the end of 2023 and start of 2024, at one point even hitting zero. In short: commitments were broken and CIRCULOSE was left sitting in the warehouse when it ought to have been making its way to shelves across the world.

Naturally, this series of events – or series of non-events, leading to one very large event – was disappointing. But it wasn’t exactly surprising. It’s no secret that fashion likes to make grand proclamations about its progressive intentions a whole lot more than it actually likes to follow through on them. Change is an unknown quantity, and the unknown tends to be considered bad for business.

What are the chances, then, that the industry has managed to find some semblance of a spine in the relatively short time it’s taken for Renewcell to become CIRCULOSE? As Lundmark Magnus, CEO of CIRCULOSE, rightly noted in remarks on news of the company’s acquisition and subsequent reanimation, “We, of course, both expect and hope for the support from the brands now… Because at the end of the day, you have to ask, ‘O.K, are you going to buy or not?’”.

The question is, how can they guarantee that when a guarantee isn’t enough in and of itself?

The answer is an elusive one – and one that’s yet to make itself entirely clear. CIRCULOSE simply has to avoid remaking its own mistakes and hope that the domino effect of that change in tack might be enough to convince its erstwhile customers to come back and commit for real. But hoping only gets us half way there – if that.

There’s also another problem – a new roadblock that wasn’t in Renewcell’s way before way but which, now, threatens to hold up CIRCULOSE’s path toward progress. That problem is Syre – a Swedish textile-to-textile recycler with the backing of H&M.

Now, if that’s a description which sounds pretty familiar – it should. H&M was one of Renewcell’s largest backers and one of the biggest names in the ledger for non-existent orders of Circulose. That the semi-fast fashion juggernaut now has its weight behind another recycling outfit – and more of its weight at that, with a $600 million USD financial interest having been put into Syre, earning H&M considerably more control and co-founder status – is not inconsequential. That H&M has moved on so quickly suggests this is a wrong unlikely to ever be put right; a second chance that is unlikely to ever materialize.

Given the Swedish corporation’s global influence, that is surely something of a blow to CIRCULOSE. But, then again, showing someone what they’re missing isn’t always about winning them back – sometimes it’s the key to moving on (and, of course, a change to twist the knife a little in return).

“It’s no secret that fashion like to make grand proclamations about its progressive intentions a whole lot more than it actually likes to follow through on them. Change is an unknown quantity, and the unknown tends to be considered bad for business.”

It is, for want of a better phrase, a real “in your face!” moment: here we are, not five months since the collapse of Renewcell, and the next-gen recycling operator is back in action with new backers and a new name. The second coming of CIRCULOSE is proof positive that there’s conviction behind what the company is doing, on a philosophical and financial level. In fact, H&M’s commitment to Syre is proof of that too – so much so, it seems, that they chose instead to back a horse that was neither better nor faster nor more established, but in which they could simply buy a more impressive stake and, in doing so, more thoroughly reap the rewards.

But this do-over signifies more than just a chance to one-up an old adversary. It’s a chance to put one over on the status quo; to not just come back, but to stage the kind of comeback which can’t be ignored.

The return of CIRCULOSE means the return of an advocate for change and the return of difficult questions that the fashion industry has made a strong attempt of brushing off for far too long. Most notably, “Now what?”

And you know what? That’s a pretty good question.