Circular fashion ditches the linear “take-make-waste” model and instead asks the industry to close the loop on production, including responsible manufacturing, use, and end-of-life for every garment.
Circularity in fashion to close the loop
Remember the times when words like “sustainable”, “ethical”, and “eco-friendly” were rarely used in the public domain? In recent years, as highlighted by ongoing issues like the climate crisis and wage theft, the significance of these terms has skyrocketed. One in particular, a relative newcomer to the block, is “circular fashion”. But what is circular fashion, and how can it help?
Considering the strong presence of these new concepts and what they represent, and as shoppers and consumers ourselves, it’s hard not to wonder—where do we fit into all of this? For conscious consumers who support sustainability in both fashion and other areas of their lives, we are increasingly seeing that this new categorisation is worth exploring.
In this article we will dive deeper into what circular fashion is today, how it came to be, and what we can do to align with the concept in our consumer choices—not only in relation to fashion, but in our lives more broadly.
Circular fashion is…
Circular fashion is a system where our clothing and personal belongings are produced through a more considered model: where the production of an item and the end of its life are equally as important. This system considers materials and production thoughtfully, emphasising the value of utilising a product right to the end, then going one step further and repurposing it into something else. The focus is on the longevity and life cycle of our possessions, including designing out waste and pollution. Essentially, the “circular” comes as a response to previous economic and societal models that have been “linear” to date, and harmful on the planet along the way.
Circular fashion is a system where our clothing and personal belongings are produced through a more considered model: where the production of an item and the end of its life are equally as important.
Further to this, circular fashion comes from the collision and intersection of the “circular economy” (a model that exchanges the typical cycle of take-make-waste in favour of as much reusing and recycling as possible) with sustainable and ethical fashion. The development and evolution of these two areas ran parallel for some time within different sectors. This new category is a much needed addition to the fashion industry’s sustainability journey and progression, particularly as it brings stronger ambition and advocacy, as well as a commitment to investing in clothing that will last far longer than fast fashion counterparts.
Key points of circular fashion:
- Using less materials when producing individual items for increased recyclability
- Working to remove nonrecyclable and polluting materials from the supply chain
- Recapturing everything from garment offcuts to packaging for reuse
- Ensuring use and reuse for as long as possible including collection schemes and bringing the recycled materials back to a “good as new” state
- Returning any unavoidable waste to nature safely
How circular fashion came to be
It was around 2014 when fashion first officially collided with the circular economy, resulting in the newfangled term of “circular fashion”. The term was first coined at a seminar in Sweden, where a more circular approach to the fashion industry was the core focus. This pivotal distinction came at a time when the floodlights were cast on an industry whose impact was coming under serious scrutiny. Only a year before in 2013 the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 workers, with fast fashion quickly becoming an undesirable model for consumers to support. This tragedy, along with the last few years especially bringing to the forefront some questionable methods in the industry—including devastating environmental, human, and animal impacts—have also highlighted the important role consumers play in advocating for better standards and in fast-tracking change.
Since 2014, the rigorous shift to support more 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. At the core of this revelation is knowing where things come from, what they are made of, who made them, and being accountable for the overall lifecycle of our belongings. In reality, it is often hard to imagine a time when sustainability and all these considerations weren’t an expected consideration (even if only on a small scale).
Since 2014, the rigorous shift to support more 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.
As circular fashion has developed in the last few years, an interesting part of this model is what it represents. We know the circular economy has been around in academics and business for many years prior to clothing and production, with an increased appetite for this model globally. But, looking forward, the question for fashion remains: does this convergence of more sustainable and circular models mean a whole new economic fashion system? As consumers align with this model by buying less, owning items for longer, and being more specific in their choices (essentially slow fashion), can circularity co-exist with sustainably produced fashion?
One answer could be that we may see an overall shift in our economic structure to a baseline standard of better made products that consumers will invest in for longer periods of time. Simultaneously, we will hopefully see continued support for slow fashion (consuming less) which will result in a cleaner, healthier, less impactful industry overall. In this equation, there are important roles for both consumers and the larger corporations to play for us to see an overhaul of the fashion industry’s significant environmental footprint.
The role of consumers
Consumers play a key role in the development and implementation of circular fashion. From increased demand and support for more sustainable models, we are seeing circularity seeping into supply chains, manufacturing, and at the final stage; after a consumer has finished with an item. With more stores offering recycling programs and councils looking at textiles recycling, there are more and more options and alternatives for the materials that make up our clothes, rather than falling straight into landfill, which is great news for the planet (and for your pocket).
Some key actions consumers can take to align with circular fashion:
- Know more about the brands you buy by using resources such as Good On You
- Support more sustainable and ethical fashion
- Live by the five r’s of fashion
- Buy less and buy better
- Revise your wardrobe before buying new
- Shop second hand where possible
- Consider renting for your next event
- Host and attend clothes swaps
- Look after your clothes
- Question “What are the alternatives?” before throwing away used clothing
- Utilise in store recycling programs
- Choose more sustainable materials when purchasing new clothing
- Talk to people about the benefits of circular fashion
- Learn the impact our clothing has on the planet and the importance of where your clothes are made, who made them, and what they are made of
- Make a commitment to not buy brands who don’t strive to sit within the circular model
Circular fashion has brought a wave of greater consumer knowledge, powerful advocacy, and overall acknowledgement that previous, linear approaches to the fashion industry can’t continue. This demand for transparency, longevity, and a new framework is set to continue well into the future, and represents a future for fashion that would be less impactful and more in harmony with all the resources, processes, and people involved. Although we are a long way from a completely circular model in fashion, as more and more brands and consumers become aware of and invest in it, we are already preventing waste and degradation that would otherwise exist, which is a step in the right direction.
Circular fashion has brought a wave of greater consumer knowledge, powerful advocacy, and overall acknowledgement that previous, linear approaches to the fashion industry can’t continue.