Fashion

Ralph Lauren Steps Boldly Into the Sustainability Game With the Earth Polo

And all it takes is 12 plastic bottles.
IMAGE Ralph Lauren
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For a while there, too many of us tiptoed around the idea of sustainability in fashion. But shoppers increasingly see it as an absolute requirement for the brands they buy. And though those brands have previously been small, committed companies with a smaller audience, when a global brand like Polo Ralph Lauren gets in on the act, you know a major shift is happening. 

This week, in time for Earth Day on Monday, the brand launched the Earth Polo, a classic RL polo shirt made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles in a small range of colors. The effort works in conjunction with First Mile, a program that incentivizes local people on the poverty line in Taiwan to collect and turn in the bottles. An average of 12 bottles are needed to produce the yarn for one polo shirt. The plastic is first flaked, then melted into pellets before extruding it into monofilaments and then spinning and knitting. Even the dyeing process, traditionally hugely wasteful of water, has been rethought to use no water at all. The company plans to remove 170 million bottles from the environment by 2025. 

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For such a big brand, this shift in thinking requires across-the board-changes. These are being spearheaded by Polo’s first sustainability guru, Halide Alagoz, who is currently addressing all aspects of the supply chain and even the corporate thinking that could impact large swaths of the product—from denim to accessories—made by the 50-year-old brand. The announcement of more initiatives is planned for June. 

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For David Lauren, Polo’s chief innovation officer, this is just a part of an ongoing and expanding effort. "Sustainability is such an important topic today," he says, "and something that is really authentic to who we are as a brand and company. Ralph Lauren has always created products with a sense of timelessness that are meant to be worn and loved and passed on for generations. As a global brand, we have a responsibility to evolve our products and to find and implement technologies that are both sustainable and scalable for generations to come. By 2025, we are committed to converting our use of virgin poly-fiber to recycled poly-fiber across all products and brands." 

While thorny questions pend about the non-biodegradability of manmade fibers like polyester, these new shirts are fully recyclable. A small step, perhaps. But it's part of a much bigger movement.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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