Ambercycle uses QR codes to tell clothing stories
Ambercycle, the Los Angeles-based garment recycling start-up, turns those itchy white care labels inside your t-shirt into online portals detailing where and how your clothes were made.
The company has started printing mini QR codes on the labels of its recycled clothing sewn downtown. And they’re doing it with the help of Glendale-based Avery Dennison, who is behind a suite of online tools that allow garment makers to digitize an old process.
How was the shirt made? Where does the fabric come from? The companies are not hiding anything – or at least that’s the idea behind the pilot project.
Labels are designed to help brands tell “the story of an item of clothing,” said Sarah Swenson, global head of sustainability at the manufacturing giant known for designing labels and adhesives.
The push comes as more and more consumers expect clothing brands to expose how and where their clothes are made. Avery Dennison presents beacons as a way for businesses to display this data transparently and stay connected with customers online.
Inside the QR portal, customers are guided through the materials used to make the item and the best way to wash it. There is also a guide to disposing of clothes so that in years ambercycle can reintroduce the materials into a new fabric.
“This label ensures that your garment is orange-recyclable,” reads the special label, printed above the startup’s logo.
It’s a smart solution for textile recyclers like Ambercycle CEO Shay Sethi, who is often left guessing what materials and dyes were woven into the shirts he sifted through on the job. Her job becomes even more difficult when this white care label has been ripped off.
“We know this problem very intimately,” Sethi said. “It won’t be scalable to do what we’re doing unless we know something about the hardware.”
The partnership with Avery Dennison is of great benefit to the CEO, who founded Ambercycle after college with government grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.
It has already secured investments from the H&M Foundation, Y Combinator and the Lemelson Foundation for its patented technology that breaks down textile waste molecules into small pellets that are spun into polyester.
“The same polyester granules you would otherwise make from petroleum, we only make from this textile waste,” co-founder Moby Ahmed said in a product video, dubbed cycora.
Local designers are already using polyester, and the Los Angeles startup has hinted at a clothing manufacturing project with H&M. The company has started selling a small batch of its own designs – just 40 shirts – but plans to sew the special labels in addition to parts.
If all goes as planned, these items will find their way back to Ambercycle’s Los Angeles plant. But the process of collecting old clothes remains a logistical headache.
“Basically you have clothes everywhere, everywhere in cities, in people’s closets,” he said, “and you have to find the best way to get them to the central places”.
For now, any of his clients residing in Los Angeles can scan the QR code on their new shirt and request a pickup.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get the New Zealand game back,” Sethi said. “But we’ll figure this out.”
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