Circular by definition is a never-ending loop, always returning to the same point. A circular approach is fundamentally different from the most commonly used linear approach and has astonishing benefits. The fashion industry adopted and mainly uses a linear approach of “take-make-use-throwaway" but to move towards a sustainable industry and existence there must be a shift towards a circular approach of “take-make-use-reuse".
In this article I will explore what circular fashion is, some examples of circular fashion and how we, as consumers, can drive the adoption of a circular vision.
Linear fashion relies on endlessly available resources whereby little or nothing is re-used. An item is made and disposed of without any thought. Fast fashion relies heavily on this linear model whereby clothes are cheap and therefore easily disposable. Despite not being able to meet or attain sustainability development goals, the linear approach also results in:
Threat to human society
Motif defines the circular fashion industry “As a regenerative system in which garments are circulated for as long as their maximum value is retained, and then returned safely to the biosphere when they are no longer of use.”
Circularity is a multi-dimensional concept and is shaped by the 3 R’s: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Circular Economy: Challenges for the Textile and Clothing Industry - Małgorzata Koszewska. These principles should be applied throughout the production, consumption and return of resources within the fashion industry. Circular fashion aims to:
Reduce waste and pollution
Recycle materials through natural systems
Circular fashion doesn’t just benefit the environment through easing reliance on non-renewable resources, natural resources and pollution, it creates better products for customers and contributes to a more resilient, thriving fashion industry. A lack of scalable circular fashion research is hindering its increase in adoption and evidence of consumers morally supporting circular fashion is limited, Toward a Circular Economy - Chloe Chung-Wha et al.. Therefore if companies adopt a circular approach, which is economically more demanding in the short term, will consumers feel obliged to take part in their offerings of a more sustainable long-term approach? In order to reach and maintain this circular vision, large-scale innovation, transparency and collaborations with industry and government is required.
Sheep graze on farmland taking up nutrients to survive, grow and reproduce. Sheep produce wool, a textile fibre, which can be processed and dyed using natural plants and resources. This is made into a garment. When the garment has come to the end of its life, it can be recycled or placed into compost. These nutrients then go back into the soil and are used by other farmland animals and plants. The cycle repeats. This is an example of circular fashion from fibre to garment and back again.
Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
Consumers drive change. If the demand for circular fashion and sustainable approaches increases, companies and brands react to this demand. There are some active steps consumers can take towards the circular vision. Next time you want to purchase a new garment, why not try to one of the following instead?
Buy less and better items
Buy second-hand clothes
Swap clothes with friends, family and colleagues
Buy clothes made from sustainable materials
Support ethical and sustainable brands
Talk about circular fashion and spread the word
Love what you already own
"Love your clothes and make them last longer.”
Circular approaches are on the rise and could help the fashion industry to cut 143 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, McKinsey & Company and Global Fashion Agenda 2020. Consumers are starting to prioritise sustainability and are becoming more environmentally aware. The demand for second-hand clothing was accelerated by the pandemic whereby 33 million people brought second-hand apparel for the first time in 2020 and 75% of these individuals plan to increase second hand purchases in the next 5 years, ThredUp Report 2021.
The next generation of shoppers already have a more circular mindset but all generations need to adopt this vision along with governments, to produce a fashion industry we and the planet can be proud of. In the words of Stella McCartney, "Love your clothes and make them last longer.”