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Creating A Circular Fashion Industry. What Will It Take?

Textiles are hard not to live without. Nearly everyone comes into contact with them most of the time. In addition, the fashion industry is a significant sector in the global economy. Providing employment opportunities for hundreds of millions worldwide. However, there’s a really negative side to the fashion industry. The textile system works in almost a completely linear way. A big quantity of non-renewable resources are used to produce the materials to create the clothes we use. Then after their disposal, they end up at landfills or by being incinerated, leading to the generation of pollution in the environment. But this is where circular fashion comes in to fix this.

Explaining Circularity In The Fashion Industry

The concept of a circular fashion system involves using waste and transforming it into a source to create new products. This implicates a production process in which no longer wanted textiles are collected and recycled.

This system is considered the core of sustainability since it influences the textile supply chain process, where working with quality rather than quantity is fundamental.

Adopting alternative systems, services, and product formats that make sustainability simple and easy for the consumer could bring positive results. But while keeping in mind the responsibility of the consumer, the fashion industry needs to take in this plan to help decrease pollution and improve manufacturing methods for the future.

Moreover, the fashion industry has become a massive platform, which is emerging continuously with new trends coming and going every week. This leads to overproduction and overconsumption. Consumers always feel the need and urge to buy the products that have just come out. But by the time they get it, there’s something new with another trend concept. So the old clothes become meaningless and in some way, they give a “bad image” of people’s lifestyle.

However, clothes should be seen just as a necessity item and not as the main idea of our value. Currently, society determines our value by seeing what we wear and what we own, which leads to us being categorized by our appearance and not by each individual’s ethos. Nevertheless, circular fashion has to look for a strategy where the people can keep expressing themselves through their clothes.

For example, the fashion industry has been implementing textile-to-textile recycling, which is known as the process of material recovery of pre and post-consumer textile waste into yarns for new fabrics. Though, this research has been taken slow and with some complications, since the fast fashion industry rotations are high.

Collecting your waste, both synthetic, and natural textiles is key for a fashion circular system. There are certain brands that have launched recycling programs in which they motivate the consumers to return items at the end of their life and offer them certain discounts and promotions.

Related: A Full Guide To Sustainable Fashion Design

Circular Fashion Brands To Look At

CHNGE – CHNGE is a US-based brand and uses 100% organic materials. Everything they make is of high quality made to last.

Spell – An Australian brand that produces ethically-made clothes with modern-boho style.

Toad & Co – A US brand that sells both women’s as well and menswear. They use environmentally friendly materials like organic cotton, Tencel, hemp, and recycled fibers.

Afends – This brand also utilizes renewable energy in its supply chain. Their favourite material to use is organic hemp as it is a very sustainable fabric.

Seek Collective – Seek Collective is an eco-conscious US brand. They focus on being transparent about everything they do and be as authentic as possible.

nu-in – An eco-friendly Portuguese brand that focuses on being circular. That is a big part of their ethos which is why they use recycled materials like recycled cotton and recycled polyester.

thegreenlabels – An online shop for sustainable fashion that wants to have a positive impact on the world. Because of the environmental impacts, they avoid synthetic and mixed fibers and choose organic and natural materials instead.

The Environmental Impact Of The Fashion Industry

The increase of greenhouse gases in the environment, the depletion of natural resources, like clean water and fossil fuel reserves, and the release of toxic emissions, have made every industrial process come under a deep examination for its sustainable value. 

Another big challenge that the environment faces are the microfibers that the clothes release. Microplastics affect marine life and the environment as a whole. It’s going to take time to reduce the amount of plastic-based products in the market which is why consumers should look up clothes made up from recycled materials to make the clothes production process regenerative.

While there are some kinds of waste that can decompose at the end of their lifecycle, most are non-biodegradable and end up in landfills. Therefore, it’s for this reason that efforts in the fashion industry are being undertaken to reduce the amount of waste by implementing the 5R’s program, which includes: reuse, reduce, repurpose, refuse and recycle.

Both, the 5R’s and the circular economy are compatible in the waste control process. It’s the new and better way to go about the fashion industry. The “take-make-dispose” system creates a mentality of a linear economy, which is the opposite of what the world needs right now.

How To Make Fashion Circular?

There are some action points that must be performed to help improve people’s consuming habits, as well as the manufacturing processes used by the fashion industry. Here are a few:

01. Encourage Circular Lifestyles

Promote a circular lifestyle through an attractive plan where incentivized recycling schemes for hard-to-recycle materials are involved. Working towards a better future and changing the system is going to take investment, but with recent innovations happening, these high-cost range products will quickly fade away. Another way to help strive for a better future is working with the system exposed by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, which offers a vision to innovate towards a circular society.

