Take-Back Schemes in Fashion: Guide for Ethical Consumers

Giada Nizzoli

Take-Back Schemes in Fashion: Guide for Ethical Consumers

Did you know that some sustainable fashion brands let you send back your unwanted clothes?

Unfortunately, fast fashion has brainwashed us into seeing our garments as throwaway pieces. No wonder it results in 92 million tonnes of waste every year!

So, take-back schemes are always the perfect solution… or are they?

Let’s look at the benefits of take-back schemes in fashion, what you must be wary of, and what brands you can start from.

What is a take-back scheme in fashion?

In fashion, a take-back scheme is when brands encourage consumers to send back their old or unwanted items. Then, they’ll resell or recycle them (for example, by using some of their fabric or turning them into a different garment or accessory).

Depending on their policy, this can be arranged in-store or online. Some take-back schemes even offer you an incentive, like an exclusive discount.

But why are fashion take-back schemes important? What difference will you be making for the environment?

Clothes being sent back through a take back scheme in fashion

Benefits of take-back schemes in fashion

  • Reducing waste – As seen before, fast fashion leads to HUGE quantities of waste and pollution. So, by sending that unwanted item back instead of binning it, you won’t be contributing to it
  • Prolonging the lifespan of that item or fabric – Fast fashion pushes us to keep buying new clothes regularly, only wearing them a couple of times, discarding them, and repeating all that. On the contrary, we should wear each item at least 30 times to justify its environmental footprint! In fact, prolonging its lifespan by only 9 months can reduce its carbon, water, and waste footprint by 20-30%. So, take-back schemes can be a fantastic solution
  • Taking a step towards circular fashion – Take-back schemes work particularly well when a brand designs their clothes in a way that makes it easier to recycle them (no wonder some of these companies are also recycled clothing brands)
  • More affordable – Some fashion brands will also discount and resell those items. So, take-back schemes can even make it easier to support ethical companies you normally can’t afford to buy from
  • Promoting a more conscious mindset – Fashion take-back schemes encourage you to be more mindful with your clothes. This will make it easier to ditch fast fashion entirely and embrace a more conscious clothing lifestyle (like buying fewer clothes and keeping them for years)

All good so far, isn’t it?

Indeed! There’s just one main problem with fashion take-back schemes.

Are clothing take-back schemes greenwashing?

This is where it can get tricky. Unfortunately, take-back schemes can be greenwashing (but they don’t have to!).

Some brands only offer these programmes to market themselves as being more sustainable than they actually are. Luckily, more and more of them are being exposed.

For example, Changing Markets Foundations conducted an experiment. They tracked garments (including from big household names like H&M, C&A, and Primark) that were meant to go through a take-back scheme and be recycled. 

Sadly, over 3 out of 4 of those items were actually destroyed, lost, or shipped to Africa, which worsened their environmental footprint instead of reducing it.

Overall, at Project Cece, we believe that fashion take-back schemes are excellent news for the environment. However, we only trust them when a company is clear and transparent about what happens to those clothes (and can actually prove it). Otherwise, it can easily be greenwashing.

5 of the best fashion brands offering take-back schemes

Now that you know what clothing take-back schemes are, where can you start from?

Right here! These are some of our current favourites. 

MUD Jeans

Jeans by a brand offering a take back scheme

This denim brand is a circular fashion pioneer! As well as using sustainable materials and reducing their water usage, they offer one of the best take-back schemes we’ve seen.

Not only can you send back your old MUD Jeans: they’ll happily accept garments from other brands, too (as long as they’re made of at least 96% cotton).

They’ll then use that fabric to make new jeans. 

Swedish Stockings

Ethical tights part of a take back scheme

This is a pantihose brand using recycled yarn to reduce the waste caused by the fashion industry. 

For example, they choose innovative materials like ECONYL®, Q-Nova®, and Nilit EcoCare®, and even environmentally friendly ink and solar energy to power parts of their production.

And if you send back three or more pairs of your old tights? You’ll get a 10% discount on your next order.

Neem London

Man wearing clothes by a brand that offers a take back scheme

This is a sophisticated menswear brand that prioritises sustainable fabrics like recycled or organic cotton.

To help the planet even further, they offer an ethical take-back scheme. So, when you purchase their take-back bag, you’ll immediately get a discount coupon.


Consumer wearing a navy set by a brand offering a take back scheme

This sustainable brand combines new and old fabrics to create clothes with circularity in mind.

They choose kind materials (like organic or recycled fabrics) and offer a take-back scheme to reuse, redesign, or repurpose your unwanted clothes.

Leticia Credidio

Consumer wearing ethical clothes by a brand offering a take back scheme in fashion

This made-in-Italy brand focuses on clothes that are “comfortable enough to sleep in, elegant enough to be awake in.”

What we love the most about their take-back scheme? They encourage consumers to be super mindful with their clothes: they only accept garments that are at least 3 years old.

So, bonus slow fashion points!

Overall, you can really give back by simply… sending your clothes back! You’ll reduce your environmental footprint and reinforce your eco-conscious mindset. 

Just make sure you don’t fall for the take-back scheme trickery and greenwashing used by certain brands.

Found this helpful? Start receiving our tips and inspiration to make even more sustainable fashion choices.

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