There seem to be endless conversations around circular economy, circular fashion, circular business models… but what does it take to activate solutions and make circular become a new reality?
The Circular economy has become a wide-used concept, which is most related to implementing sustainable practices within a business model.
Many social entrepreneurs and ethical businesses have used circular models as a core, which simultaneously has become their sole reason to exist: making this world a better place by giving a second life and better use to existing materials. Because waste isn’t waste until it’s wasted.
When it comes to fashion the size of that residual waste is enormous – currently averaging 2.25m tonnes per year in Australia, with an estimated value of $500 million in clothing. By 2030, it is predicted that the fashion industry will be using two Earths’ worth of resources, with the demand for clothing rising by 63%.
To this, add the waste of other countries, being the US and Europe other major contributors to the fast-fashion movements.
Overall, the researches estimates show the fashion industry is globally responsible for 10% of CO2 emissions, 20% of industrial wastewater, 24% of insecticides, and 11% of pesticides used.
In 2017 the apparel industry’s GDP was US$1.4 trillion, by 2020 it will surpass US$1.65 trillion – up 60% since 2011. So being fashion one of the largest and most polluting industries on Earth, isn’t it time to consider a more circular business model?
What is it exactly Circular Fashion?
The concept is a quite new concept, which has become widely used especially since many fashion brands have started repurposing waste materials, such as ocean plastic (Think Love Live, Crystal Flow, 8hz…), regenerated nylon (such as ECONYL®), Piñatex – a plant-based textile using pineapple leaves, repurposed materials to make unique pieces (Outliv, Luca Broccolini…) and these are just some of the leading businesses that make a business out of an environmental problem. No waste. No new resources. Today, brands worldwide are pioneering closed-loop regeneration processes and delivering sustainable products.
So the key in a circular fashion is to design and make garments, accessories, shoes… in a way that is:
- Designed so that its sub-components can be disassembled or separated to facilitate repair, remake, reuse and eventually material recycling at its end of use;
- Designed with high-quality materials and in timeless style to maximise its durability, longevity and attractiveness to many users (if passed on to new users);
- Designed on demand (custom-made) in order to be more optimally designed for its specific user in terms of fabric/material, style and fit, thus increasing its perceived value and likely lifespan;
- Produced with non-toxic, high quality and preferably biodegradable materials, so that its material(s) may be safely biodegraded and composted at the end of use; or produced with non-toxic synthetic materials that may be effectively recycled (such as recyclable polyester);
- Produced in such a way that all waste generation is minimised during production, and all potential spill material and rest products can be reclaimed and reused as raw material for other processes, thus minimising the extraction of new virgin material;
- Produced, transported and marketed using renewable energy, such as wind or solar power, wherever possible, and using water and other raw materials effectively and safely throughout production and distribution;
- Can be used by multiple users throughout its lifetime through swapping, borrowing, rental, redesign, or second-hand services, thus extending its user life; and
- Can be safely and effectively reclaimed and recycled, whereby its components are utilised as raw material for manufacturing of new products, or are biodegraded and turned into biological nutrients for microorganisms in the soil.
The benefits of implementing circular fashion solutions
And as you can imagine, there are obvious benefits for businesses implementing circular solutions in fashion:
• Reduce costs
• Increase productivity
• Optimise manufacturing processes quantify key business metrics around an output
• Reduce further negative impact on the environment
• Create innovation
• Demonstrate a strong social conscious
A change in consumers’ demand
And not just the industry but also the demand is changing: the customer market is becoming increasingly concerned about the sustainability of the businesses they buy from. It has never been more important for businesses to adopt sustainable practices that will see them successful both today and in the future.
The “circular fashion consumer’ is a person who appreciates the true value of a garment, including all work that lies behind and all precious natural resources that have been used throughout its supply chain – including Fair Trade conditions for the workers who make the clothes. The circular fashion consumer wishes to purchase a belonging and keep it for as long as possible, and of course, use it a large number of occasions during their lifetime. And to close the loop. circular fashion consumer also wants to contribute to a circular economy, in which nothing goes to waste and everything is utilised, reutilised, repurposed and recycled in the most effective and sustainable manner possible.
Brands must listen for the sake of the planet; for the sake of their business. Every 8 out of 10 customers consider CSR values before purchasing, 88% of customers will become more loyal to brands who show transparency in their Corporate Social Responsibility.
Society moves 10x’s faster than 10 years ago – globally we have reached the tipping point in unsustainable manufacturing.
The fashion industry is calling for change. However, issues facing the industry are wicked and complex, and there is often confusion as to how the industry can focus its efforts to begin to drive this change.
Mapping Hotspots & Solutions in the fashion industry
At the Australian Circular Fashion Conference in March, attendees participated in the ‘designing a circular economy’ workshop run by students from the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation at UTS (University Technology Sydney). The purpose of this workshop was to identify key problem areas and work together to think of possible circular solutions to these problems.
In the workshop, all participants had to choose a particular focus area or organisation. Then, there was to identify ‘hotspots’ – those key problem areas driving waste, or generally in need of change. Some common ‘hotspots’ that emerged from this exercise were a lack of consumer awareness and the wasteful impact of packaging.
The infographic below is a representation of what participants came up with, mapping the hotspots and solutions within the linear fashion supply chain, starting with raw materials and ending with consumption and recycling. This will give you a holistic insight into how the industry as a whole is envisioning future change for the fashion industry, as well as where key opportunities for change may lie.
Key insights from the workshop
Large focus on the role of consumers. Just under half of the ‘hotspot’ areas identified revolve around consumer behaviour and mindset. Similarly, many of the solutions focused on educating consumers.
Consumption is blind. Consumers were identified as hotspots due to ignorance about garment care and end of life disposal.
The evolving role of retail. Multiple groups saw the opportunity to use bricks-and-mortar retail as space to educate consumers about their choices, rather than to promote blind consumption.
Packaging waste. Packaging waste was a popular hotspot that spanned across distribution, retail, and consumption, and there were clear ideas about how to possibly address the issue.
Research is key. Research, forecasting, and better communication were seen as key areas for improvement in the early stages of the supply chain, particularly the design stage.
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