How sustainable are Take Back and Fashion Recycling really?

More and more brands are becoming more circular and are taking back used clothing. But how sustainable are the Take Back programs really?

take back
Source & Copyright by Rag & Bone

Author: Hanna Lina Werner

The topics come after the criticism has become louder and louder Sustainability and environmental protection finally in the fashion industry. In the last five years, more and more fashion brands have been working to extend the shelf life of their fashion or to motivate their consumers to recycle after its useful life. In order to achieve exactly that and put worn pieces back into the Recycling cycle more and more companies such as Patagonia, Nike or Adidas are establishing so-called take-back programs.

The Aspiration: One circular economy, in which there is no more waste of resources. However, this goal poses challenges and still unanswered questions. At a time when the mass of supposedly sustainable initiatives is increasing, Greenwashing spread rapidly for the purpose of competitiveness and transparency is a special case, we ask ourselves: Are the take back schemes of fashion brands really sustainable or are appearances deceiving us?

Take Back Scheme: What is it?

With a Take Back Scheme, brands give their consumers the opportunity to return their worn items of clothing recycle. However, many different variants can be used. While some brands rely on the postal service, other fashion brands offer the option pre loved pieces deliver directly to the store. The clue: As an incentive to actually give away clothing, customers receive an incentive, such as a voucher.

take back eileen fisher 2

Source & Copyright by Eileen Fisher

Da redemption programs are operationally relatively complex, many brands rely on the support of service providers. The biggest challenge of the Take Back Schemes is dealing with the huge amounts of returned clothing. Every single item has to be sorted by hand as well as on quality and condition are checked.

The take-back trend: these are the advantages of fashion recycling

Take Back programs prevent that consumers simply dispose of their clothes with the household waste. This makes the waste more valuable materials and resources avoided. And that is exactly what is becoming more and more important: The manufacture of fabrics and textiles produces a particularly large amount of CO2, which is why reuse - whether through Second Life, recycling or Upcycling - existing materials plays a particularly relevant role in the fashion cosmos.

Another advantage of the Take Back Schemes: it makes it easier for customers to donate clothes while at the same time offering them incentives such as vouchers or gift cards. This reduces fashion brands that textiles recycling and using new materials not only reduce their carbon footprint. You create pioneers with more awareness of sustainability within the fashion industry.

These brands offer take back schemes

In the fashion world, more and more brands are launching take back schemes to enhance their own brand DNA as well as the consumption to make their customers more sustainable. In this way they make a contribution to a more environmentally friendly fashion future and set a positive example for other houses. When it comes to innovative programs, these are 3 Labels to Watch:

  1. Patagonia
  2. Timberland
  3. MUD jeans


Already led in 2013 Patagonia embarks on the Worn Wear program to extend the life of garments. The goal: longevity to avoid CO2 emissions and garbage. This is done by conducting annual Worn Wear tours, where teams in different cities repair zippers, tears, buttons and much more.

take back

Source & Copyright by Patagonia

MUD jeans

As a circular Brand ensures MUD Jeans all sold Jeans remain in the cycle of the brand. Means: It goes without saying that consumers can return their worn clothing. The special clue, however, lies in the holistic approach of the brand. In addition to the label's own pieces, MUD Jeans also accepts clothing from other brands. These must be 98% off cotton pass to qualify for the Recycling Partner in Valencia. Another denim recycling program is offered by Rag & Bone New York.

take back mud (1)

Source & Copyright by MUD Jeans


In 2021, Timberland took another step in that direction circularity and launched the global take back program Timberloop™. As part of this, customers can now buy shoes, clothing and accessories in various Timberland stores. There, the fashion is either repaired to on a Second hand platform to be resold or upcycled to make new products.

take back timberloop-2

Source & Copyright by Timberland

Take Back Programs with Incentives: Is It All Appearance?

It is a noteworthy, inspiring and guaranteed positive development of the fashion industry that is growing more and more labels approach the concept of a circular economy. Still, there are concerns that take-back programs are not a solution to the industry's underlying problem. How so? Especially with fashion giants like Nike, Adidas or Timberland lack transparency. What happens to the clothing donations as soon as they reach the recycling container?

Too often the processes of Brands not transparent enough and only provide a lack of information about the recycling process. It therefore remains unclear what percentage of the submitted garments are resold, reused or fully recycled and refurbished.

Investigative commitment to sustainability

As the sneaker hunt research project makes clear, the positive appearance of 2nd Life programs is often deceptive. As part of their investment, the team of journalists found that only shoes that are in very good condition have a real chance of qualifying for recycling programs. That means: condition becomes the selection criterion. Landed accordingly sneakers with heavy wear and tear just in landfills Africa. Recycling non-existent.

And now? To give back or not to give back

For consumers, journalistic research means that returning clothes in good condition makes sense in the first place. Worn out items can be thrown in the trash if no one in your circle of friends or family is interested. This is better than the CO2-polluted transport to developing countries due to the lack of functioning waste management suffer more from pollution.

And in general? Even if take-back programs are not the solution to all the problems in the fashion industry, they contribute to more sustainability in the industry. However, a step in the right direction would be to make take-back programs more transparent in the future, in order to guarantee customers an insight into the recycling processes and to define criteria for returning items of clothing.


Always informed about the latest lifestyle trends, architecture, design & interior, as well as current technologies around sustainability.

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