business circular economy

Rapanui’s circular t-shirts

Around ten years ago I decided I wasn’t going to buy new clothes unless I knew where they had come from. As a result, most of my wardrobe is second hand and of the clothes that I have bought new, the majority are from Rapanui. (I’m wearing a t-shirt and a hoodie of theirs right now.) They use organic cotton and manufacture their clothes in a wind powered Fairwear certified factory. Short of making my own clothes from nettle fibre from the back alley behind my garden, I’m not sure I could improve on those credentials.

Rapanui have pioneered several new technologies in their pursuit of sustainable business, including full traceability, eco-labelling, or print on demand so that there is no wasted inventory. In 2013 they started taking their old clothing back too, and I interviewed co-founder Rob Drake-Knight about it at the time. I’ve sent a few things back myself, freepost, and got a voucher in return. We knew the plan was always to do something interesting with those returned clothes, but the masterplan has taken a while to develop. Ten years in fact.

Now it’s ready. This week Rapanui released a new product line, the ‘circular t-shirt’. It’s made from the organic cotton that’s been returned to them, in a process that is endlessly repeatable. It closes the loop on their materials, putting the cotton back into circulation as new clothing. Given the environmental impact of cotton, and the amount of clothing that we throw away in Britain, this is an ingenious move.

As the video says, this is what circular fashion looks like, and circular economy principles have been worked into Rapanui’s whole business model. That includes TeeMill as well, which is a platform for those wanting to sell their own designs.

Apparently their exact process is a world first, but there are so many benefits to circular fashion that I expect it will not be the last.


    1. No reason to exclude them, it’s simply because making new t-shirts out of old is a an innovation in the way that local production is not. So circular t-shirts are newsworthy. And I expect Aesthetic Laundry still need to ship in the fabrics.

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