Pivoting from tobacco waste to textiles, Circ puts a fresh spin on clothing recycling

The fashion industry has come under fire of late for its outsize impact on the environment. From cradle to grave, it accounts for between 4% and 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and around 20% of the world’s wastewater. Only about 15% of the clothes in the U.S. are recycled, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates.

Some clothing and shoe companies have begun to wake up to the problem, pledging that their lines will be made of increasing amounts of recycled materials. That’s created an opening for materials companies like Circ, which uses a proprietary process to extract raw materials from discarded cotton and polyester.

Today, the startup announced a $30 million Series B round led by Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures. It was joined by Inditex, the parent company of fast-fashion retailer Zara; Milliken and Company; and Landsdowne Partners.

“With this investment round, we’ve secured suppliers, purchasers, and major financial stakeholders to establish a much cleaner fashion future,” Circ CEO Peter Majeranowski said in a statement. “We already have all the clothing we need to make all the clothing we’ll ever need. Now, alongside our partners, we can make recycled garments accessible to every shopper.”

The company had previously raised $8 million in a round led by Tin Shed Ventures, the VC arm of privately owned outdoor apparel company Patagonia, which has long used recycled materials in its gear.

Circ began life as a biofuels company using its process to break down tobacco waste to turn it into feedstocks for renewable fuels. But, according to a Bloomberg report last year, when one Swedish commodities trading company asked if their machine could process T-shirts, Circ’s business model changed entirely.