Circular fashion has the potential to change the world. It’s a revolutionary method to maximize the life cycle of our clothes that challenges today’s unsustainable fast fashion market.
If I told you that 62% of women in the UK bought clothing online in 2020 would you believe me? Well, probably. We were (and still are) stuck at home, the high streets are closed, and apparel has become a new symbol of hope: “I bought a dress for when the pubs open again!” and “I can’t wait to show off this outfit after lockdown.” Clothing is the light at the end of the tunnel for so many.
Unfortunately, the reality where we can meet-up, boogie, and dine-out (or even sit in the garden) is yet to come, so the aspirational outfits are being sent back.
Charity shops being closed means that an accessible form of textile recycling has been shut off to the public; some have turned to reselling on apps like Depop and eBay, while others just binned their unwanted garments. Ultimately, many have chosen to simply return and refund. But, what actually happens when you return clothes you buy online? Especially during the global pandemic, are they going to be resold? Reworn? Donated? Chucked out? Or, what?
Sadly, the majority of returns end up in landfill, or, they are incinerated – even the brand-spanking-new, never been tried on items. The BBC states that there’s around £5 billion of waste are generated through returns alone. The impact this creates is devastating – a truckload of clothing is incinerated per second, which not only creates a massive amount of waste that still has so much potential life left, but damages the environment further as toxins leak into the atmosphere and the Earth.
So, what can be done?
The circular fashion economy promotes an alternative to the current ‘take, make, waste’ state that fashion is stuck in. It uses a cyclical method instead, totally reframing apparel production – starting with the very fibres that our clothes are made from.
The circular method means clothes will be used more by making them more durable, easier to repair and accessible through rental services. Made to be made again by using fabrics that can be reused, recycled and composted and made from non-hazardous materials by removing microplastics to protect the environment, and cutting out incineration entirely. This method will create fashion that doesn’t cost the Earth, and will be better for consumers and manufacturers by scrapping waste altogether. Sounds great, right?
So, how do we start?
Ultimately, businesses do need to make the first change. They control the market and produce the clothing, but that doesn’t mean that we, as consumers, can’t make any differences though!
A good step is to buy less and buy better; look for clothing made from recyclable materials such as organic cotton or linen. Shopping second-hand or vintage is also fantastic – it gives new life to garments, and the gems you can find are unbelievable!
You can also support local indie businesses. The less air-miles a garment has travelled, the less impact it will have on the environment, so shopping locally minimises a lot of the harm being done. Indie businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, so you can do good and help your community.
We can also hold companies accountable – call them out! Shady business practices need to be highlighted when we see them, the more we use our voices, the more companies will care. We can use our money as a vote – the fewer votes (or money) a company gets, the more they will realise what matters to us the most. Use your vote to support better practices in the fashion industry.
Hashtags such as the #NoNewClothes movement on Instagram are a great way to get involved. Influencer culture and comparing ourselves online can lead to us shopping fast fashion more to stay on trend to avoid fashion FOMO, but, we can be the change we want to see. Vintage clothing can be reworked and restyled to stay on trend, and are cheaper choices. They also have more durability than fast fashion pieces that will go out of trend within a matter of weeks (looking at you, 52-week micro-seasons).
But I hear you, sustainable and circular clothing can be inaccessible to many. Prices can be higher and sizes can be limited! However, it is up to us to do what we can – we don’t need to be perfect. Baby steps are still steps! You can donate, or campaign, or even cut down on your regular shopping habits.
The way fashion operates currently is not sustainable, for anybody – but it doesn’t have to be that way. A fashion revolution is coming, and the time to act is now.
By Grace Cockerill (@grace.cockerill on Instagram)