Gigantic piles of garments lay in landfills across the world. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 17 million tons of textile were created in 2018 — and less than 15 percent was recycled.
It doesn’t have to be that way, according to Danville, Virginia-based Circ, which is on a mission to recycle fashion waste back into textiles, over and over again. Specifically, the company recycles cotton, polyester and cotton-poly blends.
Today, the company announced a $30 million Series B funding round, led by Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures, along with additional investment from Inditex, one of the world's largest fashion retailers and Zara’s parent company, American textile manufacturer Milliken, and international investment group Lansdowne Partners.
"At Inditex, we are very excited to announce Circ as our first venture investment in a clean technology company," said Óscar García Maceiras, CEO at Inditex, in a statement. "In partnership with Circ, we are committed to promoting the transformation of the entire fashion industry. We look forward to contributing our knowledge and corporate capabilities to Circ's rapid success and achievement of industrial scale."
Image courtesy of Circ
The round is also being supported by previous investors including 8090 Partners, Alante Capital, Card Sound Capital, Circulate Capital, Envisioning Partners and Marubeni.
The latest infusion of capital will help Circ complete several commercial and brand partnerships that are already underway, according to Circ CEO Peter Majeranowski. It’ll also help the company add to its staff count — Circ currently employs about 30 people and expects that number to climb to nearly 50.
Circ is also "beefing up" its engineering muscles because it wants to build bigger and better facilities. "If you look at some of the other chemical recyclers in space, we're following their lead in the sense of doing all the detailed engineering work for larger scale equipment," Majeranowski said.
With that in mind, Majeranowski said that while $30 million is a lot of money, the work his company is doing is capital intensive. "I think when you look at what it's going to take for the industry [to reach textile recycling at scale], it's going to be billions and billions of dollars to do it, but we need to do it," he added.
When you look at what it's going to take for the industry to reach textile recycling at scale, it's going to be billions and billions of dollars to do it.
The funding announcement follows COVID-19-induced setbacks from Circ but also comes after partnerships with companies and brands, some of which Majeranowski said are not yet for public consumption. But one partnership that is public is one that started in 2021 with Andritz, a Graz, Austria-headquartered technology group providing plants, systems, equipment and services for various industries.
"We were looking for some partners that had testing facilities where we could try machines that would operate at a larger scale than what we were doing previously," Majeranowski said, noting that Andritz felt like a good fit for such a collaboration. "At the end of the day, what we're doing is recycling fibers, and they've been working with fibers for decades."
Circ is not the only company or organization thinking about scaling textile recycling. A few examples that come to mind:
- This summer Renewcell, a Stockholm-based textile manufacturing company, is planning to open "the largest chemical textile recycling factory in the world";
- Accelerating Circularity is a nonprofit that is on a mission to create new supply chains and business models that turn textile waste into mainstream raw materials; and
- Fashion designer Eileen Fisher is trying to help the fashion industry address its waste problem.
"I think everybody's recognizing that circularity is coming, and it's here to stay. It's very much needed for the apparel industry," Majeranowski said. "So really, circularity is the golden bullet, that solution that the industry needs in order to be much more sustainable while still being able to democratize fashion for their customers."