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To understand circular fashion, it’s first important to understand the concept of a circular economy — the concept that circular fashion is based upon.
A circular economy is an economy based on designing out waste, keeping resources and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.
“Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system.”
With the traditional linear economy, we make, use and throw away. In a circular model, resources would be kept in use for as long as possible as to extract the maximum value from them whilst they are in use.
There are many benefits to this system in comparison to the take-make-waste model. For example:
So, how does circular fashion fit in?
Defining Circular Fashion
Circular fashion is based upon the concepts and benefits of a circular economy. A circular fashion industry would prioritise clothing that is designed to last and to circulate responsibly.
As defined by Anna Brismar of Green Strategy, ‘Circular fashion’ can be defined as clothes, shoes or accessories that are designed, sourced, 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 when no longer of human use.’
It’s a completely different approach to the fast fashion model where clothes are mass-produced at a low quality, worn a handful of times and then thrown away. Currently, the way the fashion industry operates is incredibly wasteful and in the UK alone, 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill each year.
When you look at it globally, it’s even scarier. According to Common Objective, ‘the fashion industry generates 13 kilograms of waste for every person on the planet. To put that into perspective imagine a landfill the size of France filled with thrown away clothing and textiles’.
Despite all that waste, very few clothes are recycled into new clothes.
‘Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing,13 representing a loss of more than USD 100 billion worth of materials each year’
To achieve a fully circular fashion industry would require huge changes throughout the fashion supply chain from the initial designs to the end of the garments life. Circular clothing should be designed to last and created with resource-efficient materials and processes. As well as this, circular clothing would need to be biodegradable or recyclable, so at the end of its life, it can be regenerated back into the system.
The good news is, the shift to this circular fashion system has already begun. According to the Fashion for Goods Future of Circular Fashion Report, ‘12.5% of the fashion industry has committed to circularity’.
The Future of Circular Fashion
Fashion for Goods Future of Circular Fashionreport outlines three circular business models that will shape the future of sustainable fashion: Rental, Subscription Rental and Recommerce.
All three of these areas are showing significant growth as consumers look for more sustainable ways to shop. According to ThredUp’s Second Hand Fashion Report from 2019, resale grew 21-times faster than the retail apparel market over the previous three years.
However, for the future of fashion to be truly circular, the industry cannot just rely on second-hand and fashion rental markets — there will always be a market for first-hand apparel. Plus, second-hand or rental fashion really doesn’t work for more intimate garments such as underwear, which represents a $30-billion dollar industry globally.
Organisations Promoting a Circular Fashion Industry
There are a number of companies that are doing great things to produce circular clothes or to promote a circular fashion industry. Here are a few of them:
We All Have A Part To Play in Circular Fashion
Circular fashion is not going to solve all of the fashion industries problems overnight. It’s a full system that would require change across all points of the lifespan of garments, including habit change from consumers.
However, small steps in the right direction are better than nothing and we have so much respect for brands that are taking ownership of their environmental impact and committing to sustainability.
Remember — consumers have a part to play too.
There are so many simple changes you can make to help promote a better system such as buying less or selling what you don’t need second-hand.
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