A perfect fit: Making the most out of ETP workwear through take-back

ETP’s take-back model aims to involve about 2,400 end users and potentially curb the production of new garments by 20 to 30%.

By Gwen Cunningham and Andreea Theodora Baniceru

the team

ETP is a leading Dutch company in the design, development and production of custom-made corporate wear collections for various national and international companies. 

A cross-functional team from ETP joined the Switching Gear project.
Project Manager
Managing Director
Business Development Manager
Product Manager

the urgency

ETP’s goal is to keep their garments in use for as long as possible—a sentiment shared by their business customers. Joining the Switching Gear project was a natural stepping stone for the company, who was looking to develop a circular business model in line with their ambition to take their sustainability efforts beyond recycling and to build a futureproof business case. As a B2B workwear brand, they were also in a unique position to do so, as they had access to a wealth of relevant insights about their customers.

The customer need

There is a significant opportunity for improving workwear efficiencies, as a significant percentage of workwear garments is only slightly used before employees change jobs or sizes. When collected, these garments could easily be worn by other employees, reducing the need to produce more new items. This could not only result in significant impact savings—contributing to the customers’ CSR performance and image—it can also empower employees positively in engaging in sustainable behaviour. 

The business model

ETP has rolled out the circular business model pilot with one of its clients, Dutch bank ABN AMRO. Take-back of used garments will happen through collection boxes in the different ABN AMRO offices. Employees will be educated on the benefits of circularity through different online and offline communication materials.

The expected positive impact

With its pilot, ETP expects to reduce the total production of new yarns by 20 to 30% over the course of four years. As a B2B apparel brand, it has the advantage of being able to easily track and measure its impact through changes in production volume and in energy and CO2 savings. The brand expects results to be visible in the second year of the pilot, when enough items have been returned and can be brought back into circulation. For the brand’s ongoing production, it wants to further focus on circular design and more sustainable materials.

PILOT OUTCOMES and lessons learnt

Since May 2021, ETP’s first pilot customer (ABN AMRO) has been closing down many of its office locations. Therefore, the pilot - in its original formulation - was put on hold. However, during this time the brand collected all the old garments from the previous collection. All of these garments were sorted and recycled by ETP’s new partner Gaia, a company specialised in return logistics and recycling of products. Half of the resultant fibre was used to make recycled socks for ABN AMRO and yarns for seating in the automotive industry. The other half is currently being stockpiled in order to see if they can be transformed into furniture for the bank's new head office.

To date, one of ETP's main challenges has been the lack of investment from their customers in circular solutions. Customers usually expect that circular solutions should be in place and available to them at no extra cost. The brand reports that the pending EPR regulation is already helping to shift this mindset. There are more and more requests on end-of-life solutions and new customers even provide a separate budget for these services from the start of the project. This is encouraging, and ETP feel well positioned to support this growing demand. Since the pilot launch, the brand has secured seven customers, who wish to start their circular business model solutions. Operating at this kind of scale will allow the logistics behind the take-back model to be more efficient. 

What’s next?

ETP will revive its pilot plans in January 2023, when it will distribute take-back boxes to all ABN AMRO offices. The boxes will remain there until they are filled and ready to be collected, after which they will go through ETP’s circular programme. ETP plans to take a product-specific approach - ie. certain products will be sorted for re-use of the yarns (e.g. polo shirts & jeans) and others will be sorted for recycling. The brand has already confirmed that Gaia will process the next batch of recyclable grade products into new polo shirts for ABN AMRO, and are exploring recycled sweaters made from jeans too. Gaia will measure and track the impact of this first pilot, in terms of volumes processed, and energy, water and CO2 saved. ETP hopes that reporting on these impact indicators will allow them to improve how they communicate the value of their circular business model to potential new clients.

What advice does ETP have for other brands that are looking to build a circular business model?

Go after the figures and collect as much data as possible - this will help you tell your story and show your value to customers,” says Nancy Dingshoff, Project Manager at ETP.

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