Circular Fashion: A new way of the Fashion Industry

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Srabani Mallick

What does circular fashion mean in our apparel industry?  Why the circular economy is called the answer to global problems?  Today it is a new way of looking at the fashion industry. The circular economy may seem like a complex concept, but it is actually a simple concept.  In a linear system, we treat resources as infinite. In this system, we take resources from the world and turn them into commodities, discarding them when they are no longer needed, thus losing their value.  But instead of throwing something away in a circular economy, its materials and components are reused. Recently there are some brands that have made circular fashion a reality.  However, through this article we will learn about those brands and try to give an overview of circular fashion.

What does circular fashion mean?

Anna Brismer developed the concept of circular fashion based on the circular economy which is defined as a regenerative system.  Already various resources in the fashion industry are using circular fashion. In a circular model fashion products are designed, developed and promoted to the highest standards with the concepts of resource efficiency, non-toxicity, biodegradability and recyclability.  The ultimate goal of this model is that the life cycle of the product does not cause any socio-economic or environmental damage. In the current linear fashion system for a pair of jeans, a designer would create the vision for the denim, the production team would work to select the right material, factories would mass produce the jeans and retail stores would sell them to consumers.  The consumer will often view these jeans as disposable and at the end of the jeans’ life cycle they will likely end up in a landfill.  Every step of manufacturing that pair of circular fashion jeans will be considered for their longevity and durability which will reduce wastage in production.  In reality, there are numerous challenges facing the industry to achieve fiber to fiber recycling.  While many technologies are currently being developed, bringing them to scale with fiber sorting capabilities requires large-scale investment and infrastructure.  Some denim brands are already using technology to mechanically recycle cotton and wool fibers and blend them with virgin fibers.

Examples of circular fashion:

Let’s see a real life example of circular fashion. Ministry of Supply has been making their Aero Zeroº dress shirts from upcycled PET water bottles since 2019.  Their fabrics are milled under renewable solar energy and reduce carbon emissions by over 50%. Recently the Ministry of Supply developed a recycling process with Shinkong Textiles that can separate polyester fibers. They are able to spin the material back into yarn to create a circular dress shirt that is strong, durable and soft. Their tagline is “100% Recycled.100% Recyclable. Infinite Uses”. Their products are incredibly high quality. When consumers want to retire the Aero Zero dress shirt, they can easily return it to the Ministry of Supply in exchange for a store credit. As a result consumers are encouraged to participate in circular fashion and invest in high quality clothing.

Why do we need it?

Today we understand the social and environmental impacts of the overproduction and consumption of clothing.  More than 100 billion garments are produced every year.  This consumption is predicted to increase by 63 percent by 2030.  Across this industry only 13 percent of textiles are used in some form as recycled clothing with the majority entering the second hand market, with less than 1 percent being recycled into new clothing.  The result represents USD100 billion worth of material loss per year.  Of the 53 million tons of textiles produced annually, 85 percent are incinerated or end up in landfills.  The fashion industry has to change radically to survive.  So its operating model needs to be redesigned through circularity. The eco-friendly nature of circular models can be easily explained by looking at the circular fashion wheel. Designers on the circular fashion wheel create products with low impact materials and a purpose. Products are transported in a way that has a low carbon footprint and then sold to be leased for reuse, design or repair. If the product needs to be finished, it Dispose of or recycle in an environmentally friendly manner.

Principles of Circular Fashion Economy:

An innovation-driven and research-based consultancy specializing in circularity and sustainability issues in the fashion industry is Green Strategy. The organization has identified sixteen core principles to support and promote circular and sustainable fashion, apparel and textile industries.

  • Design with a purpose
  • Design for resource efficiency
  • Design for longevity
  • Design for reusability
  • Design for biodegradability
  • Source and manufacture locally
  • Source and production without toxicity
  • Source and manufacturer with efficiency.
  • Production with sources and renewable
  • Source and produce with good ethics
  • Provide services to support long life
  • Reuse, recycle or compost all leftovers
  • Cooperate well and widely.

The first 13 principles are relevant from the producer’s perspective and the other three from the consumer’s perspective.

  • Repair, use and wash with care.
  • Consider loaning, renting, swapping or redesigning instead of buying new.
  • Buy quality over quantity.

Is circular fashion just another trend?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the Make Fashion Circular initiative in May 2017.  This initiative is a signal that circular fashion is not just a trend, but a shift in the industry. The main goal of the Make Fashion Circular initiative is to create a circular model between brands, leaders, innovators and stakeholders in the textile industry that collaborates to move towards a circular fashion economy. In the circular model, the entire fashion industry must be designed its operating model. As the industry transforms into such a system, it will be able to unlock various economic opportunities. But this transformation cannot be achieved by a single brand or individual, so the fashion circular plays an important role. Governments, citizens, businesses and innovators must join forces to make fashion circular. The initiative has already brought together many industry leaders including GAP, H&M, Nike, Burberry and Stella McCartney.

What are the environmental benefits of circular fashion?

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy aims not only to reduce the negative effects of the linear economy but it is a systemic change that builds long-term resilience and also provides business and economic opportunities, environmental and social benefits. Below are some reasons why circular clothing brands are important in this change:

1) Less waste ends up in our landfills: When circular fashion items are made, waste is reduced. As a result, materials can be used and reused.

2) Making fewer natural materials: Since circular fashion reuses existing materials, it reduces the need to create new resources from raw materials.

3) Green energy is promoted, and pollution can be reduced: Ministry of Supply and many circular fashion brands work with external manufacturing and transport partners to use renewable energy such as wind and solar energy.

Some circular fashion brands that have made circular fashion a reality….

Stella McCartney: High-End Circular Fashion

This high-end ethical fashion brand is a major innovator in the world of sustainable luxury.  The brand designs with both renewable biological and technological materials. Currently Stella McCartney is working with The RealReal, Cradle to Cradle, Evernour and Clevercare to increase the lifespan of their clothing and create infinitely recyclable clothing.

Ministry of Supply: Recycled, Recyclable and Infinite Use

Ministry of Supply creates sustainable clothing production for comfort, easy care, speed and the planet. In addition to sustainable production, the Ministry of Supply Aero Zero Dress Shirt is 100% recycled, 100% recyclable for infinite uses. Their clothes are based on an on-demand and zero waste production strategy. It is made recycled and bio-based fabrics through 3D print-knits production.

Knickey: Recycle your underwear

This sustainable underwear brand recycles undies by turning them into new fibers. Nikki has partnered with a local NYC nonprofit to safely recycle intimates. Consumers can send in ready-to-retire intimates then knicky will recycle them.

Jackalo: Sustainable Kids Clothing and Circular Fashion

Jackalo is a sustainable children’s clothing brand that offers a shop credit in exchange for clothing. They even clean, repair and resell clothing in their pre-loved section if possible.  If the garment cannot be resold, the garment is up-cycled into new children’s clothing.

Eileen Fisher: Reinventing Sustainable Fashion

Eileen Fisher is a high-end sustainable, eco-friendly, clean and resale clothing brand that has been leading the fashion revolution for years. For more than a decade, Eileen Fisher has been taking back gently used Eileen Fisher clothing that is approximately 25% damaged beyond repair. The Renewal team sews them together and creates limited-edition designs, The Waste No More team then transforms them into a new felted fabric that is used to make wall hangings, pillows and other accessories.

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