02. Extend Product Lifecycle

Products are designed and manufactured with the purpose to last longer. All products that are made need to be used. This means that clothes should not be disposable and resource should not be taken for granted.

Brands can also help with this by offering their customers to return their worn clothes after they no longer want them so they can recycle the fabric.

That said, a great example of a fashion business that is working with the circular fashion system is the German-based brand ‘Zalando’. They constructed a recent fashion plan with the collaboration and partnership of the Ellen McArthur Foundation, with the purpose of extending the lives of 50 million fashion products by 2023.

03. Use Non-Toxic Materials

It is essential to protect the ecosystems and esnure what we put on our bodies is safe. One way to to this is by using non-toxic substances in the production process of the clothes.

But this doesn’t just apply to the manufacturing process. It also refers to not using any toxic chemicals during farming. This is why it is crucial we utilize organic farming for the fashion industry.

04. Make From Recycled/ Renewable Resources

As well as using non-toxic materials, it’s just as important to use recycled materials so we can keep natural resources on a closed-loop.

If using recycled materials is not possible, the second-best option is using renewable resources. These are resources that don’t run out. Polyester is an example of a non-renewable resource because it derives from fossil fuels. A finite resource.

In addition, companies should start moving away from fossil fuel energy and towards renewable energy like solar or wind.

05. Make For A Closed Loop

The main idea is to create products that can be reused, remade, recycled. Also, their packaging needs to be minimized and made from renewable materials. Everything needs to be designed and made with circularity in mind.

06. Invest In Better Packaging

Another part of circular fashion is the packaging the clothes come in. There are various ways in which packaging can become more sustainable. Using compostable materials, reducing the amount of materials, and choosing recycled material are just a few things that companies can consider.

But we can be even more creative and start thinking about extending the lifecycle of even the packaging. Some companies create packaging that can be transformed and used for something else for instance.

We could even extend the life of the packaging from the product, where the pack can be sent back for reuse.

07. Initiatives To Increase Biodiversity

Brands can invest back into nature by the incorporation of long-term and ongoing initiatives into their brand core. Some examples include regenerative farming, tree planting, and key partnerships. A great example of this is the fashion brand Happy Earth.

08. Spreading Awareness

Nowadays, with the communication that is spread through social media about environmental impact, people know more about greenwashing and the negative effects of fast fashion. The media can help spread more awareness about the circular fashion system and make people change their consumption habits.

Nevertheless, e-commerce has also been a problem these days due to online fashion consumption, which generates a considerable amount of carbon dioxide emissions.

09. Assessing The Digital Footprint

Partner with digital experts to find out how to lower the footprint of carbon print from your brand website. Image optimization techniques and website color choices should be taken into account.

If remote working became the norm in the upcoming years, following the pandemic, we would require a forest twice the size of Portugal to offset the emissions of the internet. But the positive news is that some websites are modifying their designs to be low-emission and give a less polluting digital experience.

10. Establishing Values And Ethics

Furthermore, transparency and traceability will be required to accomplish the vision of a circular fashion system. These aspects need to be involved in the examination of product specifications, chemical inputs, materials used, and production practices.

Tracking down the social and environmental conditions in which the manufacturing of the clothes is made is crucial to see for the rights of the people who live in these places.

The key to achieving a circular economy is working with a level of commitment, collaboration, and innovation. Designers need to focus on how to reimagine the way fashion was designed, made, worn, and used. Is hard to imagine a world without textiles. But imagine a world full of fashion innovation, that doesn’t exploit the environment and people’s lives.

So, you can start by changing your shopping mindset into a plan where the products you are going to buy are made with materials that can be reused and recycled. As you see, fashion is a way of communication, so let’s communicate that we care about the environment and eventually this will become the norm. Sustainable brands will start influencing the world and make it easier for people to choose them over fast fashion brands.

Conclusion

Who would know that people came into the world with nothing and created industries, invent products and systems that in the future will put in danger the existence of themselves and the planet? 

At the end of the day, our actions define our future. Pollution is causing health issues, damage in the places we live, and waste is affecting ecosystems around the world. This is why we need to move towards a circular fashion system and a circular economy in general.

Today, few people are willing to change for the better. But we need to develop better consumer habits and start being creative in the invention of products so this cycle of production repeats itself without generating waste.

Let’s work together for a circular economy!

Other Resources You Might Find Helpful:

Elle MacArthur Foundation Report

Vision Of A Circular Economy

About Karla Jáuregui

I’m a fashion student from Mexico that is interested in sustainable living and sustainable fashion. My main source of inspiration comes from nature because it gives life to my work from a different perspective. I see myself as someone who tries to spread kindness and speaks to motivate people to be creative by giving their clothes another use. At the time, people need to look for the environment we share by not generating more waste, looking to reduce our carbon footprint in the world, and what’s better than working together through a circular economy.

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