Is Circular Economy The Next Step for Fashion Industry?



"Take - Make - Waste" economical approach is no longer an option for companies. Society has increased awareness regarding consumption habits. Therefore, it is crucial to boost a global business shift to achieve long-term stability and growth. Circularity seems to be key over the new economical dynamic. But is it truly the best option? What benefits come by changing into a circular economy? And how does this impact the fashion industry?

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Currently the economic system is linear, which not only affects fashion but many other industries. The waste of products, non-renewable elements and the exploitation of resources are traditional practices that must come to an end. This is a systema no longer sustainable as it is only increasing social and environmental damages. 

In fashion, linear economy happens at every step of clothing production. Material extraction, textile manufacturing, supply chain, design, sales, marketing, etc. are guided by the aim of maximizing garment consumption without considering other issues that may arise. According to the Linear Risks Report of the FinCe working group, the linear economy brings to brands meaningful market, operational, business and legal risks. That can involve future volatility, higher prices and interests, value chain failures, decommitment with regulations and protocols.

Thanks to linear fashion the apparel industry has negative impacts on the environment. 85% of textiles go into landfills, only 1% of the material is recycled, at least 500k of microfibers end up in the ocean (equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles) and 91 metres of water is wanted for textile production. Alarming statistics like this are only increasing if producers keep going with the old economic system. 


With this context the global economy is now transitioning into green initiatives and collaborations. In order to preserve and protect the environment several sectors are changing their business strategies and processes. One of the main steps that commercial banks, financial institutions, small and big enterprises, NGO´s, investors and firms are considering is the circular economy. A concept well known throughout the last decade since people want to make a positive impact. 

Circular Economy means an alternative that seeks to redefine economic activity towards the generation of business opportunities with social and environmental benefits. It promotes responsible production and consumption, wise use of natural resources, creating jobs, developing new sectors and sustainability. Circularity is based on 3 principles: eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. 


“All forms of waste, such as clothes, are returned to the economy or used more efficiently” “The goods of today are the resources of tomorrow at yesterday's resource prices” - UNCTAD



Fashion industry is starting to move away from the linear system into a regenerative one. It is not only for brands but for designers, retailers, operators and customers. Circular fashion consists of eliminating pollution and waste, reusing, recycling and prolonging the life cycle of products. It is about taking care of the planet and the people. To achieve the transformation of the market some tangible factors have to be made in the circular ecosystem of fashion.

The Circular Fashion Report 2020 by Lablaco x Vogue, acknowledges three principal actors of fashion in charge of changing into circularity. The first one, is the supply chain, in charge of using circular materials such as renewable energy, non-toxic chemicals, agricultural products and low-environmental-impact processes. The second, the designers and brands, who are designated to create fashionable pieces from regenerative materials, green manufacturing, recycled packaging and even local craftsmanship support. The third, is practically the rest, customers, content creators, retailers, etc. That can be empowered to resale, rental, swap, donate, repair and upcycle. 

Some examples that can be highlighted for trying to move into circular fashion are: 



This company tackles environmental, social and economic challenges in many ways. It has collaborated with other fashion brands to create campaigns to resale clothing with The Real Real and Reformation. Also, supports the service of Patagonia to repair and restyle their outdoor products. The foundation works on promoting a circular economy mindset by constantly creating reports, organizing events and shows, providing essential information and cooperating with policymakers. 



Is another brand that shares their knowledge about sustainability and the circular economy. Their journey into circular business models relays in some initiatives. It creates sustainable designs by using less energy, less chemicals and raw materials (regenerative wool). Waste no more is another action that combines art, architecture and ecology in traditional exhibitions and untraditional digital panels; with the aim of starting conscious consumption artistic interpretations. Moreover, Eileen Fisher Renew is a way for customers to return their clothing of the brand and earn some money, so the company is able to resell them after expert restoration. 



Circularity is something difficult to measure, putting a number into the results is complicated considering that it implies social changes. However, there are some pillars that allow a general view of the transition. By calculating gas emissions, energy consumption, employment rates and costs of manufacturing it is the closest we can get to analyzing the benefits of a circular economy in companies.

Circularity Gap Report of 2022 worked to link a number to the circular economy, which in their conclusion only represents 8.6% of the global economy. A percentage that with no doubt can be increased to 39% for the next few years. The regular benefits that come by including the new industrial model varies depending on the industry, but at least in fashion it constantly reflects material efficiency: the minimization of waste by the reuse and recycling of materials, letting all virgin materials be replaced by secondary ones. Or the extension of wealth by doubling the product life of long-lived consumer products. 

One of the most innovative strategies of the circular economy is the fashion digitization. A specialization of some brands that decide to adapt their services with digital tools. A digital strategy to have availability of big data and analytics, which helps to understand consumer behavior. Also, it offers 3D garment models to reduce waste of fabrics and materials, thanks to these simulations the designers take less time to create clothing and lead to smart production only by order .Even if it is not widely used right now, at some point it will be.


Finally, it is necessary to assume that there are many possibilities to reach a circular economy in fashion. As it is one step we can take to decrease the damages the actual economic system is making to the planet and the people. This vision will become the option that provides better products and services, contributes to society, distributes growth and regenerates the environment. The moment to evolve is now.


© Highlight Image: Jennifer Grube via Unsplash  



+  Words:

Regina Berndt
Luxiders Magazine