The Demise Of Renewcell

  • by Vivienne Austin

In February, Renewcell, a Swedish textile-to-textile recycling company, filed for bankruptcy. This news came after a series of setbacks, including warehouse fires, plummeting share prices, and a sudden halt in sales of its flagship Circulose pulp product. Despite being a cutting-edge business addressing textile waste, the bankruptcy announcement surprised many, shaking up the textile innovation sector and sparking numerous questions. The closure of Renewcell's pioneering 100% textile-to-textile recycling plant, which started operations in September 2022, left many wondering how such a well-connected company focusing on textile waste could face bankruptcy shortly after its flagship factory opened.

In case you missed it, Renewcell was known for its innovative approach to transforming textile waste into new textiles, aiming to combat textile waste with its Circulose material, a viscose fibre created from 50% recycled cotton textile waste. We’ve analysed this new-gen material in one of our previous articles, which you can check out here.

Unfortunately, Renewcell's situation is not the only demise in the new-gen textile industry. In 2023, Bolt Threads, a US-based startup known for its mushroom-based leather alternative Mylo - which we’ve also talked about here - and supported by major brands like Adidas, Stella McCartney and Lululemon, paused production indefinitely due to funding challenges. Similarly, The Restory, a circular fashion service that collaborated with luxury retailers such as Selfridges and Harrods, faced unexpected liquidation after its co-founders left the business in March 2023.



These losses in the sustainable fashion industry have caused significant issues, and as a consequence, there’s criticism starting towards the fashion industry for not aligning actions with words. In fact, H&M Group, after incorporating Renewcell's Circulose in their SS20 collection, pledged to expand the material's usage across its brands within five years, which didn’t happen. In October 2023, Inditex, the parent company of Zara, announced intentions to purchase the initial 2k tonnes of recycled cotton waste from Renewcell. Despite these companies’ announcements, Renewcell admitted that they received no orders at all, showcasing a lack of support from the industry itself. 

With this limited financial help from the industry, the only option for Renewcell is to go bankrupt, of course. Now, the fashion industry is under scrutiny again for promising but not delivering on crucial goals like emission reductions, fair wages, and waste reduction. As fast fashion brands introduce sustainable materials in small, one-time collections without scaling up usage, they’re actually hindering the progress of sustainable manufacturing and cutting-edge materials from becoming mainstream, while securing themselves the “sustainable” label in the consumers’ common conceptions. These actions only confirm what we all already know to be greenwashing from brands such as H&M, Stradivarious, Zara, etc.



Assessing the future of new-gen materials, just like we have done for Mylo and Circulose, and their longevity poses a bit of a challenge now. From the demise of these two, the key lesson is to be patient and acknowledge that transitioning to a non-toxic material world may take time, not just a few years or months. The commitment to transparency, regulations, and corporate responsibility is still lacking, hindering the much needed progress towards a sustainable system. Renewcell's narrative should motivate the fashion industry to act collectively. Bridging the innovation gap and creating a business environment where sustainability is not just a moral duty but also a strategic commercial necessity is crucial. This involves forming solid, enduring partnerships with these new-gen materials innovators. These companies, on the other hand, should scrutinise their supporters and their motivations, ensuring their alignment to the future of the industry. If not, it may not be worthwhile. We’re now seeing H&M backing a company that will provide a textile-to-textile circular polyester called Syre, but is this just another ticking clock until this new-gen material finds its demise?!


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