A circular approach to fashion. Part 2


In March, I wrote about what is the difference between a linear and a circular economy and if circularity is the same as sustainability? In this entry I will explain you examples and strategies of circular approaches in fashion.

As we know now from previous entries, fashion accounts for around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity and nearly 20% of wastewater. Believe it or not, fashion sucks up more energy than both aviation and shipping combined. What can we do to reduce the impact our wardrobe has on climate? One of the answers: Circular Fashion.

I want you to remember The Ellen MacArthur Foundation definition of a circular economy we talked about in March: “a resilient model that eliminates waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use and regenerates our planet’s natural systems.”

The Foundation published a report named: A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, which identifies the fashion industry’s current take-make-dispose model as the root cause of its environmental problems and economic value loss.

Some shocking facts can be picked up from this report, for example, every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned and an estimated USD 500 billion value is lost every year due to clothing being barely worn and rarely recycled.

This report pictured a system that not only puts a stop to these damaging trends, but also summons the creative power of the fashion industry to develop a new textiles economy. In the same way, it proposes to completely modify the scheme of fashion impacts on the ecosystem, making a deep reflection on how these changes should be made and privileging a policy of mitigation, this, by including sustainable models since wardrobe design and conception.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2017 10.2m tons of textiles ended up in landfills while another 2.9m tons were incinerated. In the UK an estimated 350,000 tons of clothes end up in landfill every year. Urgent measures are needed but many retailers and fashion brands find burning and dumping goods cheaper than actually recycling them.

With this in mind, clothing disposal at the end of their useful life takes a huge importance, by throwing them away they will probably end up in landfill or being incinerated in developing countries, and this will lead to more CO2 emissions.

Circularity and Companies

Circularity in fashion requires profound transformation throughout the entire industry in three key areas: product design, infrastructure, and business models. A number of startups are developing capacity to turn old fabric into new fabric but have yet to be commercialized.  Materials need to be used several times, but the industry today depends a lot on those that can be only used for one product, thus reducing their life cycle.

A number of companies are making efforts towards circularity: Kering, for example, claims some of its materials are already circular, most of them part of Stella McCartney and has also developed a Circularity Index based on the recommendations of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Kering is also working with the well-known financial firm PwC on an international consumer survey to extend its Environmental Profit & Loss methodology to account for product circularity. H&M has specific goals on cotton, packaging and water use in the supply chain, but no timeline for becoming fully circular.

Some manufacturers are also working on ways to reduce the environmental impact from the production of their jeans, while others have been developing ways of recycling denim or even jeans that will decompose within a few months when composted.

What can you do?

Perhaps the best approach is to pass our old clothes to family and friends or take them to charity shops if they are still good enough to be worn. But undoubtedly, we must be aware of using our garments several times, it is important to privilege quality over quantity, it is very common that a fast fashion garment has a lower quality, which in case of any damage makes it impossible to repair it, however, a higher quality garment can be amended or adjusted if necessary.

Where clothing has been worn or damaged beyond repair, the most environmentally way of disposing them is to send them for recycling. Clothing recycling is still relatively new for many fabrics but increasingly cotton and polyester clothing can now be turned into new clothes or other items. Some major manufacturers have now started using recycled fabrics, but it is often hard for consumers to find places to take their old clothes.

Many of the changes needed to make clothing more sustainable have to be implemented by the companies among the fashion industry, from fast fashion to luxury brands, but we, as consumers, need to make some changes as well, mostly in our consumption behavior.

NGO’s like ReMake or Fashion Revolution can help you know a little more about circular fashion and how you can contribute to a better planet. I invite you to consult their pages and social networks, it’s up to you to make the change.

Links of ReMake and Fashion Revolution:

  • https://remake.world/
  • https://fashionrevolution.org


The author consulted the following sources of information:

A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017.

Christine Ro. (2020). Can fashion ever be sustainable?. 23/05/2020, de BBC Sitio web: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200310-sustainable-fashion-how-to-buy-clothes-good-for-the-climate

Rachel Cernasky. (2020). Circular fashion’s timely opportunity. 23/05/2020, de Vogue Business Sitio web: https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/circular-fashions-timely-opportunity-recycled-materials

Council of Fashion Designers of America. (2020). Earth Day Focus: The Future of Fashion is Circular. 23/05/2020, de CFDA Sitio web: https://cfda.com/news/earth-day-focus-the-future-of-fashion-is-circular


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