As the modern world grows, so does the concern for our planet and the environment around us. One phrase popularised in the fashion industry during this period has been the idea of a ‘circular economy of fashion’. Now you may wonder, what is that? What even is a circular economy?
To some people, the idea is brand new. To others, they may understand the concept but not how it is applied to industries such as fashion. So why should it matter, why should we use a circular economy of fashion? Well, let’s start with the basics.
What is a ‘Circular Economy’?
At its roots, the ‘circular economy’ is named after the Earth’s natural cycle. Simply put, the waste of one thing can be materials to another. A plant becomes energy for an animal, then in turn the animal waste or even the animal itself becomes fertilizer for the soil. Using those nutrients, another plant can then regrow in that soil using the energy from the sun and repeat from there. No produce or waste is disposed of. All the materials in the cycle are consumed and reused.
But a circular economy isn’t just about the idea of being self-sustainable, particularly when applied to industry. It is also the idea that when something is no longer of use in the cycle, its disposal also causes no harm to the environment.
How does it apply to fashion and other industries?
When applying the circular economy model to industries such as fashion there are multiple factors that need to be considered when manufacturing products. Thought needs to go not only into the life of the product but into how it is disposed of at the end.
Materials are a large concern; products need to be made of sustainable and biodegradable materials that are not harmful and can be reused and recycled. They also need to inflict no harm in their production, ensuring to not harm the ecosystems around the factories where they are produced.
Design is another important factor. If clothes can be designed to be reused, for their material to be taken apart and remade into something new, it reduces the need to source new materials and reuses what is already in the cycle.
Other ideas include renting or returning items. Some companies already do this, by having customers return old clothes they offer vouchers which are then spent within the same company on an item to replace the recycled one. No profit is lost for the company and the clothes materials are reused.
Why is it important?
A circular economy is important because the fashion industry is the second largest contributor to pollution in the world, behind the oil industry. By reducing the carbon footprint of your clothes, it can help to reduce the damage caused to the environment. For example, 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textiles treatment and dying, and the fashion industry per year uses 1.5 trillion litres of water. Meanwhile, 750 million people across the world are still without clean drinking water.
What can we do to help?
Things that we can do as consumers to improve and implement this circular economy is by adopting the idea of ‘slow-fashion’. Instead of buying cheap clothes that may last a few months, invest in clothes that are a little pricier, but of much better quality. In the long term, your clothes last much longer, and you save money from not having to buy a replacement. Additionally, the idea of ‘slow-fashion’ also means slowing down your shopping sprees entirely.
Though alternatives to buying new clothes don’t necessarily have to be wearing the same overworn outfits, again and again, try experimenting with new looks with what clothes you already have, buy second-hand or sell your own second-hand. Mend your clothes or donate them, try swapping with friends or pass them down to younger siblings and family members who can still make use of them. All these methods slow down the buying of clothes and will eventually slow the production too.
However, for this method to work it requires more than just a few consumers to adopt this way of spending, it requires the effort of the many and the participation of all brands and businesses. So when you do decide to spend, look into which of the brands you buy are fulfilling this sustainable method, which ones are sourced from countries that adhere to stricter environmental restrictions on their factories? Encourage other brands to adopt these ideals too.