Business story - Full Circle Fibres
Textile in full circle: How a Brisbane business is re-stitching the nation’s wardrobe
Re-creating the full circle of everyday textile items in Australia, Brisbane business owner Meriel Chamberlin is reimagining the way we source, produce and dispose of materials.
Full Circle Fibres (FCF) is a textile manufacturer, retailer, and wholesaler of textiles in Brisbane. FCF joined the Chambers of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) ecoBiz’s Circular Economy for Business (CE4B) program to create a closed-loop textile supply chain in Australia, testing Australia’s national capacity to re-purpose end-of-life garments and production offcuts.
As a part of CCIQ’s ecoBiz CE4B program, Meriel’s circular economy project diverted 200kg of fibre and textile from landfill, through a project in which recycled garments were sorted and decommissioned, sent to a ragger for shredding and finally weaved and knitted to produce fabric to make t-shirts.
As a part of the Circular economy pilot project, Meriel had the opportunity to develop partnerships along the textile supply chain to trial processes to collect, sort and reprocess post-consumer textile waste into new products.
Through the project, new products were created to showcase to potential end-users such as government departments and corporations, and the creation of new partnerships and networks.
“We know where the product is from, what has happened to it and what its end of life will be,” Meriel said.
“We need to be in balance with our world. People who end up buying products rarely know where they’re from or how it could be different.”
Working with a St George cotton producer, and with a passion for local manufacturing, Meriel started Full Circle Fibres in 2017.
“I've loved making things all my life and that led me to study textile science,” she said.
“I basically put my passion and knowledge together. I’d spent years in supply chain, working ethically and with quality but I wanted people to be able to know where their things came from.
“Paddock to plate was becoming a thing but what about knowing where your fibres come from?”
Australia’s existing ability to recycle textiles domestically is limited. Meriel says Australians send about 800,000 tonnes of textile waste, billions of items, to landfill annually.
“It used to be called industrial ecology – one’s waste was someone else’s use which has since been called circular economy and it’s about not leaving a pile of waste at the end,” she said.
“Those products aren’t produced locally so we have a take, use, dump situation going on.”
“In Queensland we are well placed to lead the world in a sustainable textile economy. The global demand for textiles is enormous, we are large raw material producers and we are the most sustainable cotton growing country in the world and the most efficient with land and water. The world is desperate for sustainable textiles, and it’s not just in fashion.
“We have a massive opportunity to be exporters of global best practice, net zero regenerative textiles for the future.”
It was that opportunity which Meriel aimed to maximise through CCIQ’s ecoBiz CE4B program.
The Full Circle Fibres project aimed to trial new partnerships along the supply chain in the collecting, sorting, and reprocessing off-cuts and post-consumer textile waste, using data to build a pre-feasibility business case that could be developed at a commercial scale in the future.
Materials were carefully deconstructed to maximize the amount of material which could be re-used and made into yarn and eventually garments. There was also a focus on ensuring consumers had demand for the end products and creating market space, as opposed to ‘mopping up waste’.
“A lot of the time to give something a go, you don’t need massive resources, but the space and opportunity to share what manufacturing capability is local. We’re here and we exist more than people realise, we’re incredibly agile and versatile,” Meriel said.
“It’s been great to meet other businesses who are doing circular economy projects. Going through the process was really valuable. We had some common challenges which meant we didn’t feel so alone.
“Some researchers couldn’t believe how much we had done under our own steam. To get a circular economy off the ground, you need people who understand an industry or sector in practice and then you add the circular framework over the top.
“I remember the day CCIQ’s sustainability team called to say we were successful, and it was great, to be able to showcase what we do in textile manufacturing locally.
“The team checked in through the project, to make sure we had the support and mentoring to help ensure we could story-tell the benefits. Sometimes you forget to capture the value points and share your learnings. Also other people, like ecoBiz, can see value we can share with other businesses, from their perspective.
“It’s been really helpful to be part of the program, building the profile of someone at the forefront of working out how to make textile circular in Australia, with our space, distance and resources.
“The solutions in front of us are different but if businesses are able to work together on put that jigsaw together, that’s where it starts.”
Meriel said there were some challenges throughout the process, including sourcing people domestically who had the skills and knowledge to support the project. The trials provided critical data about the processes and requirements needed along the supply chain to optimise and develop a business case for an Australian closed loop textiles industry.
The pilot project was an opportunity to form collaborative relationships with industry partners and utilise their resources and infrastructure to develop CE practices. Their sustainable and ethical products also attracted a growing number of conscientious customers. The project proved there was an opportunity for implementing the CE concept nationally.
“While our capability is incredible, it’s a fragile network. We need to think hard about how we maintain and transfer knowledge and think in decades, not next financial year, when planning for the future,” she said.
“What we can all be in control of, is thinking about what happens after we are finished with what we use. For example, event merchandise can be designed so we can wear it to the pub afterwards, instead of being sent to waste at the end of an event.”
About CCIQ’s CE4B
The ecoBiz Circular Economy Pilot was designed to learn about the validity of employing CE principles for existing businesses in Queensland. CE is a core priority within the Queensland Government policy roadmap but much of it is focused on new design which presents a significant risk to the more than 450,000 businesses currently operating on traditional models of linear resource consumption.
This pilot’s primary purpose was to identify three projects that are looking to retrofit CE into their business operations and support the development of those projects over the course of one year. The pilot provided resources in the form of expert consultation, workshopping ideas and limited capital expenditure. The processes yielded a wealth of knowledge that will be used to feed directly back into Queensland Government policy development, and CCIQ ecoBiz’s ability to support businesses transitioning to a new economy.