Full spectrum circularity in the apparel industry

Artificial Photography

Ahlma Full spectrum circularity in the apparel industry

Company information

  • Established in 2017
  • Based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 32 employees
  • E-commerce: 22 000 visitors/month on average, only 3 months after launch
  • Around 70 suppliers, mostly concentrated in the centre of the country

A linear, top down industry

After a typically short use span, 86% of clothing is either landfilled or burned; 13% is downcycled and less than 1% is recycled into new clothes. At the same time, it has been estimated that the global production of textiles is accountable for 20% of industrial wastewater and emits more greenhouse gases than international aviation and shipping combined.

Besides all the negative externalities, the textile industry clearly reflects the limits of the linear economic model. These limits, evidenced by the large volumes of waste generated, are actually untapped opportunities: more than USD 0.5 trillion in value is lost from the system every year due to under-utilised clothes and negligible recycling rates.

Not willing to contribute to a proven highly wasteful industry, AHLMA was created to offer a tangible solution through high quality, affordable and gender-free clothing lines. 

In the traditional model, decisions flow down from designers and stylists to manufacturers, regardless of the availability of materials. To address this, AHLMA gathered industry stakeholders around the idea of decentralised decision-making and co-creation of clothing according to the local and current market conditions, for example by embracing and adapting to the shifting availability of materials.

Circularity - not just in materials, but for the entire system

AHLMA has reimagined the operating system of the textile industry, from the product conception to the end-user experience.

AHLMA sources over 80% of raw materials from leftover fabric resulting from other textile companies’ mismanagement. The other 20% is a mix of recycled fibres and a small portion of primary raw material with BCI certified cotton, among others. These design and manufacturing choices significantly reduce the need for virgin raw materials, but also enable materials in production plants to be put to good use instead of being discarded. This means lower input cost in the production of Ahlma's clothes and extra revenue for suppliers.

Despite their startup size, AHLMA applies an open source approach, expanding their influence by making all design and pattern codes available on their website. By doing so, they enable anyone to replicate their style to make clothing from specific materials that are available to them.

AHLMA applies circular economy thinking in a number of other different ways:

As e-commerce accounts for the bulk of their sales, AHLMA can have a lean inventory thus reducing the instances of large surpluses. Their packaging uses a shipping box that is designed in such a way to incentivise the consumer to reuse it in other applications. Each sale includes instructions to maintain and extend the life of clothes, available either on the website or printed inside the clothes. AHLMA also has a physical concept store where customers can make use of a cleaning service that exclusively uses non-toxic solvents and a repair lab to extend the life of their clothes through maintenance and remodelling.

AHLMA circularity in a nutshell

  •  80% materials from leftover fabric
  •  Open source design
  •  Lean inventory
  •  Reusable shipping boxes
  •  Instructions for extending life
  •  Non-toxic cleaning 
  •  Repair lab for maintenance and remodelling
  •  Subscription model available in concept store

A continuing journey

AHLMA’s style and design teams are developing a methodology to co-create fashion in a way that makes use of valuable leftover materials already in the market. The company’s vision is to shift the old top-down approach to one that accepts and even embraces the fluctuations and unpredictability of the economy and involves the customer in the design process.

Recently, AHLMA launched a 'subscription wardrobe' from its concept store. This new leasing model allows people to access quality clothes and respond to changing styles, without actually owning their garments. 

As well as spotting new opportunities, challenges do remain. For example, building clear communication around their products is one obstacle, since using 'recovered raw-materials' can lead to the customer perception that the clothes are somehow second-hand and hence lower quality products.

While AHLMA makes products out of leftover materials, its production processes still have losses of their own. For this reason, the company will shortly start using a Brazilian software tool that aims at optimising material usage, thus further reducing losses in the production of clothing garments.

Identifying other sources of regenerative and restorative raw materials is also on the radar of the young startup, in order to diversify and de-risk their sourcing.

Benefits

  • Revenue for manufacturers
  • Reinventing commercial relationships in the value chain and recovering lost value 
  • Textile fabric represents the lowest cost of AHLMA’s inputs
  • Over 10,000 pieces of garment produced from recovered fabric to date
  • Stimulating creativity through open source design codes
  • Engenders consumer mindset shift: from fast fashion to conscious fashion

Further material:

Website: http://ahlma.cc/

SC Oct 2017