Fashion + The Circular Economy

Jeans Are Quickly Becoming The Face of Fashion’s Circular Economy – Here’s How:

Jeans are a staple in everyone’s closet. They can be worn in the summer or winter, down or up, and always have a way of staying in trend. Whether that be with the current Y2K trend of the 90s style baggy jeans, or in previous years extremely tight skinny jeans – they are and will always be a popular item of clothing. 

It’s a well-known fact that jeans consist of denim, and denim consists of cotton, and cotton production (being one of the top materials used in the fashion industry) uses an abundance of water, fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. In fact it’s arguable that cotton, despite being biodegradable, is one of the more environmentally demanding materials due to being a thirsty crop that requires extensive land, water, pesticides and insecticides. These chemicals then trickle down into ecosystems and damage them irreversibly, which is why cotton is listed as one of the least sustainable materials currently.

Disregarding this, the majority of jeans on the market are not 100% cotton, and instead are a synthetic blend of cotton and polyester. From the fast fashion, more affordable brands such as PrettyLittleThing and Missguided, ‘denim’ material is often 95% polyester and 5% elastane. These synthetic materials have an even greater impact on the environment, requiring more fossil fuels in order to produce the materials, thus increasing the CO2 released into the environment. According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, the fashion industry could consume more than 26% of the carbon budget related with the 2°C global warming limit by 2050 if it continues on its current course.

A debrief of the circular fashion economy

With the need for a new approach to the rapidly growing fashion industry, the circular approach to the economy is vital in order to prevent global emissions and increase sustainability. This approach consists of:

  • A radical change in the way in which we recycle our clothes, so that materials can be reused again and remade into other items of clothing. 
  • Clothes to be made with better quality materials so that they last longer and are more durable whilst still being desirable for consumers. 
  • Conscientious production methods to be put in place – e.g. less harmful chemicals and a fairer working environment for garment makers. 

However, as Forbes writes in their article on the drawbacks and limitations of the circular economy; the circular economy cannot be effective in curbing the rapid growth of the fashion industry. The sheer scale of this industry is simply too much, being expected to be worth $3.3 trillion in 2030 – and with the majority of brands only just implementing research into this approach, it is impossible to prevent the climate crises that will come as a result of this rapidly growing industry. The only way to do this is to limit production of clothes.

What’s this got to do with my jeans?

Numerous jean companies have been created as a response to the call for a circular fashion economy. They provide sustainable answers to the issues put forward by the climate crises. For instance, the need for durable, long lasting jeans that can be for ‘life’ is shown in the companies of Hiut Denim Co. and MUD Jeans, that take on the policies of high quality material that are recyclable and long lasting.

The Hiut Denim Co based in a small town in Cardigan, Wales concentrates on creating sustainable employment within this town, whilst using high quality organic cotton and providing free repairs for your jeans. This initiative is crucial to the idea of circular fashion, as it is increasing the longevity of these jeans that would previously be binned when it became tarnished or torn. These jeans quite literally could be for life, and as a result instils the idea of not needing to buy large quantities of clothes that you then replenish every couple of months. General waste of unsold clothes from companies (for instance H&M last year had $4.3 billion of clothes wasted) or from consumers throwing away clothes due to them no longer being good quality or ‘in fashion’ is one of the key problems that the fashion industry has regarding sustainability. Hiut Denim Co. are influencing consumers to conscientiously think before throwing away and rebuying, instead opting to fix or recycle. This in turn is meaning that there is less demand for growth in the quantity of product.

A different spin on this is MUD Jeans approach to circular fashion, instead opting to sell and lease high quality, sustainable jeans. As well as this, when buying or renting your jeans, you are able to send in your old pairs of jeans for a discount. This bridges the gaps in the circular fashion economy, and provides a highly sustainable industry with equal amounts of input and output, with minimum wastage. The theory of renting clothes is becoming popular in other sections of the fashion industry, with Rent The Runway and China’s YCloset, that give you the option of subscription based contracts that allow you to access high end fashion on a lease. This again is eliminating the wasting consumer attitude of make – use – waste by taking away the concept of needing brand new clothing.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that plays a prominent if not crucial role in the push towards a circular economy in fashion, is launching a circular jeans company, ‘Jeans Redesign’, in May 2021. They have partnered with the likes of H&M, GUESS, Weekday, and many more in producing a jeans company that employs the principles of the circular economy. 

The movement towards the circular economy in fashion through the means of the jeans market is interesting and something we need to watch closely in the coming months.

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