Circular Fashion and the Steps to Achieve it
Circular fashion is a system where clothing is produced through a more considered model - where both the production of an item and its afterlife are equally as important. This system emphasises using a product to the very end and repurposing it to something else. This circular model comes as a response to previous economic and societal models that have been “linear” and harmful to the planet. The circular model designs out waste and pollution and instead focuses on the longevity of our products.
In order to achieve circularity, recycling is critical. Not only does it stop clogging landfill and coastlines but it also minimises its impact on the world’s natural resources. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go in the fashion industry and there are still many obstacles in the way. The industry is built in a straight line - from material extraction to sale. So, the current supply chain is set up for linear production. Also, many textiles that are classified as “recycled” today are actually made from other waste streams such as plastic bottles and other non-circular materials.
Putting circularity into action
Fashion industry experts have agreed on one place to start: collecting and sorting used clothes and getting them to bigger companies that can recycle them at a larger scale. In order to operate smoothly and produce a fibre that will meet fashion standards, these larger companies often depend on having specific textiles — some work with cotton or polyester, others use a variety of fibre blends.
A number of recent startups are dedicated to bridging this gap in circularity. Although these new companies are committed to changing the industry, they are working in an imperfect system that is not designed for circularity and still face a number of different challenges.
Swedish company Siptex is one of the first fully automated sorting facilities of its kind. They have partnered with many big names such as Ikea and also with different fibre recyclers who sort textiles automatically by both composition and colour. Siptex receives textiles from manual facilities in nearby European countries who first organise textiles for the second hand market and then send the rest of what they consider to be “waste” to Siptex.
High-quality and efficient sorting is still lacking in most regions. However, there are companies in the US trying to change this — For Days for example, a brand that has been trialling a “take-back bag” with its customers. In the last year, For Days has collected over 170,000 garments through its take-back bags and this has become a big success. Customers buy a mailer for $20 and use it to send in old clothing (from any brand, not just For Days) for the brand’s processing centre to sort and determine the next-best use for each item. Consumers instantly receive $20 in “closet cash” credit towards their next purchase. Some garments will be resold, some downcycled into things like insulation and others recycled into new fibres.
These new innovative firms are discouraging the donation of old and torn textiles to “Goodwill” as they will only end up as waste. Instead, consumers should send their clothes to companies like “For Days” who can recycle the torn textiles into new items. Huge investment opportunities exist as companies like “For Days” and “Siptex” who are enabling the transition of the industry.
Many countries are now bringing in new circular economy policies. For example, in France, there is an estimated €100 million annual cost of reducing environmental pollution caused by cigarette butts. New policies have been introduced for tobacco manufacturers to pay for cigarette butt clean-up as opposed to taxpayers. These policies are putting the “whole of life” cost back on the producers who put it on the market in the first place. It is only a matter of time before these policies start to be implemented in the fashion industry.
This forces manufacturers to think of the afterlife of their products. Heaven or hell…. What will it be ?