Fashion + The Circular Economy

Circular Fashion taking over the Industry?

Circular fashion aims to stimulate the level of collaboration and innovation necessary to create a new textiles economy, bringing together brands, cities, philanthropists and innovators; circular fashion is on the rise.

“More clothes are being designed, sources, produced and provided with the intention to be used and circulate responsibly and effectively in society for as long as possible in their most valuable form, and hereafter return safely to the biosphere where no longer of human use.”

Dr Anna Brismar

But what is circular fashion?

Circular fashion is a system where our clothing and personal belongings are produced through a more considered model. An items production is equally as important to the end of its life. It differs from a linear economy which produces fast fashion and the most waste, and also to a recycled economy where clothes are passed on but eventually end up as waste as well. With a circular economy consumers buy less, own items for longer, and are more specific in their choices.

Circular fashion vs fast fashion

Fast fashion quickly became an undesirable economy for consumers and customers to support in 2013, this was after a clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1000 workers. After this incident, other questionable situations came to light regarding workers rights in the fashion industry in undeveloped countries. Along with humans being mistreated, fast fashion was having a negative effect on animals and the environment.

“The rigorous shift to support sustainable, ethical, and circular systems has increased tenfold, and has been present in numerous industries in relation to how we as a society can act, choose, and do more sustainably.”

Good On You

They added; “Textile waste now stands at over 92 million tonnes per year which ends up thrown into landfills, mostly located in developing countries. Global consumption of apparel is expected to almost double from 62 million to 102 million tonnes by 2030.” This generates a throw away culture, which is growing rapidly.

What brands are known for implementing circular fashion?

Customers have the biggest impact on the development and implementation of circular fashion. If they give an increased demand for sustainable circular alternatives, the need for fast fashion will decrease meaning less waste going straight to landfill sites. Fast fashion has an enormous environmental footprint for both its production and disposal. However, it comes quick and is cheap, so regardless of the negative effects it’s hard for consumers to resist.

No high street brand is perfect, but some are making steps to becoming more circular. An example of this is Urban Outfitters founding a creative reuse and renewal of materials for a positive impact on the environment. As a brand they want to break away from ‘fast fashion’ and ‘continue a strategy for fixture programs to be repurposed’ and have committed to using 50% recycled plastic in packaging materials.

Is this a solution?

Action to ease the industry’s impact is happening, this is being done by groups such as Global Fashion Agenda, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Fashion for Good, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP). Shifting to a circular and more sustainable textiles economy can be the way forward. However, it’s progress is being slowed by the need for fast fashion and its negative social and environmental impacts on the industry.

A change needs to be made and some new research suggests that shoppers are ready for it. This is because the business model of maximising wear of items is becoming more attractive to customers. The WRAP and WRI have done research which states over half of frequent shoppers in the UK say they are likely to try a pre-loved clothing range from a favourite brand. 

In order to support a circular economy, various infrastructures, modes of collaboration and new business models need to be set up by brands and companies. Fashion largely uses a linear ‘take, make, waste’ business model, relying on continuously shifting mass volumes of product.

Embracing the circular economy holds promises for a healthier, fairer fashion future. More high street brands need to take steps and navigate their customers into the right path for a redesigned sustainable and circular future. 

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