The impact of fashion production and waste on people and the planet is significant. Indeed, European consumption of textiles has the fourth-highest impact on the environment and climate change after food, housing and mobility. But there is also huge potential for the fashion industry to lead the charge in creating a more sustainable future by embracing circular principles. Through our work supporting fashion brands to launch and scale their businesses with a focus on sustainability, we have noticed an increased interest from brands looking to incorporate principles of circularity into their processes.
The principles of the circular economy offer a solution to the impact of the fashion industry by creating closed loop systems in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible. One of the key ways to achieve this is through circular design, which places an emphasis on designing clothing and accessories that can be easily repaired, reused, refashioned, or recycled. By incorporating circular economy principles from the outset, fashion brands have the opportunity to create more sustainable and responsible products that have a positive impact on the environment, while also delivering socio-economic benefits.
Most brands currently operate under a linear or “take, make, dispose” model. Large amounts of often non-renewable resources are extracted to produce fashion items that are often only used a few times, after which only 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothes. The rest is sent to landfill or incinerated. The fashion industry continues to produce more, globally the textile's production doubled between 2000 and 2015, and people are wearing them less, creating an immense amount of waste which is compromising the health and functioning of our ecosystems. For example, in the EU about 5.8 million tonnes of textiles are discarded every year, equivalent to 11.3kg per person.
First and foremost, introducing circularity into the fashion system is all about tackling the problems of end-of-life of products. However, eliminating waste and pollution by circulating more products and materials brings many benefits, including an opportunity to reconsider supply chains, to foster better collaboration between different stakeholders and to move towards regenerative systems.
It starts with design
"Circular design is the glue that holds materials, design and business models together. It empowers designers and ignites change. It motivates creatives to look at products in an entirely different way and enables access to options beyond selecting organic or recycled materials”
- Esther Verurg
From choosing high quality, durable materials that can be reused, repaired and recycled, to designing timeless styles that can be loved and worn for many seasons, to removing harmful substances and processes from production, circular fashion starts with design. As there is no single way to design a circular brand, product or service, circular design can be seen as an opportunity to work creatively, innovatively and responsibly. Emerging fashion brands and SMEs have a crucial role to play in the transition towards a circular fashion economy. Their willingness to innovate, agility and flexibility make them well-suited to adopt circular economy principles. Moreover, by leading the way in sustainable fashion practices. Emerging brands also have the potential to influence the wider system and to foster a more sustainable future for the fashion industry.
As an agency supporting sustainable fashion brands on their way to success, we empower emerging fashion brands to embrace a circularity-driven mindset from conception and SMEs to strengthen and scale-up their circular approaches as we believe that circularity is core to the success of fashion business models.
- Monitor for Circular Fashion REPORT 2022, SDA Bocconi, School of Management, Sustainability Lab, Monitor for Circular Fashion, 2022, Report
- A new Textiles economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular Fiber Initiative, 2017, Report
- Circular Design for Fashion, Ellen MacArthur Foundation Publishing, 2021, Book