Why having a circular business is integral to being a sustainable brand
What does circular fashion mean?
Circular Fashion is the sustainable development of the entire lifecycle of a fashion product. So this means, products should be designed not only with high longevity in mind but also resource efficiency, non-toxicity, biodegradability, recyclability and good ethics. It’s looking at the bigger picture and ‘closing the loop’.
What is the current linear fashion model?
The clothing supply chain currently operates in an almost completely linear way. Large non-renewable resources are extracted to produce garments that are cheaply made, consumed and then disposed of according to the fast fashion trend. This current operational model is unsustainable and changes will be necessary for any brand wanting to be around in the future.
This take-make-dispose model has numerous negative environmental and social impacts. It is estimated that more than £400 billion of value is lost every year due to the lack of recycling. Not only that, but the total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production is at 1.2 billion tonnes annually (more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined).
What does the ideal circular model look like?
Moving from a linear to circular model is an enormous job. Clothing recycling will need to be drastically increased; fashion’s reliance on raw materials will need to be reduced. While it’s undeniably important to find more sustainable ways to produce cotton and other raw materials, it is crucial that the industry finds ways to use less of them. At the same time, increasing its use of recycled materials will reduce the huge volumes of clothes that are sent to landfill every day.
How to make fashion circular?
A closed loop system must have reduced levels of raw material to achieve the drastic reduction needed in fashion’s environmental footprint. This includes chemical waste produced during the manufacturing process and the large volumes of post-consumer, non-compostable waste the industry sends to landfill.
What needs to be done?
These changes are complex, difficult, require cross-industry collaboration and in the short term are potentially costly. But they are likely to be necessary for any brand wanting to be around in the future. Fashion’s current operational model is unsustainable in the long term, and as labour and resource costs rise, the industry will need a new model to protect profits and remain relevant with increasingly eco-minded consumers.
There are three key areas we need to focus on to close the loop:
- Making sure garments are worn and used more
- Making garments with safer renewable materials
- Making sure old clothes can be turned in to new designs
The products should be used for as long as possible, through good care, repair, refurbishment and sharing among multiple users over time (through rent, second hand, swapping etc). Think about your labelling and how to educate your customer via social media. Making it easy for them to make these lifestyle changes.
When it comes to materials and make, they should be also be sourced and produced with priority given to local, non-toxic, renewable, biodegradable and recyclable resources, as well as efficient, safe and ethical practices.
A new wave of recycled textiles is helping fashion to close the loop, with materials made from waste products becoming a key area of innovation. For example, Econyl is becoming increasingly popular and is a regenerated fibre that uses waste nylon from landfill and from oceans.
At the moment less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing. More often than not, the little that is recycled goes on to be used in other sectors, such as in insulation and mattress stuffing, rather than being reused in the fashion industry. However, at their end of use, the material and components should be recycled and reused for the manufacturing of a similar product.
If unfit for recycling, the biological material should instead be composted to become nutrients for plants and other living organisms in the ecosystem. Overall, the life cycle of products should bring no environmental or socio-economic harm but instead contribute to positive development and well-being of humans, ecosystems and societies at large.
Closing the loop in the fashion industry also depends on making use of the many tonnes of unwanted fashion thrown by customers each year. UK households alone send more than 300,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill each year.
What is currently happening in the fashion industry?
Zara, ASOS, H&M and 61 other companies, have made a commitment to sustainable fashion. By 2020, these retailers promise to produce more sustainably and increase the number of recycled textiles through circularity, increasing the number of garments collected and used garments resold, as well as increasing the quantity of garments made from recycled materials. You can read more about this here.
There has also been some development from governments creating roadmaps to promote the circular economy. Including France who have a series of legislations to prohibit the destruction of garments that don’t sell. Encouraging recycling or donations to NGO’s.
The future of fashion
As clothing production increases, it is the circular business models that will help brands develop into profitable sustainable businesses. It is the brands that have sustainability at their core, that will be the ones to have long term growth.
Are you at the stage of building your fashion business where you could really benefit from virtual assistance? I’d love to hear from you! Get in touch via email, or book a free consult, where we can discuss how I can help you start and grow your sustainable fashion business.
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